Amazon-owned Ring has come under fire in recent months for its ever-expanding camera sharing features and cooperation with police. Through it all, Ring has insisted that users have complete control over their data, and their locations are kept private. However, an investigation by Gizmodo shows that the Ring Neighbors app leaks precise GPS coordinates in each post.
When you buy a Ring camera, the company pushes its optional Neighbors app hard. In Neighbors, you can share video footage and get crime alerts for your local area, which sounds good in theory. In practice, however, it can lead users to become unreasonably suspicious of strangers (particularly people of color) who happen to walk past nearby cameras. Ring also encourages users to share the footage with police, who get access to Neighbors in return for promoting Ring products.
Privacy advocates have naturally expressed concern about the features of Neighbors, but Ring has always dismissed them by pointing out it doesn’t share anyone’s exact location, even if they provide video to police. The Gizmodo investigation shows that the Neighbors app still transmits GPS coordinates with every shared video — it’s just not exposed in the app. With a little technical know-how, it’s trivially easy to scrape camera locations from shared content.
Gizmodo collected data from more than 65,000 posts in the Neighbors app from multiple cities. That included the location of some 20,000 cameras. Reporters confirmed that the GPS coordinates in the app corresponded to the real-world locations of Ring cameras. Gizmodo voluntarily stopped collecting the data after surveying several cities, but the data is apparently still available. As such, Gizmodo is being intentionally vague about how you’d go about accessing it.
Ring claims the GPS coordinates are simply the location users report for the incident, which is not always their home address. It uses this data to determine which Neighbor users should get an alert. Let’s face it, though. Incident locations will almost always be someone’s home address, or very close to it. Gizmodo says that the logged locations were always near the user’s camera, and the footage makes it easy to pinpoint the residence.
It’s getting harder to take Ring’s claims at face value. It always seems to have a clever spin on the latest report, but as we’ve seen repeatedly, it never tells us the whole truth.
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