Cloud-mounted cameras are practical and easy to use. They are also packed with features that (obviously) use the cloud, which can be problematic. Before you buy one, you should know the pros and cons.
The problem is the cloud
Many Wi-Fi security cameras and video doorbells upload their recorded video to the cloud. In this case, the cloud is a set of servers owned by the camera manufacturer. When manufacturers use the cloud, they can offer features that might otherwise not be possible, such as: Advanced memory, motion alerts, person recognition and even face recognition.
According to recent reports, however, Amazon has released some ring camera records for police authorities without this feature an arrest warrant or the owner's consent. Amazon later denied the claim. However, if the police has a warrant, Amazon (or Google or anyone else) has to hand over the data. In that situation, the only option is to challenge the arrest warrant, and the company would make that decision, not you. You may not be aware of the demand.
It is not particularly difficult for law enforcement agencies to obtain an arrest warrant for your data, and it should not be. Search warrants are designed to prevent frivolous searches. As long as the police (or other government agency) provide a reasonable explanation for the search, the courts grant the arrest warrant. This applies to all your data on a company's servers, regardless of whether it's recorded video, voice mail or e-mail.
Warranties are not the only thing that concerns storing your data in the cloud. For example, hackers could steal it and you might not even know it happened. Just because you store your camera footage on servers of a large company like Google or Amazon, they are not necessarily safer.
While Google and Amazon are probably better equipped to fend off a direct attack, hackers often use social engineering to compromise their account information. Instead of directly accessing a server, the hacker will lead you or the company to grant access to your account. Then he logs in as you. Then he can take what he wants, and you may not find out until it's too late (if at all).
As long as your video data is in the cloud, you ultimately can not control it – the company that does that provides the cloud server.
If you skip the cloud, you lose features.
You do not need to store your data in the cloud if you have concerns about it. For some cameras you can record locally, for others the cloud is optional. However, turning off the cloud usually results in lost features.
Many cameras use the cloud to enable motion alerts or continuous recording, for example. And if you turn off the cloud on a video doorbell, you lose one of our favorite features: the Smart Display integration. Your doorbell video stream will not show in a Google Nest Hub or Echo show if you do not send your data to the cloud.
Buying devices specifically for local control can help reduce the loss. Some cameras like Wyze's and Arlo Pro's 2 offer local storage and continuous recording on a microSD card.
Some doorbells like the EUFY contain motion alerts without a cloud, but do not provide a continuous record as the nest hello.
Even if you drop the cloud, it does not completely solve the problem. If the police know you have a camera that may have recorded a crime, they may still receive a warrant for your data. The arrest warrant only calls you instead of a company.
And hackers can still try to steal your video, but now your home is the avenue of attack instead of social engineering.
What you can do
Regardless of whether you use local cameras or cameras with cloud connection, you can take steps to resolve the issues. If you're worried about hackers, it's best to back up your accounts and home network. Use a unique password for each account and, if possible, two-factor authentication. As always, we recommend that you use a password manager to create and store unique passwords.
To secure your smarthome network, you should use a strong password for your wireless router and unique passwords for each Internet-connected device. If possible, update the firmware for your network-connected devices, including your cameras. If your devices have automatic firmware updates, make sure they are enabled.
If you have outdoor cameras, place them in places that make stealing difficult. Somewhere high and out of reach is preferable. When using indoor cameras, think carefully about where you place them. You probably do not need cameras in your bedroom or bathroom if you already see entrances (like the front or garage doors) and high traffic areas. That way, if someone invades your network, you can at least control which areas of your home are visible to them.
Why we continue to recommend it
Risks and, all in all, we still recommend cameras with cloud connection. Whether you use Nest, Ring or Wyze cameras, every business has committed to security and privacy. After all, everything else would be detrimental to the business.
And as mentioned before, your data will not necessarily be protected from government or hackers, even if you are disconnecting from the cloud. After all, all you gain is the comfort of knowing that you alone have the key to your data. If this is important to you, choose a local recording camera.
We do not believe that this benefit outweighs the cost of abandoning the cloud. It is our pleasure to recommend reputable companies with a track record that we can examine. No company is perfect, but if one fails, we can at least see how it deals with failure – and that's also informative.
The most important thing is to look at all the facts and find out what makes you most enjoyable.