Doorbell-camera firm Ring forged deals with more than 400 police departments nationwide, and in the process created a de facto digital neighborhood watch style network, one that law enforcement can use to investigate crime, in neighborhoods around the country.
While the news is alarming, Ring does not provide constant video feeds, though users can opt to join a Ring’s public social network called Neighbors, which allows them to share information and video from their Ring devices. Users can decline to provide third-party footage recorded by the devices, but if they do this, they may still receive an email from Ring regarding the investigation of a specific crime that could be aided with video from their device. Users can decide whether they want to share video. The messaging is focused on creating safe spaces. The problem is obvious: Many users will perceive this to be a violation of their privacy.
Here’s the Problem...
The terms of the deal made with police departments allow law enforcement agencies to request footage from Ring devices at or near specific locations, via the company’s “Neighbors Portal,” raising concerns with privacy and civil liberties advocates.
“If the police demanded every citizen put a camera at their door and give officers access to it, we might all recoil,” law professor Andrew Ferguson told The Washington Post, in a report detailing Ring’s rapid expansion. The Washington Post is owned by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, which also owns Ring.
Police departments and Ring have painted a more optimistic picture of the service and product.
“We have so many photojournalists out there, and they’re right there when things happen, and they’re able to take photos and videos all the time. As a law enforcement agency, that is of great value to us,” said Norfolk, VA police officer William Pickering to the Post.
Ring’s expansion is the result of an aggressive marketing campaign that included discounts and persistent emails to police departments, and a deluge of advertising on NextDoor, the neighborhood-centric social media app. The company commonly refers to a study in its sales pitches: Crimes decreased by 55%, a statistic that the MIT Technology Review referred to as “flimsy” at best.
Ring has declined to share their method or data leading to the purported 55% drop in crime rates, but continues to make it part of their marketing pitch to police departments.