At first glance, they look like any other household product that would blend right in on almost any kitchen counter. A box of Pringles potato chips. A canister of Slim Jims. A tub of OxiClean.
But, take a closer look.
Closer. Now, even closer. If you get close enough and squint your eyes, you may notice that there's a little black dot on the packaging that looks slightly out of place. If you look even closer, you see that the black dot is actually a tiny hole.
On the Pringles container, the hole is hidden in the number 5 at the top of the can where it says "25% More!" If you study the plastic Clorox wipes container, you'll find it in a small blue box amid the writing "cleans & disinfects!" And, if you look closely in between the x and the i on the OxiClean stain-remover label, there it is! That tiny hole again.
But, these are not normal everyday household products with tiny holes in them.
They are hidden cameras manufactured by Florida-based Safety Technology and they are made to look like everyday household products. They are designed specifically to go unnoticed in your kitchen, living room, bedroom and even a baby nursery.
The video surveillance industry is booming as security cameras seem to be popping up almost everywhere. U.S. sales figures for home surveillance equipment are not available, but industry analyst Joe Freeman says the numbers are higher than ever before. He estimates that major retail outlets like Lowe's and Wal-Mart are seeing sales grow by about 50 percent each year.
It's part of a worldwide video bonanza as more and more cameras are planted in homes, businesses and even cities and towns to help solve crimes, prevent thefts and even fight terrorism.
A person who lives in London is caught on camera an average of 300 times each day, thanks to the more that 4 million security cameras in the United Kingdom today, according to published reports. And, Forbes Magazine reports that research firm Frost & Sullivan estimates worldwide sales of spy cams will approach $100 million this year and continue to rise annually for the next few years.
When Safety Technology founder Mike Gravette began selling his hidden cameras in 2002, he knew he was onto something when, almost immediately, he could hardly keep up with the demand.
His first model was a standard-looking goose-neck desk lamp outfitted with a tiny camera inside. It became an instant hit for buyers who wanted to catch someone in the act while they weren't home.
Gravette hired a small staff and, today, he has a catalogue of dozens of so-called "nanny cams" that can blend into any number of household surroundings — a tissue box for the living room, a hair dryer for the bathroom or perhaps a doll for a little girl's room.
Gravette sells his cameras to distributors around the country who then sell them at spy stores, flea markets, independent retail outlets and, of course, online. They can cost anywhere from $300 to $600 depending on whether they are wireless or have a power cord and whether they capture black and white or color video.
Among his most popular cameras are a black plastic tissue box, a small vanity mirror, a brown teddy bear and a box of Pampers baby wipes (the "natural aloe" kind) sold to nervous parents who want to keep tabs on their child's nanny.