Bug in Ring doorbell camera

A video doorbell's motion sensor picks up a determined bug drawn to the faint light emitted by the device.

GHENT, N.Y. — I got the idea a few years back from a friend on Martha’s Vineyard, before video doorbell cameras such as Ring became ubiquitous.

He’d installed an internet-connected security camera that allowed him to see the weather, and obviously lots of other stuff, at his second home from his apartment in New York City.

I loved the idea. Personal security was the last thing on my mind. I just thought it would be cool to watch snow falling in Columbia County while it was raining in Manhattan. So, when I upgraded my home security system and the installer asked whether I wanted to add a Ring camera at minimal cost, it didn’t take much convincing.

The device has never worked well. But, that’s not the manufacturer’s fault. My internet connection is so weak that by the time it finds its way to the front door, it’s basically collapsed from exhaustion.

It often won’t pick up the motion of somebody approaching until they’re already entering the house. And you can forget about communicating with them when you answer the doorbell remotely, since it captures no more than every third or fourth word, if you can decipher it through the static.

However, the device accomplishes its primary purpose. It works well enough that I can watch the weather from a distance, since nature has a lovely way of communicating in broad strokes. And I suppose it might deter thieves unaware of how flawed my internet connection is, even though I can’t imagine that the cops could glean any evidence from the device that would stand up in a court of law, let alone lead to any arrests, except perhaps that of my internet provider for poor service.

My wife objects to the camera on principle. That principle being that she believes it brings out the voyeur in me and reminds her of my father. When anyone, including me, would call my mother, he’d quietly pick up the phone and eavesdrop on her conversation. I don’t do that, and not just because most communication occurs these days on cellphones, not landlines. It’s also because I like to think I have a life.

But, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel as if I have a personal stake in knowing who’s coming and going. For example, my daughter once threw a party when we were gone — that part of I knew about — that included one of the guests becoming sufficiently intoxicated that I spotted two other guests leading her down the front steps to drive her home. My daughter was aware of the front door camera, though she confessed that, in the midst of the festivities, she’d lost track of that guest.

To the extent that I purchased the system to enhance our security, it wasn’t with my daughters’ party guests in mind. It’s helpful to determine whether, say, a FedEx package that began its voyage a month earlier finally made it to your front door. Or how long a stranger who turned down your driveway by mistake chose to loiter before leaving.

In this day and age when fellow citizens are storming the Capitol, I suppose there’s a tiny amount of peace of mind in knowing you have a personal, if ineffectual, sentry if things got especially apocalyptic. But, truth be told, the main thing the camera picks up is family members, me among them, coming and going. That offers little, if any, entertainment value.

I’m aware there are concerns that Fancy Bear, the Russian government espionage service, or other evildoers might be able to hack into the network and warehouse incriminating evidence about you and your activities. But, perhaps the most damning thing they’d discover about me is my male-centric tendency occasionally to relieve myself outdoors while enjoying the scenery.

If Ring hasn’t made a cameo appearance in a horror movie plot yet, and I suspect it has, the audience’s fear factor could be ratcheted up by the victim receiving, in the dead of night, the same notification that I do on a regular basis — “There is motion at your Front Door” — only to check and find its source a scary clown or a guy in a horned Viking helmet.

In my case, what typically triggers the message is absolutely nothing at all. But, given how spotty my internet reception is, it’s hard to blame the device for malfunctioning or overreacting. Besides, I’d rather it detect nothing than miss something.

Indeed, that’s what happened last night. My wife and I were in bed reading when Ring told us that it had detected motion at the front door. I checked the app on my phone and saw, at the very end of the 30-second clip, what appeared to be a flash of light at the corner of the screen, as if from the beam of a flashlight.

Obviously, it would be concerning if someone was out there casing the joint. But, I wasn’t quite ready to get hysterical and herd the family into a hidden corner of the basement or jump from a second-floor window and retreat into the woods while pounding 911 on my cellphone.

I went to the live view of our front porch and saw nothing, except a few moths streaking by the camera through the darkness. Would that have been sufficient to trigger the device? I doubt it, since I’ve always hoped the app would double as a wildlife camera. Thus farm it’s failed to spot a single deer noshing on our apple saplings or the fox that’s taken to sunbathing at the top of our road on summer mornings.

But, a few minutes later, I got a second “There is motion at your Front Door” warning. And then a third. This was starting to get worrying, and I was preparing to brave the front door when I spotted the culprit — an insect, glowing ghostly white, was looking directly into the eye of the camera, apparently attracted by the emitted light, as faint as it is.

Apparently, you can adjust the settings to make the camera more or less sensitive to motion. But, there’s probably nothing you can do to thwart a determined bug. Better that than an unexpected human any day.

Ralph Gardner Jr. is a journalist whose work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The New Yorker. He can be reached at ralph@ralphgardner.com. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.