You're enjoying a quiet evening when your phone vibrates and you get the familiar notification "bloop." It's your video doorbell app. But instead of seeing a neighbor or uniformed delivery driver on the screen, it's a suspicious-looking stranger. You feel a little safer being able to check who’s there without opening the door, and you decide to leave it closed.

This is the kind of situation video-doorbell manufacturers want you to think about when considering a purchase. But do you really need one, and what are you giving up in exchange for this kind of ‘reassurance’? Here are some key questions to ask yourself before buying a video doorbell.

Do I need it?

Evaluate your everyday routine and the routines of everyone in your home. If you have tech-savvy children at home, having a video doorbell may be a good precautionary measure to help stop your children opening the door to strangers. Maybe you visit neighbors every day, but regularly expect packages to sign. Having a video doorbell could save you a lot of headaches from missing the delivery person.

But if you don’t get many visitors, have other ways to check who’s on the doorstep (an intercom, peephole, or good old-fashioned windows), or are careful about who you open the door to anyway (it's a crazy world out there), then this may be a purchase you can skip.

Your decision should be based on your own comfort level and safety standards, says Jen Caltrider, lead of Mozilla's *Privacy Not Included (PNI) initiative, which reviews the privacy and security of internet-connected products.

"If you want to buy a video doorbell to help you feel safe in your own home, you absolutely should," she says. But not all video doorbells offer the same security and privacy features, so it’s important to do some research before you decide.

Which brands should I look at?

Misha Rykov, also on the PNI team, recently reviewed eight popular video doorbells currently on the market.

Netatmo's Smart Video Doorbell stands above the rest, he says. Since the company is based in Europe, it has to abide by strict EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) standards when it comes to privacy and usage of consumer data.

Rykov said if he were in the market for a video doorbell, this would be the one he'd check out. All video is recorded locally and stored on an encrypted micro SD card (not in the cloud), which is more secure and makes your data less vulnerable to breaches and hacks. Netatmo does give you the option to save your data to Dropbox, if you wish.

Out of all the doorbells reviewed, Amazon's Ring doorbell fared worst, and got a warning label from the PNI team because of its lack of end-to-end encryption and the company’s history of sharing data with third parties, including law enforcement. Claims that Ring partnerships with police helped reduce crime have been called into question, and there are ongoing concerns about the product's role in fuelling racial profiling.

Google and Wyze doorbells also raised concerns because the companies have suffered data breaches or vulnerabilities in the past.

Where does your data go?

Five of the eight doorbells the PNI team reviewed don't offer information on how to permanently delete your data from their systems. There are also unanswered questions about how long the companies hold onto your data.

This means doing your due diligence when you’re making that purchasing decision, and making sure you understand all of the device’s storage and privacy settings. This is crucial to keeping your video call data as secure as possible.

What level of risk are you comfortable with when buying a smart home product?

Video doorbell manufacturers are listening to consumer concerns and tightening security protocols for their products, recognising the privacy risks that smart products like these can pose. This includes adding two-factor authentication and requiring strong passwords. However, no smart device truly is 100% safe.

"Everything is hackable," Rykov says. He also noted that all of the devices he reviewed use artificial intelligence (AI) for face recognition or motion detection. However, there isn't enough evidence to show if the AI is accurate and trustworthy or not. AI can incorrectly identify people and data shows that people of color have been woefully underrepresented in AI research.

Beyond your personal privacy, there are also broader considerations, Caltrider says. For example, what rights do neighbors have if a video camera and mic’s range covers their home too? A recent ruling in the UK found that a Ring video doorbell infringed on a neighbour’s privacy, leaving the doorbell owner facing damages of more than $137,000.

Caltrider says it's up to each consumer to make the call if a video doorbell, intended to protect your physical privacy, is worth the potential risks to your digital privacy and security.

"Doing an assessment of the privacy risks versus the home security benefits is good for every consumer to do before they buy a device that connects to the internet," Caltrider says.

Williesha Morris

*Privacy Not Included