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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U.S. Senator demands answers from Amazon Ring over its police partnerships – gpgmail


Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) is looking for answers from Amazon about its doorbell camera Ring and the company’s relationships with law enforcement agencies around the U.S. In a letter published on Thursday, he writes to the technology giant how partnerships like Ring’s raise “serious privacy and civil liberties concerns,” and asks Amazon to further detail the size and scope of its numerous deals with police.

The Senator’s attention was drawn to the issue following a recent report by The Washington Post. The report revealed that Ring had entered into some 400 video-sharing partnerships with U.S. police forces, which granted the police access to the footage from the homeowners’ internet-connected video cameras.

The police cannot tap into live or on ongoing footage, and the homeowners can choose to decline police requests, the report also said.

However, the partnerships raised concerns from privacy advocates who believe the program could threaten civil liberties, turn residents into informants, and subject innocent people to greater surveillance and risk, The Washington Post noted.

The same kind of network of surveillance cameras would draw more scrutiny if the police or the government had installed it themselves, but by working with Ring they’re not directly involved.

In a letter (see below) dated Thursday, September 5, 2019, Senator Markey questions the use targeted language that encourages Ring owners to opt in to the video-sharing program with police, as well as the way Amazon actively courts law enforcement to increase its use of the Ring system. Sen. Markey additionally points out that Amazon seems to be increasingly working with U.S. police forces, like it did when marketing its facial recognition product, Rekognition.

“The scope and nature of Ring’s partnership with police forces raise additional civil liberties concerns. The integration of Ring’s network of cameras with law enforcement offices could easily create a surveillance network that places dangerous burdens on people of color and feeds racial anxieties in local communities,” Sen. Markey wrote. “I am particularly alarmed to learn that Ring is pursuing facial recognition technology with the potential to flag certain individuals as suspicious based on their biometric information,” he continued, referencing a patent Ring applied for last year that would catch “suspicious” people on camera.

“In light of evidence that existing facial recognition technology disproportionately misidentifies African Americans and Latinos, a product like this has the potential to catalyze racial profiling and harm people of color,” Markey said.

The Senator asks Amazon to detail how long it’s been asking users to share video footage with police, how those policies have changed, and which police departments it’s working with. He also asked for information about how this data was being stored, what safeguards are in place, whether the police are sharing that footage with other entities, whether Rekognition capabilities were coming to Ring, and more.

Markey also wants Ring to review its consent prompts for video-sharing with experts to make sure it’s not manipulating consumers into these agreements with police.

And he wants to know if Ring has worked with any experts in civil liberties, criminal justice or other relevant fields to review its doorbells and social network Neighbors to ensure they don’t present unique threats to people of color or other populations.

Ring would not be the first to create a home for racial profiling among neighbors, though its connection to cameras makes it more of an actionable threat than other networks, like Nextdoor or Facebook Groups.

Nextdoor, for example, became well-known for issues around racial profiling, and eventually rolled out tools to try to stem the problem in its app. Crime-tracking app Citizen also faced controversies for creating a state of paranoid hypervigilance among its users — something that has long-term effects on how people perceive their world and those they share it with. And anyone in a Facebook Group for their neighborhood knows there will at some point be a post about a “suspcious” person with little evidence of any wrongdoing.

Sen. Markey gave Amazon until September 26, 2019 to respond to his questions.


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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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Ring Is Helping Police Convince People to Hand Over Video Footage Without a Warrant


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Ring’s close alliance with police departments continues to be a headache for the company with each new revelation. Amazon-owned Ring expends great effort to get its customers to use its Neighbors video sharing app, to which it gives police access. Thanks to newly leaked emails, we know Ring is actually coaching officers in ways to convince users to provide video footage without a warrant. 

Installing a Ring camera doesn’t automatically make your videos available to police, but Ring works hard to get people to download and use the Neighbors app. That connects to an online community portal where you can share video with other users. In cities where police have partnered with Ring (and push Ring products), officers can also send out requests for video. Ring even gives police free cameras to distribute to the community based on how many Neighbors downloads they can deliver. 

When police ask for video footage in Neighbors, they don’t have to go through the hassle of getting a warrant. That makes it an appealing prospect for police, but users are often hesitant to share their camera footage. In several email exchanges obtained by Motherboard, Ring “Partner Success Associates” explain how police can obtain higher compliance. Unsurprisingly, many of the techniques involve getting more people to download Ring’s app. 

Ring told police that departments with higher levels of Neighbors opt-ins have better results. That fits nicely with Ring’s mission to get as many people as possible using Neighbors. The company has been criticized for stoking fear with the Neighbors app. Ring even has news editors who post unverified details of 911 calls in Neighbors. 

Ring coaching New Jersey police on how to obtain more video footage.

Ring has also provided police with templates for footage requests, hoping to get more users to respond favorably. It also suggests departments remain active on social media, which is not altogether bad advice. However, Ring, of course, frames this as a way to drive downloads of the Neighbors app. Ring also instructs police to post public messages in Neighbors to encourage the community to provide video when asked. 

Activists have called on police departments to stop partnering with Ring, citing the unregulated public-private partnership to create a video surveillance dragnet. Ring is far from the only consumer security camera provider, but it’s the only one with an aggressive campaign to get people using a scaremongering “community” app that helps police circumvent normal evidence gathering.

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