Chris White on August 5, 2019
Amazon’s surveillance camera company coaches local police departments on ways to obtain a customer’s video images, even if that person does not wish to provide such information, Vice reported Monday, citing documents and internal memos.
Ring, which Amazon bought in 2018, provides police officers with templates for requesting footage from customers. Company representatives suggest law enforcement officials use Neighbors, Ring’s neighborhood watch app, which allows Ring camera owners to share their camera footage at their own discretion.
“I have noticed you have been posting alerts and receiving feedback from the community,” a Ring representative told Bloomfield, New Jersey, police in June, according to internal emails between the company and police department. “You are doing a great job interacting with them and that will be critical in increasing the opt-in rate.”
Ring’s product functions like an internet-connected security camera and is designed to capture images of porch thieves or other neighborhood criminals. The video can then be live-streamed and watched on devices connected to the company’s app.
“The more users you have, the more useful the information you can collect,” the representative added. Other reports show that police officers can use a workaround if they are unable to successfully persuade a customer through the Neighbors app. They can request Ring camera footage directly from Amazon, Government Technology reported on Aug. 2.
Amazon offers partnerships with local police for free — but the deal comes with a catch. Police sign a memo with the company that critics say allows Amazon the ability to write a majority of law enforcement’s press releases about the product.
Amazon is essentially coaching police on how to promote Ring products, Chris Gilliard, a professor of English at Macomb Community College who studies so-called digital redlining, told reporters Monday. “Not coincidentally, those things overlapped quite a bit,” he said referring to ad promotion and basic police work. “That’s really disturbing.”
Others offered similar critiques. “By deploying tens of thousands of these cameras in any given community, you’re also creating a very wide surface area for attack [for hackers],” Dave Maass, a researcher at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said according to GovTech. Nearly 200 police departments have signed on to work with the company, Vice reported in July.
Ring is defending its business model. “Ring offers Neighbors app trainings and best practices for posting and engaging with app users for all law enforcement agencies utilizing the portal tool,” a company representative told Motherboard in a statement. “Ring requests to look at press releases and any messaging prior to distribution to ensure our company and our products and services are accurately represented.”
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