Testing Surveillance as a 'Game' (Internet Eyes)

Author: John Honovich, Published on Nov 02, 2010

What if you could have live monitors watch your business around the clock for about $100 per month? If they see a threat, they trigger an alarm that goes to your phone? Would you do it?

If those monitors were regular people at home watching on their computers, would you care?

This is the basic proposition of a UK startup called Internet Eyes. It's a web 2.0 service that connects businesses needing surveillance to people on the Internet. The top Internet 'security guard' gets a prize at the end of each month.

For a startup, the amount of attention that Internet Eyes has received is staggering. They've been compared to Stasi, had others provides lengthy defenses against privacy concerns and receive ongoing coverage in Britain's leading publications.

Rather than pontificate, we decided to sign up as a user and test it first hand. While the media coverage focuses on privacy, our focus is to understand: Is this a viable business? Can this approach supplant traditional monitoring services?

As we break down inside, we think there is some potential but important structural issues hinder the system's overall short and long term viability.

Key Findings

Here are the key points that we believe industry professionals should keep in mind:

  • The price is remarkably cheap for businesses. It's 75 GBP per month (about $115 USD) including the 4 channel encoder they provide. Any commercial remote monitoring system is going to cost far more for any live monitoring.
  • On the other hand, the quality of the monitoring is likely to be questionable. Internet Eyes monitors have no knowledge of the facility, its traffic patterns, its employees, etc. 
  • Internet Eyes monitors have only the most rudimentary of functions available: no audio (neither direction), no video analytics to alert them of potential activity, no ability to view other cameras in the site, no ability to control PTZs and low resolution video (visually it looks no better than CIF).
  • Similar to nearly all surveillance video, watching Internet Eyes feeds is as exciting as watching paint dry. It's long periods of little to no activity than is likely to produce boredom. Unlike other Internet games, watching surveillance video provides little interactivity and ongoing rewards.
  • Finding actual suspicious activity will likely require dozens of hours of viewing, making the value and motivation for the top price questionable.

We think the most fundamental issue is the tension between privacy and performance. The more Internet Eyes optimizes the service to reduce privacy concerns, the lower the performance they can deliver (relative to traditional monitoring services). On the other hand, privacy concerns are critical for Internet Eyes, being based in the UK that has some of the most stringent privacy regulations in the world.

Internet Eyes Architecture

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The video below provides a short overview of how all the components of Internet Eyes works. We examine how businesses, owners, monitors and the web services connect together:

Internet Eyes in Action

The video below provides a 'live' tour of the service in action. We look at a number of the key elements of the service including the monitoring area and league tables:

Future Opportunity and Video Analytics

While we cannot predict the future of Internet Eyes, we do see future market opportunity. Internet Eyes is an early stage company with relatively rudimentary technology and sharp attacks by UK privacy proponents. At this stage, we think their viability is questionable.

On the other hand, we do think we will see more of this approach. One, it may do better in the US where privacy concerns are nowhere near as important. Secondly, we think video analytics will be a key feature in the future of on-line monitoring.

Even 'mediocre' video analytics would provide a significant boost to this type of service.

  1. If people are going to watch continuous surveillance video, it would be far better to show a series of short clips. This would be much more interesting and improve the game dynamics. The monitors could at least interact after each clip to confirm or deny activity.
  2. Monitors would catch far more valid alerts watching series of analytic generated clips than watching live video (in any given time period). Since the service is aggregating video feeds from numerous businesses, they could keep pushing out new alerts on a continuous basis.

Any approach that is based on essentially public monitoring will inherently have limitations compared to professional monitoring services with bonded, regulated employees. Because of that, it's hard to see Internet Eyes approach work in the mid to high end of the market. However, for smaller businesses than will not justify paying the premium for traditional monitoring services, we see potential for this approach.

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