The Neighbors app connects locals to help them find lost pets, view crime reports in the area, share details of thefts, or whatever people consider "suspicious activity."
Police departments sign up at Ring and can then view messages on the Neighbors app. They can also ask Ring if neighbors' neighbors are willing to share video clips in a certain area for a specific time frame. Neighbors app users are not required to share their images, and their device and account information is not shared with law enforcement officers.
There are 601 partnerships between Ring and US police, all of which are visible on a Google map that Ring regularly updates and updates.
Ring Camera & # 39; s and the Neighbors app can do, and help solve crimes. A ring doorbell in Edgewood, Washington caught two women stealing packages in June. The items were later returned by the women who took them after Ring shots were shared on social media and on TV. Police in Salt Lake City identified a suspect in a package theft in August after a Ring customer shared a video clip on the Neighbors app. "All we can use to help identify how a crime was committed, perhaps who committed the crime, where the crime was committed – these are all things that are important to our cause," said Keith Horrocks, information officer with the Salt Lake City police, who worked with Ring in June. "Video is absolutely necessary."
But there is another side to Ring & # 39; s digital neighborhood watch, one that is concerned about privacy and racial profiling. Non-profit organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Fight for the Future (FFTF), say that such partnerships must be carefully investigated due to privacy risks.
"Amazon is building a privately-run, state-of-the-art surveillance state – and letting local police market it for them in exchange for VIP access to Amazon's on-demand surveillance system," FFTF wrote in September  petition , calling on mayors and other local elected officials to stop Ring's partnership with the police.
FFTF was founded by progressive policy makers Tiffiniy Cheng and Holmes Wilson and has 2.4 million members. So far, around 20,000 people have signed their petition.
"Home Security Cameras have been around for decades and the local police have long been practicing asking residents to voluntarily provide information, including video recordings, to assist the police in investigating, solving and crime prevention, "said a Ring spokesperson. said in an email statement.
Those concerns have not shaken up the rapid rise of video doorbells, which can be a useful way to keep an eye on your garden. Smart doorbells are the fastest growing segment of the surveillance camera industry, with spending expected to reach $ 1.4 billion by 2023, according to market researcher Strategy Analytics. Ring, which Amazon purchased for $ 839 million in February 2018, had a market share of 68% in the US in 2018, according to research analysis company IHS.
But if you are concerned, you can take steps to protect the privacy of your neighborhood.
Protect neighborhoods or a privacy risk?
Given that police forces should be ordered to set up cameras on private property, interest groups such as the ACLU and FFTF see partnerships such as those between Ring and local police as a way to circumvent that rule. and to worry about privacy about how the images are stored and used by the police.
"These partnerships threaten the basic rights of everyone, from someone walking his dog to a mother playing with their children in their yard," FFTF explains in her petition.
The Amazon company does not manage how law enforcement uses Ring Camera shots, so the police can perform their own face recognition or share shots with other law enforcement agencies once they have received them.
Ring says the company does not intend to use Amazon's face recognition software, Rekognition, to set up a face recognition database that is linked to law enforcement in the Ring app. Ring has considered adding facial recognition technology to its cameras and applying for two patents in 2018 that would add that feature to its software, raising criticism from critics.
People interested in understanding how the ring images they share can be used by law enforcement authorities should visit their local police force and ask if they have a partnership with Amazon, said Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty program at the Massachusetts ACLU.
Police are not legally required to let you know that they have a partnership with Ring or how they can use the images they obtain.
"Back-end features of the neighboring portal should not be shared with the public, including the desktop law enforcement portal, the heat map, sample video emails, or the video request process itself, as they often contain sensitive research information," a representative of The Ring told Bensenville, Illinois police in July via email, according to the Freedom of Information Act documents sent to privacy investigator Shreyas Gandlur.
You can also request public archives to find out if there is an agreement or check this card to see if there is already a partnership with the stake / police in your city.
Crockford also says that some communities are seeking ways to stop a partnership between Ring and law enforcement. They can do this using Community Control Over Police Surveillance (CCOPS) laws.
CCOPS laws are local ordinances adopted by city councils that give communities a say as to whether the police can get and use new surveillance technologies. The ACLU developed the model for CCOPS laws and cooperates with other non-profit partners, including FFTF, to inform communities about the CCOPS regulation and how they can take action to prevent partnerships such as those with Ring and law enforcement.
"When communities begin conversations with their democratically elected leaders about the importance of civil enforcement and the public's interest in ensuring that we maintain robust privacy rights in the 21st century," Crockford said, "It's not only legislators who listen, but also responsible police services and the leadership of those responsible police services. "
The Cambridge City Council of Cambridge, Massachusetts adopted a CCOPS law in December 2018, with the help of the ACLU and other partners. CCOPS legislation applies retroactively to all technology that is already being used, which means that such laws have the potential to end a partnership or to reverse an existing one. This map shows that at least 12 cities have adopted CCOPS laws in the last three years and 18 others are currently working on their adoption. California and Maine are working to adopt CCOPS legislation for the entire state.
Contact Government Officials
Even if there is a partnership between Ring and law enforcement agencies, your local government may not be aware of this, Crockford said. Residents can request a hearing to discuss the issue in their community. Invite the police chief to discuss how they use Ring images and explain your concerns, including why you may not want a partnership between Ring and the police where you live.
Crockford also proposes to learn more about how your local government works to determine who is in charge and to make "binding" decisions about how the police work. "The extent to which different parts of the local government supervise the police varies by community," Crockford explains.
Even if your city council is aware of an existing partnership between Ring and law enforcement, Evan Greer, deputy director at FFTF, says that you can request that your city council reconsider the agreement and work to reverse it. "Your city council has a responsibility to protect the basic rights, privacy and civil liberties of residents. Local elected officials must respond with sufficient pressure," Greer says.
Greer recommends asking local police forces specific questions about how to collect, store and use the ring images, and contact state and federal government officials.
"State legislators can pass laws that determine how RingCamera's can collect or even completely ban data. Congress legislators can launch investigations into the surveillance-based business model of Amazon or refuse federal funding to law enforcement agencies that spend tax money on subsidize Amazon products, "Greer adds.
You can also add your name to the Fight for the Future petition.