Founded in 2013, Amazon subsidiary Ring set out to sell consumers a range of smart home security products. However, as the firm has become more successful, its internet-enabled doorbells have come to service homeowners and law enforcement agencies alike. Indeed, a new report from Motherboard indicates that the company now collaborates with 200 U.S. police departments.
On the one hand, the corporation’s work with local law enforcement has led to meaningful reductions in property crime. However, on the other hand, privacy advocates warn that Ring’s partnership with the police erodes individual liberty and stokes racial tensions.
Ring’s Work with Law Enforcement
On Monday, Motherboard published a story about a Ring webinar for local authorities. In it, the home security company noted that it had established partnerships with at least 200 law enforcement agencies across America. As part of the arrangement, the firm created a portal that allows police to review footage from all the smart cameras it has installed within a particular neighborhood.
The Amazon subsidiary told The Verge that it does not provide local enforcement unfettered access to its surveillance network.
Instead, police officers can request security footage from individual camera owners to further an active criminal investigation. With owner consent, law enforcement agents can access Ring’s surveillance video. The corporation does not require law enforcement officers to obtain a warrant before making footage requests.
Ring also worked with local authorities to set up a series of sting operations. Motherboard notes that the company collaborated with police departments in California, Colorado, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Wisconsin to catch package thieves. The firm even provided authorities with maps of areas that had experienced regular package thefts.
Furthermore, the firm’s technology has seemingly been effective at cracking down on other types of crime. In 2016, the company deployed a host of smart doorbells in Wilshire Park, California. Six months later, Ring reported that attempted break-ins in the area dropped by 55 percent. Also, the corporation’s technology helped prevent and solve home invasions in Canada and Chicago.
However, critics allege Ring’s products impede individual liberty and race relations.
Liberty and Racial Bias Concerns
Fight for the Future Deputy Director Evan Greer told Motherboard that Ring’s collaboration with law enforcement is problematic. He contends that it allows for unregulated law enforcement operations.
“Amazon is building a for-profit surveillance dragnet and partnering with local law enforcement agencies in ways that avoid any form of oversight or accountability that police departments might normally be required to adhere to,” said Greer. The civil liberties activist also noted that a “future authoritarian government” could abuse the company’s emerging surveillance network.
The company has also faced criticism for its Neighbors social network. Through the platform, Ring owners can share security camera footage and make posts about suspicious activity in their communities. The firm intends that the service acts as a kind of digitally-enhanced neighborhood watch. However, critics allege that the service helps engender racial bias.
From December 6 to February 5, Motherboard tracked reports of suspicious activity that users posted to Neighbors. The publication found that the majority of posts were about people of color. Moreover, the site discovered that one Ring video labeled a group of six young men of color as gang members without evidence.
Moreover, Shahid Buttar of the Electronic Frontier Foundation told Motherboard that Neighbors’ security camera footage-sharing features could lead to adverse outcomes. Specifically, Buttar argued that the platform might influence users to call the police on their minority neighbors without cause.
Furthermore, Macomb Community College Professor Chris Gilliard said that Neighbors and platforms like it could indirectly exacerbate communal racial tensions by fostering demographic division.
Change is Unlikely
Ring isn’t the only Amazon product that critics claim harms minority communities. In April, 26 data scientists wrote an open letter to the corporation asking it to stop selling its Rekognition biometric surveillance technology to law enforcement agencies. Researchers alleged that the program’s tendency toward racial and gender bias made it unsuitable for public deployment.
Despite facing criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union and its own employees, Amazon still sells Rekognition to police departments. As such, the corporation is unlikely to cave to outside pressure to withdraw Ring.
Furthermore, Amazon listed its home security offerings as “Best Sellers” during Prime Day 2019. The e-commerce giant is currently struggling with declining sales. Therefore, the company has a significant incentive not to alter one of its most successful product lines.