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Privacy and the connected home

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

One of the most visible illustrations of the Internet of Things movement, the connected home continues to open up an expanding world of RMR possibilities for the security industry. But according to a recent CNN Money report, it’s also opening up some new and murky legal terrain that, like many Internet-related matters, raises fundamental questions about privacy and information rights.

The headline is as blunt as it is Orwellian: “Cops can access your connected home.” While the article references smart home technology writ large, the piece mostly focuses on the video aspect of the connected home and the potential for cameras to generate footage that could someday be used in legal proceedings.

In the article, Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst from the American Civil Liberties Union, is quoted as saying, “We’re seeing law enforcement across a variety of areas arguing that they should be able to access information with lower standards than before the electronic age.”

The source also notes that information from the home can provide a “window into the things you’re doing in your private space.”

Still, authorities cannot get their hands on such footage without a warrant or subpoena, as the article notes. A judge authorizes a warrant when the prosecutors show “probable cause” that evidence exists that could be linked to criminal activity. Subpoenas, however, have a somewhat looser standard, requiring only that the data being sought is relevant to a given investigation.

Security companies offering interactive services are typically very sensitive to the notion that customers have lingering concerns about privacy. Andy Stadler, division manager, advanced services, at Security Partners, illustrated that awareness in our conversation a few weeks ago about the company’s recent adoption of Alarm.com’s new video verified alarm service. During the development phase, he said, Security Partners and Alarm.com took pains to erect privacy measures that would perform the dual task of giving central stations the information they need without infringing on the customer's privacy.

This left me wondering: With home automation offerings so widespread, could the implementation of more robust and consumer-friendly privacy measures emerge as a real differentiator? Are the more tech-savvy, privacy-conscious consumers going to start asking companies how long they store footage on their servers? Are they going to ask how and why authorities might access data generated in their homes? Are they going to ask about what cyber security measures are being put in place to thwart hacks?

This will be a fascinating industry topic to watch on several levels. At the business level, it could just be that the companies most attentive to privacy protections will view public skepticism as an opportunity rather than a hindrance.

Vivint launches own panel, own platform in new solution

Vivint Sky not the limit—Vivint’s goal is to ‘control anything and everything’ in the smart home; Vivint beta testing Internet service as well
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06/10/2014

PROVO, Utah—Vivint today launched Vivint Sky, a new cloud-based smart home solution featuring the company’s own control panel and software. The company anticipates a gradual migration of its more than 800,000 subscribers over to Vivint Sky from the 2GIG Go!Control panel and the Alarm.com software that they currently use.

Garage door gives dealer entrée into home security

A LiftMaster dealer creates security division based on the ability to integrate garage doors into the connected home
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06/04/2014

GAINESVILLE, Va.—Alarm Pro America entered the home security market through the garage door—with help from LiftMaster and Alarm.com, according to Dylan McGreevy, VP of sales and operations for the full service security company, based here.

Security Partners deploys new video verification service from Alarm.com

The residential service is based on image sensors, which detect motion and serve video clips to central stations in an alarm event
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06/04/2014

LANCASTER, Pa.—Security Partners, a wholesale monitoring company based here, is optimistic about the potential of video verification in the residential market. That’s one reason they’re an early adopter of a new video verification service from Alarm.com, an interactive services company with an established presence in the home.

Google’s Dropcam security push and Apple’s smart home “big play”—should security companies be worried?

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Recent news reports say that Google may buy startup Dropcam, which makes video cameras that stream video to a user’s computer or cellphone, as a way to get into home security. And The Financial Times has reported that Apple is soon expected to make a “big play” into the smart home, launching a new software platform that will allow users to control security systems and home features such as lights directly from their iPhones.

Should security companies be worried? Not really, according to a report today from Imperial Capital, a New York-based full-service investment bank.

If the Dropcam report turns out to be true, it would mean Google is adding a security component on the heels of its entrance into home automation with its recent $3.2 billion purchase of Nest Labs, maker of smart thermostats and smoke alarms.

But the report, authored by Jeff Kessler, Imperial Capital’s managing director of institutional research, said it doesn’t believe the Dropcam purchase would have a negative impact on security companies or other pure play home automation companies, like Control4.

The reason, it says, is that “security companies generally are not participants in the do-it-yourself (DIY) market and do not target particular groups that may be interested in such products (e.g., college students, young professionals living in high rises).” Also, the report said, although “Dropcam could be a good entry product for those that do not understand or are not familiar with security products, it does not replace the security, home automation, and customer service capabilities which the likes of ADT or Control4 provide, and nor do we believe that it wants to.”

What about the potential Apple smart home/security play?

The report says: “We wonder if Apple will open up its “big play” to allow a broad base of installers, service, and responders to interact with it, or will it be another closed end system, in which the homeowner, or more likely the apartment owner, can check on what is going on at home on an Apple iPhone, and then have the responsibility of “making the call” to police or health responders based on what they have just seen on the iPhone. Another uncertainty is if the police would trust this system, or would law enforcement be more likely to respond to a more familiar source that has verified the same incident.”

The report summarized by saying that while the new developments are exciting and will be particularly attractive to those who don’t own homes, the lack of professional monitoring is a drawback.

“Remember, these monitoring stations (to be accredited) have to show that their average time to make a decision to dispatch or not to dispatch is less that 30-35 seconds, have tremendous redundancy, and can typically be trusted. We simply do not believe that Apple users will get that service.”

In fact, the report says that these DIY products could indirectly help professional security companies by introducing a younger generation to the idea of home security/home automation, which could lead those customers to “potentially switch to a larger, more powerful, and more comprehensive platform in the out years.”

Alarm.com, a leading provider of interactive security services, also weighed in to me on the new developments involving Google and Apple.

That Vienna, Va.-based company stressed that security is the backbone of the smart home and noted that professional monitoring is a key differentiator, but said security companies need to make sure homeowners know that.

"The key purchase driver for home automation is security.  We see this in both consumer surveys and purchasing trends," Alarm.com said, in a statement.

Also, Alarm.com said, the announcements "validate the popularity of a growing range of connected devices and services. Security dealers should tap into this underlying consumer demand by aggressively marketing and selling a complete range of connected home technologies with professionally monitored security at its core."

 

ADT to acquire Protectron for $500 million

Imperial Capital’s John Mack: Agreed upon deal is ‘far and away’ the largest deal for ADT as independent company
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04/30/2014

BOCA RATON, Fla.—In what will be its largest acquisition as an independent company, ADT has agreed to acquire Canada-based monitoring giant Protectron in a $500 million deal, giving the company another 400,000 customers north of the border.

Qolsys IQ Panel available now

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02/24/2014

CUPERTINO, Calif.– Qolsys, a provider of home security and automation systems, announced in February that its IQ Panel, powered by Alarm.com, is now widely available through distributors in the United States.

Alarm.com puts its own spin on PERS

The offering, called Wellness, leverages sensors, panic buttons and mobile notifications
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01/21/2014

VIENNA, Va.—Alarm.com, an interactive services provider based here, unveiled an offering at the Consumer Electronics Show in January that blends traditional PERS elements with the sensors and home automation features the company has built its brand around.  

Alarm.com, iControl, Telular end patent infringement cases

Now iControl and Alarm.com have a cross-licensing agreement that allows subscribers of either company to access patents covered under the agreement
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01/15/2014

YARMOUTH, Maine—Patent infringement lawsuits involving Alarm.com, iControl Networks and Telular have all been dismissed, the companies announced this week.

Alarm.com puts its own spin on PERS

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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Alarm.com’s new Wellness solution, unveiled recently at CES, may perform some of the same functions as a traditional PERS unit, but the solution has the unmistakable stamp of an Alarm.com offering.

The solution combines mobile notifications and sensors with the company’s home automation platform, a medley of functionalities that make it a unique contribution to the independent living product realm, which is fast becoming a widespread RMR-generating fixture in the industry.

That’s not to say Wellness doesn’t feature some of the typical trappings of more traditional PERS technology. The solution includes panic buttons, for instance. But how the offering differs from traditional PERS units in some ways parallels how Alarm.com initially distinguished itself as a company in the residential security space—through its automation functions. Through a network of sensors, the solution can automatically detect unusual information and send mobile notifications to caregivers.  

Since Wellness is fully integrated with the company’s home automation, energy management and security services, the offering essentially slots in as another component of the broader ecosystem of a connected home. Another neat wrinkle to the offering, and one that maybe shouldn’t be surprising given the overarching design of the solution, is that it enables caregivers to adjust household devices like thermostats remotely.

It’s hard to think of a product perfectly analogous to this elsewhere in the industry, though that doesn’t mean there’s not one, or at least something similar in scope and breadth. In the coming days, once CES is in the rearview mirror, I plan to speak to Alison Slavin, VP of product management at Alarm.com, to find out more about how this product puts a new spin on the PERS space, as well as what the future holds for the company in that market. 

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