Tech

Amazon’s Doorbell Camera Company Reportedly Has 400 Partnerships With Police Groups

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  • Amazon surveillance camera company Ring told The Washington Post it has partnered with more than 400 local police departments as part of a plan called the “new neighborhood watch.”
  • Ring previously told the DCNF Ring’s policy requires the company not to disclose “specific numbers related to our app users, device owners or community partners.”
  • Police departments report on Ring’s products with language the company either approves or authors itself.

An Amazon at-home surveillance company reportedly teamed up with more than 400 local police forces across the U.S. in an effort to strengthen public safety.

Ring, which Amazon acquired in 2018, allows its customers to view live footage from their home security cameras on their phones and receive alerts when the doorbell rings or cameras pick up movement.

The surveillance company originally told the Daily Caller News Foundation in an Aug. 2 statement, “Per Ring company policy, we do not disclose specific numbers related to our app users, device owners or community partners,” but it did give the number of police partners, as well as a map, to The Washington Post — which Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns.

“Ring’s mission is to make neighborhoods safer,” Ring told the DCNF in an Aug. 2 statement. “We work toward this mission in a number of ways, including partnering with law enforcement agencies so they can share official, important crime and safety updates and work together with their local community through the Neighbors app.”

The surveillance company is granting police access to footage from homeowners’ cameras that it says requires consent from users as part of an effort the surveillance company calls the nation’s “new neighborhood watch,” the company told WaPo.

WaPo also noted Wednesday the hundreds of deals that have been made with police departments has brought up questions about personal privacy and customer consent in the event that footage on an individual’s camera be vital to an investigation.

“The Washington Post story on Ring includes several misleading statements about how law enforcement agencies participate in the Neighbors program. We want to set the record straight — customers, not law enforcement, are in control of their videos,” a Ring spokesperson told the DCNF.

“Videos are shared through the Neighbors program only if: 1) a customer chooses to post it publicly on the Neighbors app; 2) explicit consent is provided by the customer,” the spokesperson continued.

“Law enforcement agencies who participate in the Neighbors app must go through the Ring team when making a video request to customers. Customers can choose to opt out or decline any request, and law enforcement agencies have no visibility into which customers have received a request and which have opted out or declined. You can learn more on our blog,” the spokesperson added.

Fresno County, California, Sheriff’s Office public information officer Tony Botti told Government Technology that while he is in favor of the partnership between Neighbors and Frenso police, there is a workaround in regard to consent.

“If we ask within 60 days of the recording, and as long as it’s been uploaded to the cloud, then Ring can take it out of the cloud and send it to us legally so that we can use it as part of our investigation,” Botti said.

Ring, however, disputed Botti’s statement, telling the DCNF, “The reports that police can obtain any video from a Ring doorbell within 60 days is false. Ring will not release customer information in response to government demands without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us.”

“Ring objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course. We are working with the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office to ensure this is understood,” the spokesperson added.

The general manager of Neighbors, an app Ring designed to let users report criminal activity, told WaPo that Ring’s “mission has always been making the neighborhood safer,” adding it has had “a lot of success in terms of deterring crime and solving crimes that would otherwise not be solved as quickly.”

The security company is using local law enforcement to promote its products to the public along with the message of making neighborhoods safer. Police offices report on Ring’s products with language the company either approves or authors itself, Gizmodo reported on July 30.

The surveillance company gives scripts to police departments that make suggestions about how law enforcement should promote the products. Ring also encourages referrals to friends and families and offers subsidies or discounts to police departments to incentivize people to buy its products, according to Vice’s Motherboard on Aug. 8

Ring told the DCNF on Aug. 2, “We … work with cities and community groups to offer community members subsidized or discounted Ring devices in an effort to make home security accessible to more people.”

For example, the city of Rancho Palos Verdes, California, partnered with Ring to give residents discounts on surveillance products using a $100,000 taxpayer-funded subsidy.

“Cameras have proven to be a useful form of technology in the Sheriff’s crime prevention and crime solving efforts. The City and Sheriff’s Department have negotiated a subsidy with Ring.com to provide RPV residents with a discount on select devices,” according to the city’s Facebook post announcing the move in 2017.

Rancho Palos Verdes offered a limited number of $50 incentives to residents for a device limit of three products per household and discounts on other accessory devices.

This article was updated to include comments from Ring.

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