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How our video doorbell caused a domestic ding dong

When closing the front door after taking out the trash, the cell phone in my back pocket pings loudly.

The screen winks at a WhatsApp message that is as concise as it is unambiguous. It says, “Wrong bin.”

If this were some sort of West End farce, my face would wrinkle in surprise. It would be an exaggeration to turn my head to see who had been spying on me while I was doing this most exciting household chore.

But as the name says on the post, there are no surprises as far as authorship goes. My husband, Martin. Committed advocate to dispose of waste in proper bin. And especially guard of our ‘smart’ doorbell.

As a judge ruled that a Ring doorbell on an Oxfordshire home invaded a neighbor's privacy 'unwarrantedly', Angela Epstein thinks about having her own 'smart' doorbell (file image)

As a judge ruled that a Ring doorbell on an Oxfordshire home invaded a neighbor’s privacy ‘unwarrantedly’, Angela Epstein thinks about having her own ‘smart’ doorbell (file image)

Yes, thanks to this sneaky device, all my shortcomings are exposed as he observes my comings and goings from mission control – sorry, his office – several miles away.

Today’s offense was dumping old newspapers in the gray garbage can. Other times it could be “you left your car open.” Or ‘Asos?? Again??’ Frankly, I share this routine crime with our teenage daughter.

Forget the bygone days of the ’70s TV sitcom doorbell. Like Bakelite telephones, they’ve been replaced by a device that promises not just to tell you, through images beamed to a smartphone, who’s knocking at the front door, but that also detects movement. So all the comings and goings – gas meter readers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, trips to the garbage can – flash on the screen. It means that wherever my husband goes, home is always on his mind. And on his phone.

That sounds like a great idea in principle. But thanks to the enthusiasm of my other half, a chartered accountant turned spy master general, it’s driving me crazy. Of course, smart doorbells, invented in 2013, can cause more problems. Just last week, a judge ruled that security cameras and a Ring doorbell on an Oxfordshire home (which could also record audio from more than 60 feet away) “unjustifiably invaded” a neighbor’s privacy.

In this case, Dr. Mary Fairhurst that the device at neighbor Jon Woodard’s house violated data laws and, combined with his behavior toward her, contributed to harassment. The judge upheld both claims, potentially putting more than 100,000 UK households with doorbell cameras at risk of privacy violation under data protection laws.

Angela (pictured) said a friend with a smart doorbell told her her husband had complained that her parking space meant the car was slightly blocking the front aisle

Angela (pictured) said a friend with a smart doorbell told her her husband had complained that her parking space meant the car was slightly blocking the front aisle

Angela (pictured) said a friend with a smart doorbell told her her husband had complained that her parking space meant the car was slightly blocking the front aisle

Fortunately, our sloping, gated driveway means our statues don’t extend beyond the path outside our home. Which means that only our comings and goings, and more specifically mine, are under Martin’s eagle-eyed control.

I should point out that’s not because he’s an autocrat who rules the house with an iron rod. Anything but. On the contrary, like so many people – well, men – who have a smart doorbell, my husband enjoys the gadgets of it all. And like many people – well, men – he will point out to you if something needs to be corrected.

Our doorbell cost £80, but the technology hasn’t taken into account the smart coordinates of the cost to relationships. The boundless irritation you feel at unwanted interference from an absent partner in things that shouldn’t concern him once they are at work.

Admittedly, Martin is sometimes right. Take the other week when I forgot to tell our cleaning lady I wouldn’t need her because of a last minute work assignment. As she stood on the doorstep, stunned by the lack of response, a cross message flashed on my phone, “Why didn’t you tell Sheila you wouldn’t be there?”

I was of course mortified and immediately called my cleaning lady to offer my sincere apologies and assure her that I would pay her anyway.

Angela (pictured) said her husband Martin keeps her up to date on the most trivial ‘motion alerts’ served on his phone, even on vacation

But thanks to those tell-tale cameras, I also had to listen to ten bars of ‘why are you so forgetful?’ from my other half. A friend with a smart doorbell told me her husband moaned that her parking space meant the car was slightly blocking the front aisle. And another friend was furious: ‘Why does he have to tell me my sister came over? I know – I was there!’

But what bothers me most is the fact that, even on vacation, Martin keeps me up to date on the most trivial “motion alerts” displayed on his phone. This summer, when we were lucky enough to have a family vacation on the Greek island of Santorini, the last thing I wanted to hear was his compelling news that someone had posted a pizza flyer to our door.

I should add that my husband is a nice man who does what he can to protect his family.

Recently, when we were away for a few days, it was Martin who discovered that the papers were still being delivered, despite the fact that I had canceled them. His call to the newsagent was about the potential safety hazard from afar. An important move, even if I got caught putting the papers in the wrong bin after we got home.

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