Police Will No Longer Be Able to Request Ring Doorbell Footage from Users
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Leadership Changes and Focus on Privacy
Under former CEO Jamie Siminoff, Ring emphasized its role in public safety.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
By discontinuing the “Request for Assistance” tool, Ring appears to be leaning into the broader industry trend of focusing on safeguarding user data.