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.