Your Webcam May Get a Whole Lot Smarter

And a good bit riskier, too

Key Takeaways

  • AI webcams offer features that can boost the sound and picture of your next video call.
  • However, experts say that AI webcams bring a host of privacy risks. 
  • Smart webcams could even be used to remotely monitor the behavior of employees who are working from home.
Someone using an exterior webcam on a laptop computer.

Robert Daly / Getty Images

A new generation of AI-powered webcams could make your video calls better than ever, but they also bring privacy risks, experts say. 

The cameras, including those recently released by Anker and Remo Tech, use artificial intelligence (AI) to track users and ensure they are always in the center of the frame. There's also Owl Labs' Meeting Owl, a 360-degree webcam that uses AI to zoom in on whoever's speaking or moving automatically.

"AI webcams are a lot smarter than the regular webcams people are used to," IT expert Robert Wolfe told Lifewire in an email interview. "Regular webcams can be low quality and require users to fiddle with them. AI webcams get rid of this pain with different features." 

Look Good, Feel Good?

The new crop of AI-powered webcams claims to make you look your best during video calls. 

Anker's B600 Video Bar is a video conferencing toolkit. It's meant to sit on your monitor or TV and features a 2K sensor capable of 30 frames per second capture. The webcam also has an AI-powered zoom feature and image enhancement. The microphone uses an AI algorithm to make noisy environments sound quiet. The AnkerWork B600 is slated to launch in the US at the end of January for $219.99. 

Webcams with AI also support facial recognition software.  

"The cameras track who is speaking and automatically focus on them," Wolfe said. "This can be great for larger (noisier) groups since users won't have to ask who's speaking—the camera will show them."

An open laptop on a kitchen tabletop displaying a multi-person video call with a cup of coffee nearby.

Chris Montgomery / Unsplash

AI webcams promise to be auto adjustable. The environment limits the image quality in a standard webcam the user is in. "However, manufacturers say they're developing software that lets the AI webcams automatically adjust their settings to suit the conditions," Wolfe added.

"AI webcams can more effectively and efficiently identify and distinguish people, animals, and objects within a viewing area, create rules identifying acceptable behavior within a viewing area and minimize false positives with respect to how those rules are applied," privacy lawyer Steven G. Stransky told Lifewire in an email interview. "With these enhanced detection capabilities, AI webcams create a better overall user experience."

Who’s Watching?

As great as the features on the AI webcams sound, they also bring increased privacy risks, David Moody, a senior associate at Schellman, a security and privacy compliance firm, told Lifewire in an email interview.

The new wave of intelligent webcams can autonomously track movements, respond to motion, focus on activities, recognize and identify shapes, and read visible text. Multiple AI webcams could even be used to simultaneously follow the movements of more than one person through a building or the streets.   

"Both the breadth and depth of these activities go well beyond the traditional statutory and regulatory definitions of privacy," Moody said. "These definitions may require some updating in the future to better reflect what constitutes privacy in our society and communities."

Smart webcams could even be used to remotely monitor the behavior of employees who are working from home. For example, Teleperformance's in-house webcam security system, called TP Observer, uses facial recognition software to do things like detecting if a user is "missing from a desk," "detecting an idle user," and "unauthorized mobile phone usage."

Like regular webcams, It's not just the user who's getting recorded on an AI-powered webcam, Stransky pointed out. 

"In addition to capturing the activities of a targeted individual, an AI webcam can be used to record anything, and everything said or done by a nearby person, such as a co-worker, family member, or random stranger who happens to be nearby or accidentally walks into the camera's frame," he said. "These third parties may not have knowledge of or consent to the recording."

Since  AI webcams can capture and record large volumes of personal information, a security breach involving AI webcam data creates significant identity theft risks, Stransky said. Data stolen from an AI webcam could provide criminals with photographs of users and their surroundings and even specific details about their computer activities, such as keystrokes used to enter usernames and passwords.

"People spend hours in front of AI webcams every single day, and their lives are being recorded at an unparalleled level," Stransky said.

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