【Smart Home】Does Installing a Smart Doorbell Invade Privacy? 11 Tips to Avoid Legal Consequences

【Smart Home】Does Installing a Smart Doorbell Invade Privacy? 11 Tips to Avoid Legal Consequences

A smart doorbell is considered an entry-level product in the realm of smart homes. It does not necessarily require integration with a full smart home system and can be used independently. However, when installing a smart doorbell, privacy concerns need to be taken into account, such as the possibility of recording the comings and goings of neighbors, which may potentially violate the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance and even lead to legal consequences, or criminal liability. If you want to use a smart doorbell with peace of mind, this article from Moorgenzine is perfect for you.

Key Highlights of This Article:

  • Smart Doorbell - Benefits and Functions
  • Smart Doorbell - Potential Privacy Issues
  • Smart Doorbells - Different Laws in Different Places
  • Smart Doorbell - Hong Kong Privacy Laws and Gray Areas
  • Smart Doorbell - 11 Tips for Avoiding Criminal Liability

Smart Doorbell - Benefits and Functions

The greatest advantage of a smart doorbell is undoubtedly the improvement of home security, with the main benefits including:

  1. Clear Exterior Visibility:
    Traditional peepholes typically offer a blurry view, and the fisheye lens can distort the image. Moreover, traditional peepholes only allow a close-range view from inside the door, requiring one to physically approach the door each time they want to see outside. If no one is home, the view is completely obstructed. Traditional peepholes also restrict observation to one eye, making it inconvenient to monitor the outside situation and causing eye fatigue over time.

    By installing a smart doorbell, you can conveniently view the outside situation anytime and anywhere, even if no one rings the doorbell, through a mobile app or on the smart panel. Smart doorbells provide clear, undistorted video footage and even allow for real-time recording, providing an extra sense of security and assurance for your home.

  2. Smart Doorbells as "Smart Butlers"

    In addition to allowing you to view the outside situation through a mobile app or on the smart panel, some advanced smart doorbells even offer real-time two-way communication. For example, when receiving a package or delivery, you no longer have to wait at home for an extended period but can freely go outside. When the delivery person arrives, you can communicate with them instantly through the smart doorbell. Even if a friend or family member visits and "knocks on the door" while the phone signal in the building corridor is weak, they can contact you immediately through the smart doorbell, providing great convenience.

  3. Deterrence

    As the saying goes, "Prevention is better than cure." If criminals attempt burglary, they are less likely to choose a home with a smart doorbell because their every move will be captured by the device. Furthermore, some advanced smart doorbells come with voice changers, preventing strangers from recognizing their voices during remote communication. Even regular smart doorbells feature anti-theft alarm bells, which can deter criminals even when no one is home.

Due to the built-in chips, cameras, and networking capabilities, advanced smart doorbells offer up to 8 different functions, including real-time video communication, AI detection and sensing capabilities, and do-not-disturb modes. If you want to learn more about the functions and installation methods of smart doorbells, you can refer to the article: How to Choose a Smart Doorbell? 8 Major Features and Installation Guide

Smart Doorbell - Potential Privacy Issues

The installation of smart doorbells has sparked debates on privacy issues in Hong Kong and various parts of the world. While smart doorbells are designed and produced with the intention of serving the "right purpose" as a security product for smart homes, it is sometimes difficult to avoid unscrupulous individuals exploiting the privacy-invading features of these devices. Even when used correctly, they may create unnecessary pressure on neighbors and even constitute harassment. Therefore, when using smart doorbells, we also need to consider the feelings of our neighbors. The following are potential privacy issues associated with smart doorbells:

  1. Neighbor's entry records

    Smart doorbells typically have video recording capabilities, and some advanced models even feature AI detection and sensing functions. Whenever someone passes by or the AI detects motion, it immediately starts recording to ensure security. While this improves home security, it also raises privacy concerns. Imagine every time your neighbor enters or exits their home, it triggers the AI motion detection, resulting in their actions being captured on camera and potentially uploaded to the smart doorbell's cloud-based system, essentially becoming comprehensive surveillance. If we put ourselves in their shoes, it doesn't feel quite right.

  2. Facial recognition through recording

    Unlike the past, present-day Hong Kong lacks the close-knit neighborly relationships of old. Generally, even if we have a rough idea of who our neighbors are, we don't come across them frequently throughout the year. However, being seen and having our appearance captured and recorded are two different things. In today's society, most people are concerned about having their faces recorded, especially with the advancements in technology where facial recognition has become one of the biometric identification methods used in various intelligent recognition tools. Naturally, people's awareness of protecting their appearances has heightened.

  3. Surveillance or voyeurism suspicions

    The camera of a smart doorbell can be activated at any time, even recording and storing videos. When the camera of a smart doorbell is constantly pointing towards a neighbor's doorstep or corridor, it easily gives rise to suspicions of surveillance or voyeurism. If you were aware that a camera was constantly pointing at your doorstep, it would undoubtedly create an invisible psychological pressure. In severe cases, neighbors may act unreasonably due to the psychological stress, such as deliberately obstructing the camera. According to a report by Sky Post, there was a case where someone posted a notice stating "illegal surveillance recording" outside their unit's door because the opposite unit had a smart doorbell. They even attempted to build a "clutter wall" in their own corridor and placed durian shells on the floor, which led to police officers being called to investigate.

Smart Doorbells - Different Laws in Different Places

Is it legal to install a smart doorbell? The answer to this question varies in different locations. Here are some news examples that can serve as reference:

Homeowner Ordered to Compensate 100,000 for Installing a Smart Doorbell Mirror

United Kingdom - Homeowner Ordered to Compensate £100,000 for Installing a Smart Doorbell

According to a report by the UK newspaper Mirror, Dr. Mary Fairhurst, a female doctor residing in Thames, Oxfordshire, UK, filed a lawsuit against her neighbor Jon Woodward, who used an Amazon Ring doorbell, for invading her privacy. While Mr. Woodward claimed that his smart doorbell was only used for anti-theft purposes, Dr. Fairhurst argued that Mr. Woodward's smart doorbell constituted "continuous visual surveillance" and alleged that he concealed the purpose of the camera. The judge ruled that Mr. Woodward did not handle the recorded data fairly and transparently, violating the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). As a result, he was ordered to compensate Dr. Fairhurst £100,000.

China - Homeowner Ordered to Remove Camera from Smart Doorbell

According to a report by HK01, Ms. Zhang, a resident in Hefei, Anhui Province, China, claimed that the camera on her neighbor Mr. Li's smart doorbell covered the time and appearance of her and her family's comings and goings, thus infringing on their privacy. Ms. Zhang further alleged that the recorded videos were directly stored on Mr. Li's phone, effectively documenting her family's activities and causing significant mental stress. Although Mr. Li claimed that he installed the smart doorbell to enhance home security after his front door had been forcibly opened and shoes had been stolen, the mainland Chinese court ruled that Mr. Li's reasons for installation were reasonable. However, the camera on the smart doorbell indeed "constituted a real obstruction" to Ms. Zhang's privacy. Consequently, Mr. Li was ordered to remove the camera from the smart doorbell.

Hong Kong - Homeowner Removes Smart Doorbell to Resolve Disputes

Hong Kong has also witnessed several neighborhood disputes related to smart doorbells. According to reports by Sky Post, a homeowner in Hong Kong was complained against by their neighbor for allegedly engaging in voyeurism through the installation of a smart doorbell. The homeowner voluntarily contacted the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data to inquire about relevant regulations. They stated that there are currently no specific regulations prohibiting the installation of smart doorbells. However, if installed, the homeowner must prominently display anti-theft surveillance signage at the entrance and refrain from publicly sharing the recorded videos online. In order to appease the dispute, the homeowner decided to remove the smart doorbell.

Additionally, a similar incident occurred in The Regent, Tai Po, where a neighbor raised concerns about "surveillance or voyeurism." The homeowner involved in the incident opted to resolve the issue by converting the smart doorbell into a remote-controlled doorbell without recording functionality.

Smart Doorbell - Hong Kong Privacy Laws and Gray Areas

In Hong Kong, there are currently no specific laws prohibiting the installation of smart doorbells. However, according to the Community Legal Information Centre (CLIC) by The University of Hong Kong, citizens "may consider installing CCTV cameras outside their homes for security reasons, or may have already installed them to monitor the situation outside the door. However, if the CCTV cameras record excessive individual images or personal data, the use of CCTV cameras may potentially violate the Hong Kong Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance under Chapter 486."

Additionally, the Office of Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data in Hong Kong has issued the 'Guidance on CCTV Surveillance and Use of Drones,' explaining whether CCTV cameras should be used and how to use them responsibly."

According to the above-mentioned Sky Post report, when homeowners proactively contact the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for inquiries, the officer stated that there are no relevant regulations prohibiting the installation of smart doorbells. However, after installation, it is necessary to prominently display anti-theft camera signage at the entrance and ensure that the videos are not publicly shared online. The officer also pointed out that if smart doorbells cannot be installed at the entrance of a private residence, the same would apply to elevators in shopping malls. The officer of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner further noted the existence of many gray areas at present. However, if one wants to install smart doorbells "legally," they would need to first provide evidence and complain about frequent harassing behaviors from neighbors, which would require an investigation by the management office. If similar harassing behaviors persist after a warning from the management office, a formal application can be made to install smart doorbells.

Smart Doorbell - 11 Tips for Avoiding Criminal Liability

Although there are currently no specific laws in Hong Kong prohibiting the installation of smart doorbells, to avoid neighborhood disputes or potential criminal liability resulting from the installation of smart doorbells, you can refer to the "Guidance on CCTV Surveillance and Use of Drones" issued by the Office of Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data. Before and after installing smart doorbells, follow appropriate steps:

Before Installing Smart Doorbells

  1. Decide whether there is an urgent need for using smart doorbells.
  2. Explore alternative methods that are less invasive to privacy.
  3. Have a clear purpose for installation.
  4. Understand and address concerns of affected individuals.
  5. Have sufficient justification for conducting covert surveillance.
  6. Define the scope and extent of surveillance.

After Installing Smart Doorbells

  1. Smart doorbells should not be installed in areas where privacy is expected by others.
  2. Ensure that the data from smart doorbells is not accessed without authorization.
  3. Inform affected individuals about the impact of smart doorbells, installation purposes, and provide a means to inquire about the situation.
  4. Delete collected data as soon as it is no longer necessary to retain.
  5. Regularly review the security and effectiveness of smart doorbells.
Guidance on CCTV Surveillance and Use of Drones

If you wish to install smart doorbells in semi-public or public areas, it is important to understand whether those locations are regulated or restricted by laws and regulations. For example, if installing smart doorbells outside residential units, it depends on whether the installation purpose involves collecting data of identifiable individuals. Additionally, affected individuals should be made aware of the existence of smart doorbells and the installation purposes. If the purpose of installing smart doorbells is to monitor the activities of domestic helpers, reference should be made to the "Monitoring and Personal Data Privacy at Work: Points to Note for Employers of Domestic Helpers" issued by the Office of Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data.

After reading this Moorgenzine article, you should have a deeper understanding of smart doorbells and the related privacy laws in Hong Kong. If you have any questions about smart doorbells, feel free to contact Moorgen at any time. Additionally, if you want to experience firsthand the lifestyle improvements brought by smart doorbells, you can visit Moorgen's showroom located in North Point, Hong Kong, and experience Real Smart Home.
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