The company that streams more video than YouTube wants to bring automated surveillance to everybody

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Prime time TV’s got nothing on watching your dog snooze in the sun.
Prime time TV’s got nothing on watching your dog snooze in the sun.
Image: Dropcam

It isn’t just the government that likes to know what you get up to at home. Normal people like it too. Which may explain why Dropcam, a four-year-old company that makes easy-to-use home surveillance cameras, is the second-highest selling item on Amazon’s “cameras and photos” list, beaten only by an actual camera. It also explains why Silicon Valley’s investment firms were eager to pour money into Dropcam even though its CEO, Greg Duffy, admits he didn’t really need to raise cash.

Dropcam’s appeal lies in its simplicity. It’s just an ever-streaming wireless webcam, which you can monitor via your phones or online. It also comes with motion sensors, a speaker to allow you to talk back through it (hello, telescreens), and, for a small subscription fee, seven days’ worth of recording.

Duffy claims Dropcam deals with more video content per minute than YouTube, which would make sense since it would have be on all day long to be at all useful. Most people use it to keep track of their kids or pets when they’re not home, or for small-business security. The promotional video below shows the myriad ways in which casual surveillance can be fun on your own, with family or friends.

This morning, Institutional Venture Partners, a venture capital firm with investments in everything from Netflix to Twitter, announced that it had led a $30 million round of funding into Dropcam. The other investors included Accel Partners, Menlo Ventures and Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers (KPCB), all big Silicon Valley players. Their interest in Dropcam no doubt comes from the company’s rapid growth—sales have growth by a factor of five every year since the product launched in 2009—but also from Dropcam’s “mission to bring our physical world seamlessly into our digital lives and transform technology in the home,” as Trae Vassallo of KPCB puts it.

What that means in common English is that Dropcam isn’t satisfied with simply providing the means for people to watch their homes and offices. It also wants to save you the trouble of doing that so that computers can do it for you. Duffy told the tech blog GigaOm that the reason he raised funding was to invest in and develop “computer vision,” i.e., computers deciphering moving images in a manner that resembles human sight. While not a new idea, this is still restricted to the research labs of universities and big companies since it involves massive data-crunching. Dropcam wants to make it available to consumers.

It is a sensible idea. Surely checking on your dog every few minutes in case she’s set fire to your house can be quite stressful. But it is also an indicator of where technology is going. With Google Glass recording you outside the home and Dropcam and its ilk watching you in your living room, we may be quite happily walking into a form of constant self-surveillance.