Amazon’s Ring subsidiary makes some of the most popular home security cameras, and it has leveraged that distinction to push its products with the help of police departments around the US. In return, Ring helps police gather footage from consumer cameras. Now, a newly leaked document reveals Ring’s ultimate plans to create “neighborhood watch lists” based on facial recognition.
Most companies that make and sell consumer security cameras are very careful about the sharing features they add, but Ring expends great effort to get its customers to use its “Neighbors” app. After signing up, Ring users across a neighborhood can share video and communicate with each other. However, this is also how Ring entices police to help it push its products.
Ring partners with about 400 police departments, giving officers access to the Neighbors portal where they can request video footage from users. Ring gives police points for people who sign up for Neighbors in their jurisdiction, which entitles police to free Ring cameras that they can distribute to the community. Many privacy advocates have expressed alarm at the way Ring has constructed what amounts to a private surveillance network for police with essentially no oversight.
Ring hasn’t implemented facial recognition on its cameras, but the leaked document acquired by The Intercept shows how it would use that technology. The planning materials detail a system whereby people could identify certain people as “suspicious.” The Ring app might even prompt people to mark people as “suspicious” if it believes they are acting in a suspicious manner, whatever that means. AI would remember those faces, and alert other Ring users if the same face shows up in their video feed.
The documents also make repeated mention of aiding law enforcement, but a private company’s facial recognition tech doesn’t seem like the most responsible way to fight crime. The company floats “proactive suspect matching,” which would identify people suspected of criminal behavior. It’s unclear how police would be involved here, but it’s possible they could provide images to be matched on Ring’s system.
The ACLU has noted that Ring’s proposed neighborhood watch system could simply allow people to create lists of “undesirables” who might sound alarms when they enter certain neighborhoods. We don’t know if Ring’s facial recognition would be accurate, and the idea of using this feature to inform police work could lead to undue harassment and even arrests.
Ring says it is not in the process of developing facial recognition or the neighborhood watch features described in the document. However, it doesn’t deny the documents are real.
- Ring Provided a Map of Its Customers to Police
- Ring Confirms It Works With More Than 400 Police Departments
- Secret Agreement Required Police to Promote Amazon’s Ring Doorbell Cameras