Throwing a Ring around the World

(Note: now that I’m gainfully employed again, I kind of assumed I wasn’t going to update this blog anymore, but an idea came up that I figured I could cross-post from my other blog. So here we are – I might even continue to post musings and such as they come up in the future)

I was thinking about Ring today. It’s the smart doorbell manufacturer that got snapped up by Amazon for a billion dollars back in February, and a company I wrote about extensively for Ovum. The interest at the time was this upstart company that just kept attracting funding (including from Amazon’s Alexa Fund back in 2016), and when it came onto my radar in early 2017 it had just picked up $109 million for its Series D, making it the most-funded smart home company on my old investment tracker.

That, and their range of products, made them a good target for us to write about, so I chatted with them a few times to prepare a research note, essentially introducing them to Ovum’s clients. The thing that stuck with me, and that I was thinking about today, was their approach to the smart home camera sector. Instead of focusing on what was happening inside the home, they reasoned that a good way to make an individual home safer was by making the neighborhood around it safer.

So the Ring doorbell was intended to see what happened out in front of the house, including at other houses on the same street. After all, if someone broke into the house across the street from yours, it would be relevant because your own home could be next. They followed this concept up with smart outdoor lighting, which could help protect your yard, and so on.

As I said, this stuck with me, to the point that of all the companies I wrote about during that time, it’s one of the most conceptually interesting ideas I came across. It’s also affected my thinking in seemingly unrelated areas, like immigration and foreign policy. The way it applies there is, if a country wants to be safe from illegal immigration, human trafficking, the drug trade, and so forth, it’s not enough to combat those things inside its own borders – it’ll have to work with its neighbors to sort those problems out at the source.

If you want to stick to tech, this concept is relevant to cybersecurity, and any number of other areas as well. One of the key complaints about smart home devices is the fact that security is often an afterthought, but securing the device, while necessary, is probably not sufficient. You want your network to not be compromised, which means that ideally your neighbors’ Wi-Fi networks should be secure too. And so forth.

Amazon obviously bought Ring because its technology could be integrated with the Alexa suite of smart home devices, and because its technical expertise offers a different view on the home than the Echo device had. Also, I don’t know Jamie Siminoff at all (I’ve never met him or spoken to him), but I presume he isn’t a bleeding-heart leftie like me.

Still, it’s reassuring to know that someone’s successfully implemented technology that takes into account the inter-connectedness of communities, and that acknowledges that what’s happening outside your house does affect you. This is a powerful but understated idea, and I’d love to see it take root in more of the tech industry – as well as in politics.

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