Amazon’s Ring Asks Police Not To Tell Public These Surveillance Details

In February 2018 it was reported that Amazon bought the company Ring (the smart doorbell maker) for a reported $1 billion in a deal that would allow Amazon to expand its home security and in-house delivery services.

Today,  that news is different. Turns out Amazon’s Ring wants police to keep these surveillance details from you, just as their line of Ring consumer home surveillance products enjoy an extensive partnership with local police departments all over the country.

According to cnet in email exchanges between Ring and the Bensenville, Illinois, police department in July, the Amazon-owned company detailed what tools should be kept confidential.

“Neighbors Portal back-end features should not be shared with the public, including the law enforcement portal on desktop view, the heat map, sample video request emails or the video request process itself as they often contain sensitive investigative information,” a Ring associate wrote to police, according to FOIA documents sent to Gandlur.

Bensenville police chief Daniel Schulze declined to comment and referred questions to Ring. A Ring spokesperson sent the following statement:

“The Neighbors law enforcement portal contains the video request feature. Law enforcement can submit video requests for users in a given area when investigating an active case. Ring facilitates these requests and user consent is required in order for any footage or information to be shared. Law enforcement cannot see how many Ring users received the request or who declined to share, but if a user consents to sharing a video clip, that footage and information is sent directly to law enforcement through the Neighbors law enforcement portal.”

Amazon’s Ring line of surveillance products has an extensive partnership with local police departments all over the country. Cops receive free product, extensive coaching, and pre-approved marketing lines, and Amazon gets access to your 911 data and gets to spread its network of security cameras all over the nation.

The law enforcement portal is a special section of Ring’s Neighbors app that only police partnered with the company can access.

When police partner with Ring, they have access to all of this, plus a portal specifically for law enforcement. That portal allows police to request footage from residents on the app, to comment on the posts, to send messages to people and to receive videos sent from people.

Gizmodo on Monday published an email exchange between the chief of police in one New Jersey town and Ring showing that Ring edited out certain key terms of a draft press release before the town published it, as the company frequently does.

According to a trio of new reports, though, the benefits to police go even further than was previously known—as long as they don’t use the word “surveillance,” that is.

The town of Ewing, New Jersey, in March said it would be using Ring’s Neighbors app. Neighbors does not require a Ring device to use; consumers who don’t have footage to share can still view certain categories of crime reports in their area and contribute reports of their own, sort of like a Nextdoor on steroids.

Law enforcement has access to a companion portal that allows police to see an approximate map of active Ring cameras in a given area and request footage from them in the course of an investigation. The town also launched a subsidy program, giving up to 200 residents a $100 discount on the purchase of Ring security products. Members of the police department also received $50 discount vouchers for their own use.

The original draft press release, obtained by Gizmodo, showed that the town used one of Ring’s pre-written press release templates and inserted a quote from the chief of police that read, in part, “Security cameras have been proven to be essential in deterring crime, and surveillance systems have assisted in closing cases that may have otherwise gone unsolved.”

Ring approved a version with that sentence edited out, telling Ewing police the company avoids using the terms “surveillance” or “security cameras” because that might “confuse residents into thinking this program requires a Ring device or other system to participate or that it provides any sort of direct access to user devices and information.”

When police partner with Ring, they have access to all of this, plus a portal specifically for law enforcement. That portal allows police to request footage from residents on the app, to comment on the posts, to send messages to people and to receive videos sent from people.

The Intercept published screenshots of the portal from a promotional Ring video in February, shortly after the clip was taken offline. The screenshots showed that police could see where each camera was, as well as alerts from both citizens and police.

Police are able to geofence specific areas to request footage through the app and mass-message everyone on the app in that region.

For further reading see Amazon’s Ring wants police to keep these surveillance details from you and Ring asks police not to tell public how its law enforcement backend works.

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