What’s behind the internet’s ‘ghost’ videos – and why high-res IP cameras are the best protection against ghosts (and thieves)

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Photo by Neven Krcmarek

Ready for Halloween? It was supposed to be the Brexit date – and an appropriately creepy one for such a suspicious piece of policy. But the EU has graciously granted the UK more time to sort itself out.

Halloween is typically known as a North American holiday. Children go from house to house in costumes to ask for candy, teenagers dress up for parties, and adults stay home to watch scary movies. However Halloween originates from the Celtic holiday Samhain – a festival celebrated between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice that marks the end of the harvest season. In Spain, 1 November is known as All Saints’ Day, and the religious and non-religious alike take the day to go visit the graves of their loved ones.

It’s said that during Samhain, the ‘walls between worlds’ are the thinnest; allowing spirits to appear to us. Hence the association with ghosts and ghouls.

With offices in Berlin and Dublin, the IoT startup Smartfrog is surely familiar with the holiday – but they’re also very skeptical of supposed ghost sightings.

“Ghost videos are full of optical illusions, technical manipulations and faults,” said a spokesperson for Smartfrog.

The startup knows its way around video surveillance and offers a complete home surveillance package which includes an app, cloud storage and IP camera. In time for Halloween on 31 October, Smartfrog’s spokesperson explains what’s behind ‘supernatural’ sightings online – and how a HD surveillance camera can protect against possible hauntings.

According to the startup, you can take any abandoned location – an old hospital, hotel or even your own back garden – add a weak light source, use a video camera with low recording quality, add some light reflections and bloodcurdling sounds to create the perfect haunted video to send shivers down viewer’s spines.

Upon closer inspection, ghostly appearances in these videos can also turn out to be a nothing more than a spider web dangling in front of the camera lens. If there’s a breeze, the illuminated threads can float around and falsely trigger a surveillance camera’s motion detectors. The same applies to unusual noises, more often than not these are found to be the howls of neighborhood cats or hedgehogs and these loud noises have even triggered calls to the police.

Supernatural occurrences can often also be explained by mirages, technical faults or optical illusions.

“Hundreds of illusionists have made a living from these apparitions,” said Smartfrog.

The human brain is programmed to see faces where they don’t exist. We see this in daily objects such as grim-looking mops; good-humoured parking meters; or long-nosed coat hooks. If you search for ‘faces in things’ on the internet, numerous examples appear, the technical term for this phenomenon is ‘pareidolia’.

There are also instances of small children claiming to have seen ghosts, something a lot of parents know about firsthand. There are a number of explanations for why this could happen, one is that infants are not yet able to distinguish between fantasy and reality meaning objects appear animated to them. As an infant grows up, the frequency of their ghost sightings usually subsides. To help small children feel less afraid, many resourceful parents use surveillance cameras to prove to their kids that no spooky ghosts are haunting their room.

It’s not just illusionists who work with stagings, either. When crockery, glasses and vases all appear to break at the hands of a poltergeist, it’s safe to assume there’s someone else behind the action.

“Some people hope to make quick money by creating fake videos for fans and followers on online media,” explained Smartfrog.

Where double exposure tricks used to help with photo exploitations, nowadays clever editing software does the same for video. This technology, which manipulates moving images and sounds, has made big advances and it’s now possible to create heads that ‘speak’ virtually. There are many examples of this online at the moment which show celebrity’s facial expressions and mouth movements adjusted and controlled in a deceptively real manner. The human voice can now also be convincingly simulated by a computer.

The supernatural world continues to fascinate people who enjoy scaring themselves. It means we can expect many more videos of ghost sightings in the future but let’s hope these don’t take place too frequently or within our own four walls.

For those looking to deter ghosts as well as burglars, Smartfrog has a tip: “Looking at the videos circulating on the internet, we can safely assume that ghosts hate high resolution cameras. An internet camera with HD resolution is therefore the best protection against possible hauntings.” Often, surveillance camera videos can reveal the reality of supposed ghost sightings, says the startup.

However, concerned homeowners and business owners should also be aware that surveillance cameras should only be used to monitor their own private spaces; using them in public (or another’s private property!) is illegal in many jurisdictions – both in the US and in Europe.

Founded in 2014, Smartfrog offers an easy-to-install and affordable home security solution that lets users easily keep an eye on their home or business. The package starts at €5.95 (£4.95) per month, with no minimum contract period. It includes the Smartfrog App, allowing users to manage up to ten cameras, a Smartfrog Cam and cloud-based video storage.

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