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Should You Use Twitter for Security Monitoring?

by John Honovich, IPVM posted on May 23, 2009 About John Contact John

Internet luminary Kevin Rose suggests that we cut out alarm monitoring companies through the use of low cost devices and sharing alerts via Twitter. Friends and neighbors can then monitor those alerts and respond appropriately. [Watch Kevin Rose's video explaining the concept.]

Certainly, Kevin taps into 3 compelling concerns:

  • Alarm monitoring services are expensive - $500-$1000 USD per year
  • They often sell based on fear
  • The Internet makes monitoring much less expensive and more sophisticated

However, 3 operational issues make a free, pure crowdsourcing approach to be unattractive for most:
  • Alarm monitoring companies provide extensive coverage indoors and outdoors that makes sure that the house is well protected; a DIY approach would likely leave major gaps in coverage
  • Handling false alerts would likely overwhelm people responding (ie., "the Boy who Cried Wolf") since most alerts are false
  • It's often hard to determine if an alert is an intruder or simply a friend, relative, etc. Responders at alarm monitoring companies have numbers/contacts and procedures to verify and assess such issues

Because of this, most people benefit from having some centralized organization that verifies alarms and provides quality control/support.

That being said, I think the idea has merit:
  • The idea can be implemented today with $100 IP cameras that use motion detection and support SMS/email. A moderately technical person could do this now and could deploy a poor man's 'alarm monitoring system'
  • While free, crowdsourcing has problems, today's technology should easily generate new competition from much lower cost providers that use the Internet and self-monitoring to reduce costs yet provide some support and verification.

Ill-will towards the monitoring companies is common and with the high prices of systems, they are ripe for disruption. While free and open source may not be enough for most today, new technologies do point the way to less expensive alternatives.

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