Presence App turns old smartphone or tablet into a wifi video surveillance system: Review

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 11.28.57 AMHome security systems can be expensive, cumbersome, and pain to install. However I’m happy to report that I’ve recently been testing several home security options where installation is quick and easy (read my review of the Ring video doorbell), and operation of the systems is a snap.

The free Presence app is one of those. Presence turns your spare, unused, or out of date smart phones or tablets into wireless video monitors. How? You plug them into a power source, prop them up in a room you may want to keep an eye on and they connect to Wi-Fi. From there, you use the presence app on another phone to remotely access the video feed. You can watch what’s going on in your home, garage, or business, either obviously, or surreptitiously. The presence app has a neat feature where you can dim the screen, but the app stays running in the background, so no one will know it’s watching. Great if you need to use it as a nanny cam or similar.

Features

IMG_6011Presence has a few interesting features. For one, you can load multiple cameras into your stream, meaning you can have as many eyes as you need. You can control the camera functions remotely from pretty much anywhere in the world you can get access to the Internet; whether on another smart device, or on a desktop.  The app also allows motion detection recording, meaning if it detects anything moving in your home, it will start making a movie of it, and you can even set how long it should record for, and the time between recordings, so repeated emotions can be eliminated  as any source of concern.  You can also adjust the sensitivity of the motion recording, and the Presence app also gives you access to your smart phone or tablet microphone, meaning you can hear what’s going on inside your home as well.There’s also an option to creat your own customized rules for using the app.

Presence also has an interesting/creepy feature called Twitter auto sharing. When enabled, Presence will automatically post motion detection videos or  thumbnail photos to your Twitter account on your behalf. Presents says “it’s a great way to share interesting moments with the world while building a following”. I think the potential for posting stuff you don’t want for the world to see is enormous and terrifying. But that’s just me. You maybe wondering how presence makes any money by giving away the service for free. I know I was. Presence actually also offers more traditional security and home safety devices, as a bundle from its website. Those devices can integrate with the Wi-Fi cameras from your old smart devices giving you a full spectrum home security system.

Privacy Concerns

Presents addresses any security or privacy concerns in its privacy policy. If you’re wondering what happens to any video that’s recorded in your home, here’s the answer.

“1.4 Digital Video Our Presence application includes a feature which allows you to use a smartphone or tablet as a video monitoring device. Videos, Audio, and Images are captured locally and automatically by your device when triggered by motion or audio detection events, sent over a secure channel to our server, and then immediately encrypted while being securely stored in our servers for future playback via streaming. Video, Audio, and Images may be archived even if they do not appear in your account interface. Each video has time and date information as well as unique identifier to link it to your account and device. Video and audio is stored in common video file formats such as MOV or MP4 but may change as needed for efficiency or to adapt to emerging standards. Images are typically stored in .jpg format. Unless you select a different permissions or sharing level, then by default all your content is privately stored encrypted on disk using AES-128 encryption, to prevent anyone but you or anyone you’ve given access to your account from accessing it.”

Now, is there some chance your camera could be hacked remotely? We’ve seen that happen with several baby monitors recently (read more here). I’ve gotten in touch with the folks at Presence, and here are their answers to my two most burning questions, straight from President & CTO David Moss:

Erin: What measures are there in place to prevent an unauthorized person hacking into my video feed?

David: “Presence implements a much more advanced method of security than standard IP cameras.  First, your username and password is require to gain access to any camera or device in your Presence account.  Next, cameras will not begin streaming content until they receive a command from our cloud servers to start streaming.  All communications to and from the cloud (including the command to initiate streaming) are encrypted with 2048-bit SSL, and delivered to the device over a channel that is bi-directionally authenticated with a cryptographic token.  This level of communication is more secure than a banking website.  The biggest security risk is divulging your own password to someone else, or selecting a weak password.”

Erin: Would there be any way for, say, a Presence employee to surf people’s video feeds at will?  i.e. is there any potential for my video feed to be viewed by anyone other than myself, and those I choose to authorize?

David: “No – your video streams and video feeds are accessible only by you.  In fact, we architected the cloud server FabrUX which powers Presence (read more), to prevent everyone, including our own employees, from being able to access users’ video feeds or motion detection videos.  Motion detection videos are stored in the cloud encrypted with AES-128, using the same methods used in banking websites to store credit card information.  Because of the level of security we’ve implemented, all of us here at People Power Company (creators of Presence) are comfortable having Presence cameras throughout our own homes.”

The Verdict

I like this app a lot. It has great functionality, excellent options, and seems like something I’m definitely going to have set up next time I’m away from home. For now, Presence will be watching the dog while I’m at work. The app gets 4 1/2 out of five stars from reviews on the Apple App Store. You can also get more info from the Presence website.

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One thought on “Presence App turns old smartphone or tablet into a wifi video surveillance system: Review

  1. Is there a way to lock the device and still leave Presence open? Worst case – a friend comes to check on my house while I’m away, and for fun they pick up my unlocked device and surf through my messages and emails. Not so fun. Would be nice if the device could be locked so if you leave Presence, you are back at the login screen.

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