Amazon requiring police to publicly request Ring doorbell videos amid privacy outcry

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Amazon will start requiring law enforcement to publicly request videos captured by its Ring doorbell security system amid growing criticism of its video-sharing agreements with police departments.

In a blog post on Thursday, Amazon’s Ring unit said police and fire departments will be required to request Ring’s home surveillance videos via public posts on its community safety app, called Neighbors, starting next week.

Currently, Ring allows its law enforcement partners to privately message Ring users to access footage from their devices.

But Ring has been stung by criticism over its once-private agreements letting some 600 law enforcement agencies around the country tap into its Neighbors app. Critics say this opens the door to potential civil liberties violations via quiet and expansive surveillance of ordinary citizens at a time of rising concerns over racial profiling.

“If you’re an adult walking your dog or a child playing on the sidewalk, you shouldn’t have to worry that Ring’s products are amassing footage of you and that law enforcement may hold that footage indefinitely or share that footage with any third parties,” Sen. Ed Markey told the Associated Press in 2019.

Police departments have even reportedly raffled off the devices in some communities with the caveat that recipients of the smart doorbells need to hand over footage when requested, according to a 2019 report by tech website CNET.

Following that report, Ring said it would start cracking down on these strings-attached freebies.

All law enforcement requests will now be public in the Neighbors app feed.

“This way, anyone interested in knowing more about how their police agency is using Request for Assistance posts can simply visit the agency’s profile and see the post history.”

Ring users also opt in to receive requests for assistance from law enforcement.

Amazon purchased the anti-theft device in 2018 for $1 billion and the associated Neighborhood app allows users to share video footage from their devices.

Social apps focused on safety issues have come under fire recently for encouraging vigilantism and racial profiling.

Crime-tracking app Citizen was recently blasted for putting up a $30,000 reward to find a man it wrongly said was an arson suspect, according to a Reuters report, while Nextdoor has been criticized for failing to quickly address racial profiling and misinformation on the site.

Amazon said its Neighborhood app guidelines will “prevent overly broad requests” from law enforcement.

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