Last week, the media was astir that videos from Amazon’s Ring doorbell cameras were shared with police without their owners’ permission. The company insists that it did so in eleven extreme cases this year in response to situations in which life and limb endangered.
This may fly in the face of company policy stating that police can’t view recordings unless the footage is posted publicly or intentionally shared. But the low number of such incidents, revealed in a letter by an Amazon VP of public policy to Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA), suggests the company is being upfront. To be fair, the media would be ablaze if Amazon had stood by and allowed someone to be beaten to death.
The biggest issue with Amazon Ring is not that it ignores the need to seek the permission of its customers to share videos with police. The bigger problem is that this network of more than three million online cameras across the United States encourages its customers to voluntarily provide for the surveillance of entire neighborhoods. One message from the company to its customers reads: “If you would like to take direct action to make your neighborhood safer, this is a great opportunity.”
The company has agreements with 2,161 law enforcement agencies to access an app called Neighbors, a social media platform in which owners can post Ring camera footage and leave comments. The transformation of home security into a venue for social media encourages users to post videos online – all of it available to law enforcement “partners.”
Even more worrying, Amazon’s agreements with law enforcement allow officers to solicit Ring doorbell footage from customers for entire neighborhoods. Such video and audio surveillance may be fine for the customer, but what about passersby? And while the number of incidents in which footage was shared without permission currently remains low, what about the capacity for future abuse by Amazon and law enforcement?
It is concerning that all it would take for Ring cameras to become a form of constant mass surveillance would be a change of one company’s policy.