Ring Provided a Map of Its Customers to Police


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Ring was one of the first companies to make video doorbells and has since expanded to other home security products. As part of its aggressive strategy after the Amazon acquisition, Ring has partnered with hundreds of police departments across the US. This program has proven controversial, and it becomes more so with each new report. According to a new leak, Ring’s pitch to police sometimes includes a map of active Ring customers, something it previously said it would not do. 

Ring’s current strategy seems to be signing up as many law enforcement organizations as possible to be partners. The agreements signed with police call for departments to promote Ring products, in some cases creating new positions specifically to coordinate with the company and residents. Buy getting residents to sign up for the Ring Neighbors app, police earn credit toward free cameras they can distribute to the community. The benefit to police is access to the Ring Neighbors portal. There, police can request access to video clips from doorbells around their jurisdiction. 

Ring has long maintained that it protects the privacy of users in the Neighbors portal. The newly leaked emails and documents certainly call that into question. The emails relate to Ring’s deal with Georgia’s Gwinnett County Police Department. A Ring representative shared two maps with the police, both showing active Ring camera locations inside Gwinnett County. One map was zoomed out, showing just an unresolved blob of red dots, but the other was more zoomed in, showing more accurately where the cameras were. 

The maps of active Ring cameras provided by Ring to Gwinnett County Police.

In the months after the maps went out, Ring and Gwinnett County went back and forth to hammer out the deal. Ring eventually provided about $15,000 worth of cameras to get police started. Like other leaked “Memorandums of Understanding,” the agreement with Gwinnett County required the police to spend time promoting Ring’s products and services. In some cases, police even provide Ring with access to 911 call data in order to post updates in the Neighbors app. The company believes this helps encourage users to engage with police and provide video footage when asked. 

On some level, it’s not outlandish to help people voluntarily provide video footage to police. Police have long done the same thing simply by canvassing areas around crime scenes for security cameras.SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce The issue cited by privacy advocates is how easy Ring makes it for police to request mountains of data they may not need. Ring itself also has a sordid history. It’s been less than a year since Ring came under fire for giving employees full access to customer video. It’s hard to trust Ring to run a surveillance operation with police in an ethical way with no oversight.

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Ring Confirms It Works With More Than 400 Police Departments


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Ring has come under fire in recent months for the way it partners with law enforcement and helps them obtain camera footage from customers without a warrant. Ring frames this as an initiative to keep neighborhoods safe, but privacy advocates worry about the development of a corporate-controlled surveillance state. The scale of Ring’s police partnership has only now become clear. It’s not a handful of police departments or even a few dozen — Ring works with more than 400 departments around the US. 

You can buy and use Ring cameras anyplace without interacting with law enforcement, but Ring is working hard to get people under the jurisdiction of partnered police departments to use its “Neighbors” app. That’s what connects your cameras to other nearby Ring cameras, allowing you to share video with neighbors. 

Ring’s contracts with police call for the direct promotion of Ring devices and services with the aim of increasing downloads of the Neighbors app. Police departments working with Ring get access to the Neighbors online community portal where they too can request footage. When investigating a crime, police can ask residents in Neighbors to share their video — Ring will even help police craft effective messages to get more footage. Ring (which is owned by Amazon) even provides police with credits toward free Ring cameras they can provide to residents. 

It’s not hard to see why police would like this. Officers can set up a Neighbors request and get access to video much more quickly than if they had to go through the legal system. On the flip side, they are getting access to a great deal of video that has little or nothing to do with investigating a crime. 

Ring stresses that police can’t see live feeds from cameras, and they don’t technically know who is and is not providing video footage. Although, it’s not hard to figure out which houses with Ring doorbells aren’t supplying video as requested. Ring seems conscious of how uncomfortable this could make people, so it’s trying to get ahead of the critics by making its full list of law enforcement partners public. The map above shows all 405 departments that work with Ring. The company promises to update the map regularly, too. 

The map probably won’t do much to calm those who are already concerned — it really drives home the incredible scale of the program. Almost all the departments listed joined the program in just the last few months. Still, the map is a step in the right direction. It will allow at least some public accountability going forward.

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Zhiyun’s Smooth-Q2 aims to be the most portable quality smartphone gimbal available – gpgmail


Zhiyun has been steadily rolling out new gimbals for smartphones and dedicated cameras for a few years now, and the company’s quality and feature set has improved dramatically over time. Now, it’s launching the Zhiyun Smooth-Q2 smartphone gimbal on Kickstarter, with the aim of delivering a “truly pocket-size” gimbal that has all the bells and whistles you could ever want or need.

The Smooth-Q2 is indeed a portable powerhouse – the company sent me a pre-production unit to test, and though it’s not the final shipping hardware, it already works and feels like a polished, quality device. The first thing you’ll notice right away about the Smooth-Q2 is its size – it can indeed slip inside a coat or pant pocket, though you’ll need a fairly deep one to make that work. Even if you don’t necessarily have a compatible pocket, it’s hard to beat the Smooth-Q2 for sheer portability, and that’s bound to save you some packing space when you’re getting ready for your next trip.

There’s another recently released small-size smartphone gimbal on the market – the DJI Osmo Mobile 3. That has a clever method of folding down for easier packing, but the Smooth-Q2’s design, while similar in overall footprint, means it’s much easier to put in your actual pocket (or pack in a bag’s side pocket) than is the DJI version. And while both are incredibly easy to balance even if you’re a gimbal novice, I found the Zhiyun was actually the simpler of the two.

The Zhiyun Smooth-Q2 also feels more solidly constructed, though its simpler controls (it doesn’t have a trigger around or a zoom lever) may leave some creators wanting. There are some other advantages here, too, however – a quick release spring-loaded clip means you can detach your smartphone quickly for other uses without unbalancing the gimbal, and go right back to shooting when you’re done. Plus, you can connect via Bluetooth and control your smartphone’s native camera app directly, instead of relying on their ZP Play app – which you can still use for features like object tracking.

The Smooth-Q2 offers 16-hours of battery life, so you should easily make it through a day without requiring power, and it can do time lapses, with or without programmed motion, a vortex mode for capturing crazy rotational footage, and an aluminum body that should be able to withstand less-than careful stowage in your bag.

In terms of quality, the Smooth-Q2 really delivers in early testing with my iPhone XS Max, and I’ve included two quick sample clips so you can see for yourself. These are shot in the gimbal’s basic PF mode, in which the camera pans as you turn the gimbal side to side.

Zhiyun’s crowdfunding these but the company’s history and reputation mean that you can count on them to deliver. The entry-level price is set at $109 U.S. for backers, which is a $30 discount off the planned retail cost, and they should ship to backers in October according to the company.

Smooth Q2 2


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The Motorola One Action Wants to Be a GoPro Smartphone


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Motorola essentially invented the cell phone and wowed everyone with the Razr in the early 2000s, but it’s had a harder time innovating in the smartphone era. There have been super-slim Moto phones, customizable phones, and modular phones, but some of the company’s most successful are the safer mid-range devices like the newly announced Motorola One Action. The gimmick with this phone is its built-in “action camera.”

At first glance, the Motorola One Action looks a lot like most of Moto’s recent One-series phones. It’s your standard glass sandwich design with a hole-punch front-facing camera instead of the display notch in other Moto devices. The bottom bezel is a bit larger than the top because of the decision to stick with a cheaper LCD panel — OLEDs can bend back at the bottom to save space on display connectors. This is a 6.3-inch 1080p screen with an extremely tall 21:9 ratio like some of Sony’s recent phones. 

The big selling point is the camera setup. There’s a regular 12MP camera and a 5MP depth sensor, which is pretty standard. The twist is the 16MP wide-angle sensor for 1080p video capture. Unlike the other sensors, this one is rotated 90-degrees. So, you can hold the phone vertically and shoot video in landscape. 

It used to be taboo to shoot portrait video (Google’s camera app even used to nag you about it), but apps like Snapchat have made it acceptable. And admittedly, holding your phone in portrait orientation is more comfortable for one-handed use. Motorola pitches the sideways sensor as a GoPro-like action camera in your phone. Although, the field of view isn’t as good as many standalone action cams — it’s just 117 degrees. 

Inside, the Motorola One Action runs a Samsung Exynos 9609 processor (an unusual choice) and 4GB of RAM. You also get 128GB of included storage (using the faster UFS standard) and a microSD card slot. It runs the Android One build of Android 9 Pie, but it might not be the same in all regions. 

The Motorola One Action launches today in select markets like Brazil and Mexico. It’s also out in several European countries. Pricing starts at €259 ($287). It will come to the rest of Europe, along with Latin America and Asia, later this month. The US and Canada will get the Motorola One Action as well — some past Motorola One devices never launched in either country. US and Canadian buyers can buy the Motorola One Action unlocked in October, but there’s no official pricing yet.

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Nest Enrages Users By Removing Option to Disable Camera Status LEDs


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Nest is the most high-profile player in smart home and connected security, and its status as a Google subsidiary has subjected it to special scrutiny. Google talked about its “customer privacy commitment” at I/O 2019 when it unveiled the new Google Nest branding. The company just made good on one of the promises it made at I/O — it’s removing the option to disable camera status LEDs. Nest customers have responded with almost universal anger to the change. 

One of the principles outlined in Google’s privacy commitment stressed that the company would ensure there was a visual indicator when your Nest cameraSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce was on and streaming video to Google. According to the email sent out to users, Google is doing that by making the status lights on most Nest cameras always-on. So, you’ll always know if one of these devices is actively streaming. So, that’s good, right? Not so fast — it turns out a lot of people liked being able to disable those lights. 

Nest says that the Nest Cam and Nest Hello video doorbell will get a silent OTA update soon that removes the status light feature. The small green LED will be on at all times while the camera is active, and it will flash when someone is watching the stream live. Instead of disabling the light, Nest will only support dimming it slightly. 

The status LED on the Nest Hello is particularly noticeable.

This does make sure you and everyone around you are aware of what the camera is doing. However, that’s not a feature everyone wants. Many Nest camera owners prefer the devices to draw as little attention as possible. For example, the doorbell camera flashing could tell an unwanted visitor that you’re looking at them and not answering the door. Pretty awkward. It could also make the cameras easier to spot for an observant thief, who could then avoid or damage the cameras. 

The status light is indeed a valuable tool if you’re worried about someone hacking your cameras or you just don’t trust Google. Although, putting a Google camera in your house seems like a bad idea if you’re that person. For everyone else, the status light at best unimportant and at worst a nuisance. Forcing it on everyone could be missing the point. The outrage on Google’s community forums is rampant, but there’s no indication the company will reverse its decision.

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Googler Shares 20x Zoom Photo Probably Taken on Pixel 4


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In the last few years, Google’s phones have gone from mediocre cameras to the absolute, undeniable kings of mobile photography. That is impressive enough, but Google also managed this without adding multiple camera sensors like most other manufacturers. The Pixel 4 will have two rear-facing camera sensors, and that could make for some incredible zoom photos if a new teaser is to be believed. 

The key to Google’s camera success is machine learning — the same techniques that help an AI beat StarCraft II players or drive a car can power advanced image processing algorithms. It’s no longer about how many megapixels your camera sensors has, it’s about how the software manipulates all those megapixels after you snap a picture. 

Claude Zellweger, Google’s director of design, recently posted a photo on Instagram taken on a Pixel phone (see below). In the comments, he notes the photo was taken with 20x zoom. That’s higher than you can get with current Pixel phones, even at the maximum digital zoom setting. Naturally, this suggests Zellweger is using the Pixel 4. 

Google has done amazing things with its lone camera sensor on Pixel phones, but there’s only so much you can do. We know the Pixel 4 and 4 XL will have a secondary camera on the back, and a recent leak claimed (credibly) that will be a 16MP telephoto camera. The leak didn’t include the effective zoom level of the lens — we often see 2x and 3x on phones. However, some recent devices have had “periscope-style” telephoto cameras that can do 10x optical zoom. 

A 20x zoom shot most likely taken on a Pixel 4.

So, how do you get to 20x zoom? It’s very, very unlikely this phone has 20x optical zoom. The photo does look sharp and low-noise, but it’s probably a product of Google’s excellent image processing. On current Pixel phones, you can use digital zoom, and the phone uses multiple exposures and your natural hand-shake to refine and sharpen the final image. What we’re probably seeing in this image is digital zoom to 20x with the aid of a telephoto lens — either something in the 2-3x range or possibly something higher like 10x. 

Whatever camera hardware the Pixel 4 brings to the table, it will probably continue to offer best-in-class results. We expect the Pixel 4 and 4 XL to land in October at Google’s annual hardware event.

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This charming little camera prints instantly to receipt paper – gpgmail


I’m a big instant camera fan, but the film is expensive and the digital printers just aren’t very good. So I was delighted to see this alternative seeking funds on Kickstarter: the Alulu camera, which prints photos in black and white on receipt paper. Why did no one do this before?

The idea is so simple that you’ve already gotten it — no explanation necessary, but since explaining things is my job I am going to do so anyway.

The Alulu is an idea incubated by three friends as they left college, each heading their separate directions but looking to take a shot at making this cool gadget a reality before doing so. Right now it only exists in prototype form (they only thought it up in May), but it works more or less as intended, and it’s as silly and fun as I wanted it to be; I got to test one out, as it happened that one of the team members happened to live in my neighborhood.

The camera is a little box about the size of a fat point-and-shoot, with charming little dials on the top to select exposure mode or a 10-second timer if you want it, and a shutter button that’s hard to miss. On the side is the charge port and a button to advance the paper. And the back has a little frame that flips out and helps you set up your shot — very loosely, I hardly need add.

Inside the 3D-printed, acrylic-plated exterior, the guts of the camera are simple. An off-the-shelf camera stack that does all the hard work of actually taking a picture — but don’t worry about the megapixels, because they don’t matter here. The camera sends its signal to a custom board that prepares and optimizes the image for black-and-white printing.

To be clear, we’re talking black and white, not shades of grey. The printer inside the camera is a standard receipt printer, which uses heat-activated ink that’s either transparent or black and nothing in between. You feed paper in via a little chamber on the bottom.

alulu

Thankfully creating the appearance of shading in 1-bit imagery is old hat for computer graphics, and an algorithm dithers and tweaks the picture so that more or fewer dots in various patterns create the illusion of a wider palette.

The results are… well, photos printed on receipt paper. Let’s keep our expectations in line. But they’re instantly printed (with a little stutter like a dot matrix printer) and charming little artifacts indeed. You can even use receipts you’re given at stores or restaurants, if they fit, and you can always fold it over a bit if it’s too large.

receiptrow4receiptrow2

(By the way, if you’re worried about being poisoned by receipt paper, don’t be. The stuff with high BPA content was generally phased out a while back, and you can order non-poisonous rolls of paper easily and cheaply.)

I think this thing is great, though I’m afraid that the projected $99 retail price might be too high for what amounts to a novelty. The idea, I was told, was to drive the price down with mass manufacturing, but until they do so they want to be honest about the cost of the parts (the printer itself is the most expensive piece, but like everything else the price goes down when you order a thousand or more).

Whether it makes it to the factory or not, I think the Alulu is a great idea. We need more weird, one-off devices in this world of ours where every function seems to devolve to the smartphone — and I’m tired of my phone! Plus, it can’t print on receipt paper.

The Alulu is currently looking for backers on Kickstarter. Go give it a pledge.


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