Police Will No Longer Be Able to Request Ring Doorbell Footage from Users

By: Georgia | Published: Jan 30, 2024

Amazon’s Ring has decided to stop allowing police departments to request doorbell camera footage from users. This marks the end of the “Request for Assistance” feature in the Neighbors app, a development that has drawn attention due to its impact on privacy.

The company hasn’t specified the reasons for this change but confirmed its implementation starting this week.

Limited Police Interaction in the Neighbors App

The Associated Press reports that following this change, law enforcement agencies will still retain some level of interaction within the Neighbors app.

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A police SUV with red and blue lights flashing is parked on a city street at night

Source: Kenny Eliason/Unsplash

Eric Kuhn, head of Neighbors, said in the statement, “Police and other agencies can also still use the app to share helpful safety tips, updates, and community events.”

Addressing Privacy and Surveillance Concerns

The decision to end the footage request feature is seen as a response to privacy concerns.

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A white security camera branded 'Ring' is mounted on a wall, with a power cord running down to an outlet

Source: Ring/Facebook

According to The Associated Press, critics have argued that the increase in police partnerships with Ring and the ability of users to report suspicious behavior could transform neighborhoods into surveillance zones, potentially leading to racial profiling.

Ring's Policy Shift on Police Requests

Matthew Guariglia, a senior policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, commented on the policy change to TechCrunch: “Now, Ring hopefully will altogether be out of the business of platforming casual and warrantless police requests for footage to its users.”

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The logo of Ring, consisting of the lowercase word 'ring' with a blue dot above the 'i', painted in dark gray on an orange brick wall

Source: Getty Images

“Ring has been forced to make some important concessions — but we still believe the devices can enable end-to-end encryption by default and turn off default audio collection, which reports have shown collect audio from greater distances than initially assumed.”

Emergency Situations and Video Sharing

In 2022, Ring shared 11 videos with police without user consent, citing “exigent or emergency” circumstances, as reported by The Associated Press.

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The glowing red and blue lights of a police car's light bar are captured in sharp focus against a dark night background

Source: Scott Rodgerson/Unsplash

This practice raises questions about the criteria used for defining emergencies. The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Guariglia expressed skepticism about the determination of what constitutes an emergency.

Ring's Settlement with FTC over Privacy Concerns

The Guardian reports that Ring recently settled with the Federal Trade Commission for $5.8 million over allegations related to privacy and security.

A modern smart doorbell with a camera and a glowing blue ring button, labeled 'Ring,' is mounted on a white wall next to a dark blue door

Source: Ring/Facebook

The FTC’s allegations pointed to the company’s practices of allowing employees and contractors to “view, download, and transfer customers’ sensitive video data for their own purposes,” although Ring disputes these claims.

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Evolution of Ring's Police Partnership

Ring’s relationship with law enforcement has evolved over the years. In 2021, the company made a significant policy change by making police requests for footage public in the Neighbors app, as reported by NBC News.

Rear view of a police officer wearing a uniform and cap, with a focus on the officer's head and shoulders against a blurred backdrop of a street scene

Source: Fred Moon/Unsplash

This was a move toward transparency, as prior to this change, law enforcement agencies were able to privately message users to request clips from their Ring doorbells.

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Legal Access to Ring Footage Remains

NBC News explains that despite the new policy, law enforcement agencies can still legally access Ring footage through a search warrant or subpoena.

A close-up view of a person's index finger pressing the blue-lit button of a Ring doorbell camera mounted on a door frame

Source: Ring/Facebook

This provision maintains a legal channel for police to obtain necessary footage “in cases involving imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to any person,” according to a written statement from Brian Huseman, Vice President of Public Policy at Amazon.

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Ring's Controversies Around Privacy

Ring’s partnerships with police departments and the features of the Neighbors app have been controversial, particularly regarding privacy concerns, per information from NBC News.

View from a doorbell camera of a man standing outside a house, wearing a light-colored fleece jacket and looking down at his smartphone

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Jamie Siminoff, Ring’s former CEO, framed the app as a tool that would benefit communities by increasing public safety. He told CBS News in 2019, “My goal would be to have every law enforcement agency on the police portal.”

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Leadership Changes and Focus on Privacy

Under former CEO Jamie Siminoff, Ring emphasized its role in public safety.

Jamie Siminoff wearing a casual jacket and a checked shirt, is sitting with one leg crossed over the other, gesturing with his hands while speaking into a microphone at a conference

Source: Wikimedia Commons

NBC News reports that Siminoff was replaced in 2023 by Elizabeth Hamren, who was previously an executive at Microsoft and Discord. With new leadership, the company seems to be reassessing its ties with law enforcement and focusing more on privacy concerns.

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Neighbors App Updates

Ring announced in the blog post that they are introducing new features to the Neighbors app, including “Ring Moments” and “Best of Ring.”

A person's hand holding a smartphone showing a live feed from a Ring doorbell camera, displaying a figure standing at the door

Source: Ring/Facebook

These updates aim to diversify the app’s content “beyond just crime and safety,” indicating Ring’s efforts to adapt its platform to a broader range of community interests.

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Ring's Policy Changes Reflecting on Privacy

Ring’s recent policy changes demonstrate a shift in the company’s focus, prioritizing user privacy over its previous extensive collaboration with law enforcement.

A delivery man in a blue uniform and cap, smiling as he rings a doorbell, is holding a cardboard package under one arm next to a green front door

Source: Ring/Facebook

By discontinuing the “Request for Assistance” tool, Ring appears to be leaning into the broader industry trend of focusing on safeguarding user data.

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