Ring revealed its latest ambitious security product today: real-life people watching over your home. Taking the concept of monitored security to the next level, Ring’s Virtual Security Guard is a new subscription service that lets agents at a professional monitoring center respond to specific motion alerts on any outdoor Ring camera and take action for you.
Virtual Security Guard requires a Ring Alarm home security system to work (Gen 1, 2, or Pro) and costs $99 per month on top of a $20 monthly Ring Protect Plus subscription for professional monitoring. It works with any of Ring’s wired, outdoor cameras (including all the wired doorbells, the Spotlight Cam, Stick-up Cam and the floodlight cameras). You choose which are monitored through the Ring app, and when a camera detects a motion event while the Ring Alarm is armed, the monitoring company is alerted and responds based on what it sees. The agent will use a series of guidelines and your preferences to tailor a response and can use features like the camera’s two-way talk to communicate with a visitor, turn on the siren, or send emergency services.
If the agent sees someone they think is up to no good, they will first use two-way talk to let the person know they are being monitored and ask them to leave. If they don’t go, the agent will sound the siren in the camera and continue monitoring while dispatching emergency services. At this stage, they also call and text the property owner with a link to the video.
You can only enroll outdoor cameras at launch for obvious privacy concerns. If you try to add a camera that’s inside, the monitoring company is supposed to stop monitoring it until it’s reconfigured outside, Ring tells us. Of course, this relies on the human agent to flag the issue, a potential stumbling block for privacy.
The Virtual Security Guard isn’t a form of visual verification for the Ring Alarm system (which is when the monitoring service can view a live feed on your cameras if something triggers one of your alarm sensors) as it can’t monitor any cameras when the alarm is triggered. Its sole purpose is to monitor when motion is detected on an outdoor camera.
“Visual verification is something we’ve looked at, and we’ll continue to look at. This is a level up from visual verification, which is really about once something’s happened,” Ring founder Jamie Siminoff said in an interview ahead of the announcement. “This is much more proactive; this is a virtual security guard.”
The monitoring service can only access a live view once motion is triggered and while the Ring Alarm is armed; agents can’t view camera feeds when the alarm is disarmed, and they can’t download, share, or save videos. In the Ring app, there will be a tag on any video that a human has reviewed. At launch, the service will be offered by Rapid Response, the professional monitoring company the Ring Alarm uses but will expand to additional providers at hopefully lower prices, says Ring. Virtual Security Guard is available in the US for early access, starting today.
The concept here is to take the onus of responding to your camera’s motion alerts off you and put it on to someone else. If your Ring Alarm sends you a notification at 2AM that there’s a person out back, chances are, you’re going to miss it, or if you see it, you’re never getting back to sleep. Now, the Virtual Security Guard can view the event that triggered the alert, and if it turns out to be a non-event, you get to stay tucked up in dreamland. “Even with the advances in AI and machine learning, I’m not sure how far they can go to make sure you always get the only alert that matters and wakes you up,” said Siminoff. “This way, you have that extra line of defense.”
It can also work for peace of mind as you arrive or leave your home. Ring president Leila Rouhi described a scenario she experienced at her home while testing out the service. There was a commotion in her front yard when she was arriving home, and her dog ran off after another dog. “There was a little bit of mayhem in front of my door, and the agent checked in and asked, ‘Hey, is everything okay? Is there anything we can do for you?’” she explained. “Thankfully, the situation was under control, but it felt really nice to know that, in an emergency situation, if something bad were happening, there is somebody who is looking out for you and can take action if you need them to.”
Ring’s track record when it comes to Ring employees viewing camera footage is spotty at best. A 2019 report indicated that Ring let employees watch and share unencrypted customer videos with each other. However, privacy advocate Pam Dixon, Executive Director of the World Privacy Forum, has reviewed the Virtual Security Guard service and told me that she believes Ring and Amazon have exceeded best practices here. “They’re doing background checks for the monitoring agents, and I am also reassured by the bias training they are giving them,” she said. “I don’t know of another company that does that. That gives me real comfort that this product will not peddle bias, which is a big plus.” Ring also told her that it will be doing regular audits of the monitoring agents. “I feel comfortable with this,” she continued. “But if it were cameras inside the home, that would be a different situation.”
Dixon pointed out that there are many groups of vulnerable people for whom tools like Virtual Security Guard will be an excellent resource. “We work with a lot of victims of domestic violence — and a lot of survivors invest heavily in security tools so they can be notified when someone breaches their safety.” She also sees its usefulness when you’re away on vacation, for example, and don’t want to be constantly monitoring your phone. But for most people, a virtual security guard for your home is probably overkill.
And it looks like Ring is aware of this, and is targeting Virtual Security Guard more towards small- and medium-sized businesses, many of which are already using Ring Alarm products to secure their premises, according to the company. “Hiring an in-person security guard is not something that’s possible or sustainable for a lot of small businesses,” she said. “With Virtual Security Guard, you have that level of service at a much more affordable price.”