InternetEyes Crowdsourced Remote Video Monitoring

Author: John Honovich, Published on Oct 06, 2009

Crowdsourcing - the process of outsourcing tasks to the general public using the Internet to distribute work - is a hot trend. However, will it work and can it compete with traditional remote monitoring providers?

A new entrant is proposing this approach for remote video surveillance monitoring. The company, UK based InternetEyes, plans to have volunteers remotely monitor video surveillance cameras over the Internet. Key elements of the plan include:

  • Monitors will be motivated by monthly cash prizes for the person who catches the most criminals (currently planned for $1,600 USD).
  • When a monitor finds a suspicious activity, they flag it and that flag goes through their system to end users
  • To minimize privacy concerns, monitors will not be told the locations of the areas they are monitoring (though, of course, it is still possible that some monitors will recognize the locations)
  • To minimze inaccuracy or prejudiced alerts, monitors will be blocked if they submit more than 3 false alerts
  • Customers will be charged 20 GBP/$32 USD. This is presumably per camera though the online documentation found is not clear on this.

While this is not the first attempt to do remote monitoring of video surveillance using the public, this is far superior in design to the previous effort. Over the last few years, a group in Texas called BlueServo has run the Texas Border Watch - a set of cameras on the US/Mexico borders streamed over the Internet. In July 2009, it came under significant criticism for high costs and limited results.

Nonetheless, this service will obviously compete with the growing market of proprietary remote video providers from both traditional alarm monitoring companies and new entrants dedicated to video/video analytics.

The more specific and key question is then: Can crowdsourcing remote video monitoring compete with proprietary monitoring?

Advantages of Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing can work. When it does, it is because it can extract free or extremely low cost labor across tasks that can be divided into small segments.

Wikipedia, the hugely popular online encyclopedia is certainly a good example of the advantages in action. Not only could work be divided into distinct articles, individuals could edit/add to individual sections of each article. However, as successful as Wikipedia is, it is likely a poor comparison to the work involved in video surveillance.

A better example is, an online service that charges website developers $29 USD for a remote person to do a web usability test of websites. This is a low cost, quick way for companies to learn if usability problems exist with their website.

A few principles can be extracted from the success of this service:

  • Professionals cost much more: Getting true "UI" experts easily cost 10-100 times as much. While this is nowhere near the same quality level as an expert, hearing from an "average user" could still find the most significant issues.
  • Easy to Access: The reviewer can easily and instantly access the website to review. There' no need for special access or physically mailing information, etc.
  • Privacy not a Concern: The client will likely not be concerned about the reviewer disclosing the website or the information on it. Generally, there's not much secret or private information on commercial sites.
  • Infrequent Service Needed: This only needs to be done once in a while. Having a few people do a review (for about $100) may be good enough for a year or two. If companies needed to do this continuously, they would be more attracted to screening and hiring specific contractors.
  • Cannot be Automated: There's no easy way to automate usability for a computer to perform. As such, this service cannot be easily replaced by technology.
Following these principles crowdsourcing can work.
Key Elements of Remote Video Monitoring
Using these principles, we can see the remote video monitoring will have challenges with many of these 5:
  • Labor Does Costs Less: The only crowdsourcing advantage that remote monitoring clearly meets, it is likely that crowdsourcing remote monitors can be significantly less than on-site guards. This could be accomplished by paying people from lower income countries or those that are retired or disabled.
  • Very Difficult to Access: Accessing video surveillance feeds will be extremely difficult. Those customers using remote video monitoring today frequently set up a VPN with a trusted, bonded service provider. This is technically complex and does not scale to support widespread Internet distribution. Unlike telling someone to go to a website, remotely accessing a company's surveillance video is almost impossible without technical changes.
  • Privacy is a Concern for Even Mid Sized Companies: Even if a clever scheme can be devised to hide or randomize which monitors see what video, lots of security managers will remain concerned. If the crowdsourced remote video monitoring implements background checks and sophisticated tracking of who is monitoring, they may be able to allay this somewhat.
  • Continuous Service Needed: Most security managers will want such service on an ongoing basis. As an ongoing service, this will increase value of proprietary service.
  • Video Analytics Will Enable Automation: The premise of crowdsourcing video surveillance depends on reducing high manual labor costs. However, as video analytics mature, its use will grow and that will significantly reduce the need for labor. A response infrastructure will still be needed, including reviewing false alerts, etc. However, that can be done for a large number of customers with a small in-house staff that ensures privacy. Even an error prone video analytic based system is likely to be far preferable to having crowds of people watch continuous video.

Of these 5 principles, the strongest factors in undermining crowdsourcing are likely to be (1) the difficulty in accessing video and (2) video analytics replacing human observers.

While such an idea gains significant media attention, it is unlikely to be economically competitive with proprietary remote video monitoring services using analytics.

2018 Update: The company appears to be out of business. Their website is not working and we cannot find any active references to them.

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