Body-cam giant snaps up its biggest rival to create near-monopoly

Axon, the company formerly known as Taser, has acquired its largest rival, VieVu—setting up a near-monopoly in the market for body-worn cameras.

While Axon already has contracts with most large cities in America, VieVu beat out Axon for a number of large contracts, including those for the New York Police Department, the Miami-Dade Police Department, and the Phoenix Police Department, among others.

Last year, Axon got even more aggressive in pursuing its industry dominance by offering any American law enforcement agency free body cameras and a year’s worth of access to the company’s cloud storage service, Evidence.com.

Digital Ally, now one of the company’s smaller rivals, did not respond to Ars’ request for comment.

While the prevalence of body-worn cameras is accelerating, they are still far from ubiquitous.

“Only 20 percent [of cops] have a camera,” Rick Smith, the company’s CEO, told Ars in 2017. “Eighty percent are going out with a gun and no camera. We only need 20- to 30-percent conversion to make it profitable,” he added. “We expect 80 percent to become customers.”

The move has some privacy watchers concerned.

Elizabeth Joh, a law professor at the University of California, Davis, pointed to her February 2017 academic paper on the subject:

Guys, there is a PROBLEM when one only [sic] private company effectively is the entire market for selling police bodycams, creating a police tech platform, and introducing facial recognition technology
(more here: https://t.co/HriqyDol1W ): 1/ https://t.co/GDkeg3iCwK

—(@elizabeth_joh) May 4, 2018

When one company dominates the market for a surveillance technology, its choices about product design make important decisions about policing before the police themselves have an opportunity to do so,” she wrote.

“A police department weighing surreptitious body camera recording in some instances may be pushed further to adopt the tactic if the cameras they use incorporate stealth by design. Furthermore, if police departments, city councils, and state legislatures are slow to adopt regulations for body camera use—as is the case in many states—then a dominant vendor’s product design choices become the de facto policies for the police.”

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