Taser Seeking To Lock Down Body Camera Market With 'Free' Camera Offer To Law Enforcement Agencies

from the locked-in/locked-out dept

Taser -- manufacturer of law enforcement's favorite electronic battle weapon and the "I'm not a doctor but I play one in courtroom proceedings" creator of arrestee-specific medical condition "excited delirium" -- is branching out and (sort of) rebranding.

It's not like Taser doesn't have the less-lethal market sewn up. Its titular device is in the latter stages of genericide -- a catch-all term for any sort of stun gun. It's been busy building a new market: law enforcement body cameras. Under the name Axon, Taser has introduced a number of body-worn cameras, some of them with more advanced feature sets that tie their activation to weapon deployment by officers.

Now, Axon is hoping to increase its dominance of the body camera market. Its latest move is to offer free cameras and footage storage to any law enforcement agency that requests it. The pay-nothing-now offer lasts for a year. Once the offer expires, agencies are free to look elsewhere for cameras.

But will they? It seems unlikely. Axon claims it will make it easy to migrate stored recordings from its Evidence.com access platform, but data migration of this type is easier said than done. Add to that the fact that this is no ordinary data. It includes footage needed as evidence in criminal trials, etc. Sticking to a system officers and supervisors are already used to would seem like the most prudent move, even if it's not the most affordable option.

Axon has gathered a lot of positive press over the past few days. The offer allows cash-strapped law enforcement agencies the opportunity to get into the accountability and transparency business with no initial investment. But this push to deploy "free*" cameras isn't really about cameras. Matt Stroud -- who has tracked Taser/Axon for years via FOIA requests -- points out at The Daily Dot that this business model is nothing new. Axon has been giving away cameras for a few years now. The real moneymaker is access, storage and licensing.

Stroud's FOIA work has uncovered multiple cases where agencies have received free cameras. Axon is only charging agencies for Evidence.com usage. Albuquerque's police department received $500,000 worth of cameras for free. But it's paying $223,000 a year just for access to Evidence.com. Storage provided by Axon also comes at a premium: $1.50/GB. More cameras means more storage, which means this part of the revenue stream will just keep growing. On top of that, there's a yearly licensing fee that increases with the number of cameras in use.

It's an interesting approach: one that gives away the finite (cameras) but charges a premium for the infinite (licensing, access, storage). But here's the actual insidiousness of the deals Axon's making:

In an email, Utility’s CEO, Ted Davis, told me that Axon’s announcement was a “‘Venus Flytrap’ marketing campaign” because it was designed to lure police departments into an Axon contract for the “free” bodycams, only to then overwhelm those departments with storage and licensing fees later on. “The campaign targets an unsophisticated buyer, [but] most larger departments will not fall for this ploy,” Davis wrote. “After all, all of the competitive bidding for body cameras incorporate a total cost of ownership over a five-year or longer lifecycle. Sophisticated buyers wisely measure the cost vs the capability of the product offering, and determine the best fit for the need.”

Yes, law enforcement agencies know they're in for a hard sell once the free trial expires. No one would expect anything less.What this free offer does is undercut the competitive bidding process. This process is supposed to keep governments from ending up locked in to uncompetitive deals. But how many cash-strapped governments will turn down "free*" cameras for their cops? Once cops are hooked on Evidence.com, opening the process to an actually competitive process means possibly putting the saved footage at risk. At best, it will be stored locally by departments while fielding bids for cameras/storage/access. At worst, the footage will be almost-useless: a bunch of unsearchable files, no longer organized, sorted, or tagged.

If Axon distributes enough of these free cameras, competitors will be driven from the market. And when the competition exits, all the ancillary costs will increase, perhaps exponentially. Governments will no longer have the option to take their business elsewhere. An open bidding process preserves options. Accepting Axon's literally unbidden offer does a whole lot of damage to that process. Agencies may not pay now, but they'll be paying plenty later.


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  • identicon
    Jeff, 13 Apr 2017 @ 12:16pm

    Lesser of two evils

    Given the choice between an independent third party (Axon) and the usual suspects within the police departments, I would prefer to have all records managed by a third party and (hopefully) made available to the public upon request. This would lessen the likelihood of important (incriminating) evidence "disappearing" when convenient for the police.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Apr 2017 @ 12:30pm

    How exactly are calculating access and storage to be an infinite resource?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Apr 2017 @ 12:51pm

    If Axon distributes enough of these free cameras, competitors will be driven from the market.

    Well then, perhaps the competitors should offer free cameras as well. Or offer to retrieve and organize all the footage from Evidence.com if the police transfer to their system. Or offer cameras that automatically turn off when guns are drawn (know your customer). Or any number of other price/ease of use incentives.

    There's nothing new here. This type of business model even has it's own name, the razor and blades model. It's covered in any Business 101 class. Usually it's touched on in economics classes as well.

    Amazingly enough, competitors aren't generally driven from the market by this business model. In fact, not only does this not destroy all the competition in the market, it generally creates a secondary market where new businesses produce knockoffs/workarounds to work with the original system.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Kay (profile), 13 Apr 2017 @ 12:56pm

    Meh

    I think this is a smart move by Axon, but it's not as predatory as you're making it sound here. Changing video storage systems will still be a lot less trouble than changing case management systems, and departments do that all the time.

    As for transferring the videos, PD's would undoubtedly keep their Axon contract until the new provider is found so there wouldn't be an awkward intermediary period, just the issue of transferring the videos from one provider to another while keeping chain of custody intact.

    Axon has structured their business very cleverly, though - as you point out, most police departments just aren't going to bother switching to another provider once they get established with Axon.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Apr 2017 @ 1:04pm

      Re: Meh

      Isn't the custody of evidence meant to be fully traceable, so who in Axon signs to say they have received or handed back evidence?. What about producing the original copy on the medium it was stored on?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Kay (profile), 13 Apr 2017 @ 1:19pm

        Re: Re: Meh

        They simply have system logs that show which users have accessed it, when, etc. They are much more reliable and harder to fabricate/tamper with than the physical check in/check out logs police would have had to use back in... well, back in the pre-computer era.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 14 Apr 2017 @ 9:40am

          Re: Re: Re: Meh

          They simply have system logs that show which users have accessed it, when, etc. They are much more reliable and harder to fabricate/tamper with than the physical check in/check out logs police would have had to use back in... well, back in the pre-computer era.

          Courts may accept that, but I would expect a commenter here to know better. Typical electronically stored logs are trivial to erase, edit, or fabricate. In the paper era, you could have a procedure that the Evidence Officer has custody of such forms. If there is any doubt, bring him/her in, get a sworn statement that nobody has been allowed to mess with the forms and that there are no signs somebody snuck in after hours, and (assuming you trust the officer to be truthful and competent), you're done. With typical designs in the electronic era, there is nobody who can definitively say that a cloud-based service was never accessed in violation of procedure. Look at how many breaches just in the last few years were discovered only because the perpetrators deliberately released the information they had taken. It's not impossible to design a system with tamper-evident logging, but it's a huge pain that nobody will undertake if they aren't compelled to.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JonC (profile), 13 Apr 2017 @ 1:02pm

    This is quite a win-win for any police department that doesn't like transparency and accountability. First, they get to implement body cams, which is a PR win, because the public thinks they're getting transparency and accountability. It doesn't cost them anything for the first year, so it's free and everyone likes free. After the first year is over, the police departments decide not to pay the various fees, so they lose access to any recordings (along with the public and everyone else). The recordings probably get deleted for good, ensuring that nothing can come of them. Likely no one is paying attention at this point, but if anyone does notice, they can just point to the unreasonable demands made for licensing, access, and storage and make Taser the bad guy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Kay (profile), 13 Apr 2017 @ 1:22pm

      Re:

      I don't really see how the Axon system affects transparency or accountability in any way but positive ones. Losing access to the recordings by not paying subscription fees also means their entire video recording system would stop working. And Axon would probably will provide them with a backup copy of all of their media, presumably, since the police department owns it.

      Recordings that aren't associated with a specific case will just get deleted anyway after a period of time (anything else is unsustainable). Recordings that ARE associated with a case are evidence, and tampering with evidence is pretty serious. Obviously it's done sometimes but it's not something they can just do without anyone noticing, and there would be extensive legal consequences.

      The fact that it's with a third party makes getting rid of it more difficult, in my opinion.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Jeff, 13 Apr 2017 @ 3:51pm

      Re:

      You said; "they can just point to the unreasonable demands made for licensing, access, and storage and make Taser the bad guy."

      The cited cost for access (~$0.25M/yr) is less than what the department would pay for two full-time employees, let alone the infrastructure to maintain and access all of the recordings. I think it's a pretty good deal by comparison.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Apr 2017 @ 1:21pm

    Great business model

    Sell torture devices to police departments staffed by ignorant and sadistic assholes, who will of course abuse them constantly, then sell bodycam goods and services to document that same abuse. All that's left is to provide legal services for the tens of thousands of cops who beat, assault, rape, and torture citizens.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DannyB (profile), 14 Apr 2017 @ 6:18am

      Re: Great business model

      The cameras need to be synced to switches in gun and nightstick holsters. That way the cameras can automatically turn off when the police are about to re-accommodate someone.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    discordian_eris (profile), 13 Apr 2017 @ 2:00pm

    Considering Tasers decades long time collusion with the police in regards to their stun guns, this does not bode well. Look up "excited delirium taser" and see how many times Taser and the cops have literally gotten away with murder. The United Nations Convention against Torture (which the US HAS signed and ratified) considers tasers torture devices.

    It is not just conceivable, but highly probable, that Axon will continue to cater to LEOs violating Americans rights. They have shown they will do almost anything to keep the gravy train rolling.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    tom (profile), 13 Apr 2017 @ 5:28pm

    Not much different then Apple providing low cost Apple computers to schools decades ago. Or Microsoft basically giving away Office when Wordperfect and Lotus had the majority of those markets. Didn't work so well for Apple and worked to perfection for Microsoft.

    The thing to watch is what happens if Axon's play works well. If the prices then jump due to them taking advantage of a monopoly, will any regulatory agency have the guts to challenge a "Friend of Cops"?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    oliver, 13 Apr 2017 @ 11:22pm

    Don't axon me.. b ro!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    SirWired (profile), 14 Apr 2017 @ 3:56am

    So much fail with this article

    If you think this "undercut the competitive bidding process", then you've never, ever, had anything to do with contracts procurement.

    If a government is large enough to have a competitive bidding process at all, then this offer won't make any structural difference; the trial year and free cameras would be a point in their favor, yes, as it should be, but the contract would still be subject to competitive bidding. (If a vendor presents a bill for many $k's, there better be a properly-bid contract for it.)

    And certainly the free equipment isn't exactly a new or innovative thing to do, as anybody who has ever seen an ad for a burglar alarm system can attest.

    Before opining on the subject, perhaps Tim could have actually interviewed somebody who knows something about the government procurement process? (Corporate/government procurement is complex enough to be a complete career; shouldn't have been difficult to find somebody to interview.)

    Really, Tim talking about something he has insufficient knowledge of, instead of doing a short interview with somebody who DOES know what they are talking about, is a not-infrequent problem here. (He occasionally even gets some of the basics of the site's favorite topic, IP law, completely wrong.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Kay (profile), 14 Apr 2017 @ 6:56am

      Re: So much fail with this article

      Once they already have the cameras and infrastructure in place, then the contract can probably just be shuttled through as sole source.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Apr 2017 @ 9:34am

    One year free

    Of course the first year is free. "The first taste is [always] free" is a time-honored stereotype among peddlers of addictive products, and for excellent reason.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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