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.
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. 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.