Home security systems are extremely expensive these days but a fairly rudimentary cheap but effective system can be set up using Skypeand a webcam. It involves keeping your computer on so this may not work if you are away from home for an extended period of time (imagine the electricity bill!) but if you are just going to work for example, this would be a good solution to “do an E.T and call home”. You can also use this to check up on the kids while you are out (”those pesky kids are stealing my beer!”) or covertly check on the babysitter while you’re out to see if she’s necking her boyfriend on the couch or if she’s sleeping.
First, make a second Skype account as you will be using the second one to call the first one. But in this new account, make sure that some important features are enabled. First tell the Skype account to automatically answer the calls as soon as they come in and also make sure that the webcam features are enabled as soon as the call starts. You might also want to mute the ringtones for this account otherwise your covert snooping isn’t going to be so covert anymore! Then on the first Skype account (the one you’re going to phone), approve the new account on your contact list (while setting this up, you might want to take advantage of running two Skype accounts on your PC at the same time using this method).
Before going out, make sure the monitor is on, the webcam is switched on andSkype is switched on. I know, basic stuff but you never know with some computer users out there! (”Dear Mark, why is the monitor screen completely blank?”).
Then when you are out, go to another computer, log into Skype using the second account and call the first account. When the call goes through, it will be answered immediately (because you enabled that in the options) and the webcam will immediately kick in (again because you previously enabled it). Assuming the ringtones have been switched off, you can now covertly look at the webcam picture coming through to see what’s happening in the room (”hey, the wife’s having a secret lingerie party!”)
Obviously the view in the webcam window is going to be pretty limited so it might be a good idea (before leaving the house) to move the webcam around a bit to find the best possible angle. Plus you might want to slightly re-position the monitor so it isn’t so blatantly obvious that you’re calling. Another possible problem is that if the computer is being used by the person you’re trying to monitor, then it’s game over!
The author of the original article that proposed this idea said he used this method to check on his dog while he was at work. He left the speakers on and when the call went through, he could see his dog on the webcam. Plus since the speakers were on, he could call out to the dog and the dog would come running up to the computer. So he apparently felt better leaving the dog alone at home because he felt he was now keeping the dog company over Skype.
Obviously the potential is there to abuse this idea by snooping on people whom you have no right to snoop on (which of course I don’t condone). But if you’re looking for a simple way to check your home while you’re away, then Skype and a webcam will suffice. No need for expensive alarm systems and security guards.
Also, as Lifehacker points out, you can also turn your webcam into a motion sensor using Yawcam. So you can use Skype and a webcam to watch to catch thieves in the act for example (”those pesky kids are raiding my Playboy collection!”). All that is needed now is a way to record the webcam images as video files.