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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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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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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