Download PDF version Contact company

On a quiet road south of Ventura Boulevard, two cameras on a pole watch over the road, facing opposite directions. A block away, another brace of cameras sit sentry. Together, they constantly film the two points of entry to a closed loop of public streets in Sherman Oaks.

Nearby, on a dual-screen setup in the basement of his hillside home, Robert Shontell pulls up hundreds of snippets of footage captured by the cameras earlier that day. Each shows a car, time-stamped and tagged with the make, model, paint color and license plate.

Machine vision software

He searches for a silver Honda spotted between the hours of 1 and 2 p.m. After some scrolling, a shot of my car — and me — pops up. “The most surprising thing is just how many cars drive through the neighborhood each day,” Shontell says. And every one ends up filmed by the motion-activated cameras, then tagged and entered in the database by the machine vision software powering the system.

The most surprising thing is just how many cars drive through the neighborhood each day"

Residents of the neighborhood had pooled their money to rent these cameras, and the software behind them, from Flock Safety — an Atlanta-based company that has found clients for its automatic license plate readers in safety-conscious communities, homeowners’ associations and local police departments across 30 states.

Tracking every vehicle

The company’s pitch: With its cameras, residents can track every vehicle that passes through their neighborhood. If a burglar strikes, they can check and see which cars were spotted in the area around the time of the crime, and pass that footage on to police. To allay privacy concerns, only the residents have access to the footage, and it automatically deletes after 30 days.

Costs vary depending on the client, but Flock generally charges $2,000 per camera per year for the service, and reports that more than 400 communities are using its product. It’s backed by serious Silicon Valley investment: The company was a member of prominent start-up accelerator Y Combinator’s summer class of 2017 and has since raised nearly $20 million in funding from tech heavyweights including Matrix Partners and Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund.

Solving two crimes

The company said it couldn’t share details of every case but did note that the technology was integral

Our cameras are helping solve two crimes every single day right now,” said Josh Thomas, Flock’s Head of Marketing. The company said it couldn’t share details of every case but did note that the technology was integral to a recent arrest of a ring of 24 sexual predators in north Georgia, and local media outlets report a steady drumbeat of burglaries and car thefts that Flock helped to solve. “If we can reach further scale and put out more detective-like cameras on every street corner, we can solve more crime.”

Flock’s push to put a camera on every corner comes at a time when smart cameras and social media are combining to create a newly paranoid model of neighborhood life. The message boards on Nextdoor, a social service that requires users to verify their addresses to ensure that only true locals are allowed to post, are rife with reports of suspicious noises, cars and people.

Facial recognition technology

Footage from Ring, a video doorbell company, often ends up on Nextdoor or shared on its in-house social network, Neighbours. Recent reporting from Motherboard has revealed that local police have signed secret agreements to hawk Ring systems to their local communities, and BuzzFeed found that the company is testing out facial recognition technology with its clients in Ukraine.

Recent reporting from Motherboard has revealed that local police have signed secret agreements

License plate reader technology, which has been used by the Los Angeles Police Department and agencies across the state for years, has raised concerns among privacy advocates, and the state of California is investigating the legality of its use in law enforcement.

Security camera systems

License plate readers have been recognized by the Legislature and lots of police departments — and certainly civil liberty groups — as technology that can violate people’s privacy by tracking their movements without their consent,” said David Maass, Senior Investigative Researcher with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties nonprofit.

The leap from traditional security camera systems to those powered by machine vision, like automatic license plate readers, is as vast as the difference between an analog library and the modern internet. Before, a human would have to pore over hours of footage from multiple cameras to try to piece together a car’s movement through a neighborhood, let alone an entire city. Now, the software can instantly spit out a list of all sightings, effectively creating a shot-by-shot map of a car’s whereabouts.

Facial recognition software

A license plate reader spotted a car on the freeway listed as stolen in a state database

And while the technology is more accurate than its machine vision cousin, facial recognition software, false positives remain a risk. Last year in Contra Costa County, a license plate reader spotted a car on the freeway listed as stolen in a state database. Police pulled the car over, approached with guns drawn, handcuffed the driver and his passenger, and forced them to kneel on the pavement at gunpoint, believing them to be dangerous. But the stolen car database was out of date — the car was a rental and had been reported stolen, then recovered, earlier in the year.

Outcry over incidents like this prompted state legislators in 2015 to pass a law regulating how public agencies can use automatic license plate readers, but recent pushback from privacy advocates, backed by research indicating that law enforcement may not be following the law, prompted the state auditor to launch a probe into the technology’s use in June.

Receiving same training

Flock’s extension of the same technology into the private sphere raises another set of concerns: Private citizens are unlikely to receive the same training, or be subject to the same oversight, as public employees. A neighborhood administrator could easily search local Flock records to track a spouse’s whereabouts.

Flock’s extension of the same technology into the private sphere raises another set of concerns

And while the onus is currently on Flock clients to send their footage to police to assist in an investigation, there’s little stopping police, once they know cameras are in place, from requesting footage from Flock users to track anyone who passes through the area — a practice that’s already common with Ring video.

Local law enforcement

Our customers are the ones who own all the footage. We don’t access it, we don’t share it with third parties, we don’t sell it. They can share that with their local law enforcement in the event of the crime if they choose,” said Flock’s Thomas.

It would be a breach of contract if they were to use it for other nefarious purposes,” he added. “We would end our contract and take it back,” though he noted that with no access to a client’s account, the company has no way to monitor the systems for abuse.

Having real evidence

Shontell said that he and his neighbors started looking into the company after a series of break-ins

Shontell said that he and his neighbors started looking into the company after a series of break-ins on their street, having heard about it from friends who live in a nearby hillside neighborhood, and decided to install the cameras earlier this summer. As a career film and TV editor, he volunteered to be one of the technical administrators for the system.

During the setup process, users can add a list of residents’ plates, to avoid mistaking a neighbor for an interloper. Those with a direct line to the system administrators can also request that footage of their cars not be logged in the system. Shontell said that the neighborhood group went door to door to let every household know they were installing the cameras, but there’s no legal requirement that they do so.

Advanced search criteria

Flock also records footage of cyclists and pedestrians moving past its cameras. Users can search in those broad categories by time, scrolling through a list of every person who walked or biked by, but the more advanced search criteria only work for cars. The interface also has a ‘dog’ category, which largely consists of clips of people walking their dogs.

The street has been crime-free so far, but Shontell said his neighbors — many of whom have private cameras or Ring systems for their own homes — feel safer with a belt-and-suspenders approach to neighborhood security. “We can tell who’s coming and going 24/7. Some people might have an issue with that,” Shontell said. “I tend to think personally that what you might give up in terms of privacy is overshadowed by what you gain: possibly having some real evidence to give the police.”

Download PDF version Download PDF version

In case you missed it

Access The Right Areas - Making A Smart Home Genius With Biometrics
Access The Right Areas - Making A Smart Home Genius With Biometrics

Household adoption of smart home systems currently sits at 12.1% and is set to grow to 21.4% by 2025, expanding the market from US$ 78.3 billion to US$ 135 billion, in the same period. Although closely linked to the growth of connectivity technologies, including 5G, tech-savvy consumers are also recognizing the benefits of next-generation security systems, to protect and secure their domestic lives. Biometric technologies are already commonplace in our smartphones, PCs and payment cards, enhancing security without compromising convenience. Consequently, manufacturers and developers are taking note of biometric solutions, as a way of leveling-up their smart home solutions. Biometrics offer enhanced security As with any home, security starts at the front door and the first opportunity for biometrics to make a smart home genius lies within the smart lock. Why? Relying on inconvenient unsecure PINs and codes takes the ‘smart’ out of smart locks. As the number of connected systems in our homes increase, we cannot expect consumers to create, remember and use an ever-expanding list of unique passwords and PINs. Indeed, 60% of consumers feel they have too many to remember and the number can be as high as 85 for all personal and private accounts. Biometric solutions strengthen home access control Biometric solutions have a real opportunity to strengthen the security and convenience of home access control Doing this risks consumers becoming apathetic with security, as 41% of consumers admit to re-using the same password or introducing simple minor variations, increasing the risk of hacks and breaches from weak or stolen passwords. Furthermore, continually updating and refreshing passwords, and PINs is unappealing and inconvenient. Consequently, biometric solutions have a real opportunity to strengthen the security and convenience of home access control. Positives of on-device biometric storage Biometric authentication, such as fingerprint recognition uses personally identifiable information, which is stored securely on-device. By using on-device biometric storage, manufacturers are supporting the 38% of consumers, who are worried about privacy and biometrics, and potentially winning over the 17% of people, who don’t use smart home devices for this very reason. Compared to conventional security, such as passwords, PINs or even keys, which can be spoofed, stolen, forgotten or lost, biometrics is difficult to hack and near impossible to spoof. Consequently, homes secured with biometric smart locks are made safer in a significantly more seamless and convenient way for the user. Biometric smart locks Physical access in our domestic lives doesn’t end at the front door with smart locks. Biometrics has endless opportunities to ease our daily lives, replacing passwords and PINs in all devices. Biometric smart locks provide personalized access control to sensitive and hazardous areas, such as medicine cabinets, kitchen drawers, safes, kitchen appliances and bike locks. They offer effective security with a touch or glance. Multi-tenanted sites, such as apartment blocks and student halls, can also become smarter and more secure. With hundreds of people occupying the same building, maintaining high levels of security is the responsibility for every individual occupant. Biometric smart locks limit entry to authorized tenants and eliminate the impact of lost or stolen keys, and passcodes. Furthermore, there’s no need for costly lock replacements and when people leave the building permanently, their data is easily removed from the device. Authorized building access Like biometric smart locks in general, the benefits extend beyond the front door Like biometric smart locks in general, the benefits extend beyond the front door, but also throughout the entire building, such as washing rooms, mail rooms, bike rooms and community spaces, such as gyms. Different people might have different levels of access to these areas, depending on their contracts, creating an access control headache. But, by having biometric smart locks, security teams can ensure that only authorized people have access to the right combination of rooms and areas. Convenience of biometric access cards Additionally, if building owners have options, the biometric sensors can be integrated into the doors themselves, thereby allowing users to touch the sensor, to unlock the door and enter. Furthermore, the latest technology allows biometric access cards to be used. This embeds the sensor into a contactless keycard, allowing the user to place their thumb on the sensor and tap the card to unlock the door. This may be preferable in circumstances where contactless keycards are already in use and can be upgraded. Smarter and seamless security In tandem with the growth of the smart home ecosystem, biometrics has real potential to enhance our daily lives, by delivering smarter, seamless and more convenient security. Significant innovation has made biometrics access control faster, more accurate and secure. Furthermore, today’s sensors are durable and energy efficient. With the capacity for over 10 million touches and ultra-low power consumption, smart home system developers no longer have to worry about added power demands. As consumers continue to invest in their homes and explore new ways to secure and access them, biometrics offers a golden opportunity for market players, to differentiate and make smart homes even smarter.

Quantum Focuses On Unstructured Data, Embraces Pivot3 Acquisition
Quantum Focuses On Unstructured Data, Embraces Pivot3 Acquisition

Video is an enormous wellspring of unstructured data in the enterprise environment. Finding new ways to use video data requires easy access for analysis. Gone are the days when video was recorded just to be played back later. New computer capabilities can analyze video to provide business intelligence and trends, all of which requires that a lot of unstructured data be captured, stored and kept immediately accessible. It's a driving force for companies specializing in video storage such as Quantum, which is focused on storing and managing unstructured data, including video, photos, music and sound. Managing various analytics “Unstructured data is driving the massive growth in storage today, and video surveillance fits right in there,” says Jamie Lerner, CEO and President, Quantum. As data multiplies in business, matters of storing and accessing the data take on a larger profile. Especially challenging is meeting the need to store and access expanding amounts of unstructured data, such as video. Video is also part of a changing end-to-end architecture in the enterpriseWhereas 10 years ago, video surveillance was all about recording and playback, now the emphasis is much more on an end-to-end approach. In addition to capturing and playing back video, systems have to manage various analytics, archival and data retention aspects as well as recording. Video is also part of a changing end-to-end architecture in the enterprise, including hybrid, cloud and on-premise storage. Video surveillance industry Historically, structured data, such as financial information, was stored to allow future analytics. The same trend extends to unstructured data, such as video analytics. Quantum has expanded its video storage capabilities with acquisition this year of the video surveillance business of Pivot3, provider of a hyperconverged system that provides recording, analysis and seamlessly archives data on a converged platform that is less expensive and easier to manage. In acquiring Pivot3, Quantum is refocusing the smaller company on the video surveillance industry. “We are now focused 100% on surveillance and having the highest quality while being very cost-effective,” says Lerner. “The industry is ready for an IT-forward solution that is totally focused on surveillance. You can’t make a platform all things to all people.” Traditional security customers There is overlap in large stadiums and theme parks, where Lerner sees even more opportunity to expand Pivot3 will also help to expand Quantum’s customer base. The larger company has a history of serving customers in entertainment, movies, television and sports production. The addition of Pivot3’s 500 new customers in large surveillance, transportation and critical infrastructure markets will expand the mix. There is overlap in large stadiums and theme parks, where Lerner sees even more opportunity to expand. Pivot3 also helps to bridge the gap between traditional security customers and the information technology (IT) department. “Pivot3 has a reputation as simple to use,” says Lerner. “My belief is that physical security can run separately [from IT] until you reach a certain size, then IT has to be involved. Pivot3 gives IT people in the security space a product that is well formed and fits into an IT strategy. They are not undertaking a piece of equipment that will be a burden.” Physical security presence Customers expect their infrastructure vendors to provide systems that allow them to “Set it and forget it,” says Lerner. It’s one of the big advantages of cloud computing and also central to Quantum’s approach with their traditional products. “At the end of the day, you want to run a hospital, for example, so you want your systems to be easy to use,” says Lerner. The Pivot3 acquisition will also allow Quantum to expand their physical security presence more broadly and globally. Previously, the geographic reach of Pivot3 was limited by the high cost of placing personnel in diverse locations. Under Quantum, which has been serving global companies for 40 years, the problem disappears. “Quantum has global support on all continents and in more countries,” says Lerner. “It’s a higher level of support, given size and legacy of our organization.”

Data Explosion: Futureproofing Your Video Surveillance Infrastructure
Data Explosion: Futureproofing Your Video Surveillance Infrastructure

Video surveillance systems are producing more unstructured data than ever before. A dramatic decrease in camera costs in recent years has led many businesses to invest in comprehensive surveillance coverage, with more cameras generating more data. Plus, advances in technology mean that the newest (8K) cameras are generating approximately 800% more data than their predecessors (standard definition). Traditional entry-level solutions like network video recorders (NVRs) simply aren’t built to handle massive amounts of data in an efficient, resilient and cost-effective manner. This has left many security pioneers grappling with a data storage conundrum. Should they continue adding more NVR boxes? Or is there another, better, route? Retaining video data In short, yes. To future proof their video surveillance infrastructure, an increasing number of businesses are adopting an end-to-end surveillance architecture with well-integrated, purpose-built platforms for handling video data through its lifecycle. This presents significant advantages in terms of security, compliance and scalability, as well as unlocking new possibilities for data enrichment. All of this with a lower total cost of ownership than traditional solutions. Security teams would typically delete recorded surveillance footage after a few days or weeks Previously, security teams would typically delete recorded surveillance footage after a few days or weeks. However, thanks to increasingly stringent legal and compliance demands, many are now required to retain video data for months or even years. There’s no doubt that this can potentially benefit investigations and increase prosecutions, but it also puts significant pressure on businesses’ storage infrastructure. Data lifecycle management This necessitates a more intelligent approach to data lifecycle management. Rather than simply storing video data in a single location until it’s wiped, an end-to-end video surveillance solution can intelligently migrate data to different storage platforms and media as it ages. So, how does this work? Video is recorded and analyzed on a combination of NVR, hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) and application servers. Then, it’s moved to resilient file storage for a pre-determined period, where it can be immediately retrieved and accessed for review. Finally, based on policies set by heads of security, data is moved from file storage to highly secure, low-cost archive storage such as an object, tape or cloud. Data is moved from file storage to highly secure, low-cost archive storage Long-Term storage This process is known as tiering. It allows businesses to use reliable, inexpensive long-term storage for most of their data, whilst still enabling security pioneers to retrieve video data when the need arises, such as during a compliance audit, or to review footage following a security breach. In a nutshell, it offers them the best of both worlds. Scaling your video surveillance infrastructure can be a headache. Businesses that rely on NVRs – even high-end units with 64 or even 96 hard drives – are finding themselves running out of capacity increasingly quickly. In order to scale, security pioneers then have to procure new boxes. With NVRs, this inevitably involves a degree of guesswork. Should they go for the largest possible option, and risk over provisioning? Or perhaps a smaller option, and risk running out of capacity again? Common management console Security pioneers can easily add or remove storage capacity or compute resources – separately or together As businesses add new cameras or replace existing ones, many end up with inadequate surveillance infrastructure made up of multiple NVR boxes along with several application servers for running other surveillance functions such as access control, security photo databases, analytics, etc. This patchwork approach leaves security pioneers scrambling for capacity, maintaining various hardware footprints, repeating updates and checks across multiple systems, and taking up valuable time that could be better spent elsewhere. By contrast, flexible HCI surveillance platforms aggregate the storage and ecosystem applications to run on the same infrastructure and combine viewing under a common management console, avoiding ‘swivel chair’ management workflows. Plus, they offer seamless scalability. Security pioneers can easily add or remove storage capacity or compute resources – separately or together. Data storage solutions Over time, this ensures a lower total cost of ownership. First and foremost, it removes the risk of over provisioning and helps to control hardware sprawl. This in turn leads to hardware maintenance savings and lower power use. Many security pioneers are now looking beyond simple data storage solutions for their video surveillance footage. Meta tags can provide context around data, making it easier to find and access when needed Instead, they’re asking themselves how analyzing this data can enable their teams to work faster, more efficiently and productively. Implementing an end-to-end video surveillance architecture enables users to take advantage of AI and machine learning applications which can tag and enrich video surveillance data. These have several key benefits. Firstly, meta tags can provide context around data, making it easier to find and access when needed. Object storage platform For instance, if security teams are notified of a suspicious red truck, they can quickly find data with this tag, rather than manually searching through hours of data, which can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack. Plus, meta tags can be used to mark data for future analysis. This means that as algorithms are run over time, policies can be set to automatically store data in the right location. For example, if a video is determined to contain cars driving in and out of your premises, it would be moved to long-term archiving such as an object storage platform for compliance purposes. If, on the other hand, it contained 24 hours of an empty parking lot, it could be wiped. These same meta tags may be used to eventually expire the compliance data in the archive after it is no longer needed based on policy. Video surveillance architecture Continuing to rely on traditional systems like NVRs will fast become unsustainable for businesses Even if your organization isn’t using machine learning or artificial intelligence-powered applications to enhance your data today, it probably will be one, three, or even five years down the line. Implementing a flexible end-to-end video surveillance solution prepares you for this possibility. With new advances in technology, the quantity of data captured by video surveillance systems will continue rising throughout the coming decade. As such, continuing to rely on traditional systems like NVRs will fast become unsustainable for businesses. Looking forward, when moving to an end-to-end video surveillance architecture, security pioneers should make sure to evaluate options from different vendors. For true futureproofing, it’s a good idea to opt for a flexible, modular solution, which allow different elements to be upgraded to more advanced technologies when they become available.