Eavesdropping Lamps: A New Privacy Concern?

Home security is big business. The North America home security system market took in a whopping $3.9 billion in 2017. New innovations in smart technology are empowering parents and property owners with state-of-the-art surveillance tools never before seen.

For less than $200, Panasonic will sell you a “stylish” floor lamp that not only casts a pleasant glow but eavesdrops on the interior of the room. It is designed to look like an innocent, ordinary piece of designer decor. Sneaky, eh?

The HomeHawk Floor is an ordinary lamp equipped with a HomeHawk Smart Home Monitoring Indoor Camera mounted in the stem of the lamp.

HomeHawk Floor is available in two neutral colors (Satin Black or Fabric Gray as an upgrade option) and three different height options: 2-, 4-, or 6-feet. Its slim profile and adjustable height let you place it in corners or flat surfaces – and you don’t need any tools to set it up.

The light source is at the top of the stem and adjusts up to 600 lumens. The camera is located directly below the light.

The user can dim, control, and schedule the ambient lighting from a smartphone or voice assistant.

Eight AA batteries provide up to one and a half hours of backup power protection.

You can buy separately just the camera, mounted on a sturdy and “stylish” base for a nickel less than $130 – with free shipping.

The HomeHawk product line is aptly named because, when awake, it is alert and predatory.

As with other smart home monitoring devices such as Amazon’s Echo and Alexa, the HomeHawk lamp begins capturing video two seconds before the motion sensor is activated. This is possible only if the system never shuts off completely – and that feature raises privacy concerns in some minds.

In fact, HomeHawk Floor can pair with major smart home assistants to operate with voice commands.

The all-in-one wireless lamp features the HomeHawk camera which detects and records 1080-pixel Full HD video. Data collected can be transmitted as alerts to mobile apps on other smart devices.

Recorded data is saved to a MicroSD card since HomeHawk is not yet capable of cloud storage. Rapid playback lets the user do a quick review of recorded videos.

The HomeHawk camera’s “eyes” (camera) can sweep up to 142 degrees left and right. For those who aren’t math buffs, half a circles measures 180 degrees and a quarter-circle is 90 degrees. The camera’s wide-angle vision falls in between the two.

But perhaps most impressive is HomeHawk Floor’s color night vision capability for protection day and night.

HomeHawk devices are equipped with clear 2-way talk to “make it ideal for monitoring children and pets or room activities,” according to the manufacturer’s website.

Like many other modern camera-equipped devices, HomeHawk comes with a privacy shutter to cover the camera lens and microphone “to fully disable camera and microphone when monitoring is not required.”

HomeHawk devices work only with Panasonic’s Home Network System, a free downloadable app from iTunes and Google. The proprietary monitoring machine syncs with all its brethren home monitoring systems, and is portable room to room.

Onboard sound and motion sensors can signal HomeHawk to start recording to a microSD/SDXC card for playback on PC or laptop.

HomeHawk systems are capable of home monitoring with real-time viewing from a remote device – so you can keep an eye (and ear) on the kids and Fido.

Following a smart device industry trend, HomeHawk has a temperature sensor to monitor room comfort, set by its users. It “alerts your phone/tablet when the baby’s room or pet area temperature goes above or below a pre-set range.” The Panasonic wireless home monitoring system comes with a compatible Honeywell wireless thermostat.

Although the HomeHawk home monitor looks like a 1940s desktop radio mic, Panasonic says its “stylish, contemporary profile enhances any room décor, fits smartly on shelves, cabinets or tabletops, or mounts easily on any interior wall.”

The HomeHawk Floor lamp is indeed rather attractive and could blend into many residential decors.

Panasonic believes that interior monitoring is “a vital part of home security. And peace of mind.”

While many observers agree, some are concerned about the ability of smart electronic devices to report gathered information back to their owners. An article in the Verge underscored these fears:

“Concealing the camera in a standard appliance definitely has its appeal, and follows the trends of other smart home products that integrate smart speakers and other sensors into everyday appliances. But a camera is considerably different than, say, a motion sensor or even a smart speaker — there are much greater privacy implications at play, especially when you consider that this type of product could easily be installed in an Airbnb rental.”

While there is nothing illegal about Airbnb property owners surveilling their guests – it is in the hospitality company’s Terms and Conditions – hosts are required to let renters know if cameras are on the premises and if the system is recording.

Where Panasonic goes, other smart device manufacturers are bound to follow. Future generations of home interior spyware will become more stealthy and harder to detect.

Kim Wetzel wrote for Digital Trends about the sinister significance these Brave New World interior room surveillance systems pose:

“Think about where these things could be placed, spying on us without us knowing it: Doctor’s offices, rental houses, public bathrooms, the living rooms or bedrooms of our significant others, hotel rooms. If home surveillance technology is making its way into a benign floor lamp, what’s next? A spying couch?”

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