Matthew Guariglia
Electronic Frontier Foundation

(August 21, 2019)

Doors across the United States are now fitted with Amazon’s Ring, a combination doorbell-security camera that records and transmits video straight to users’ phones, to Amazon’s cloud—and often to the local police department. By sending photos and alerts every time the camera detects motion or someone rings the doorbell, the app can create an illusion of a household under siege. It turns what seems like a perfectly safe neighborhood into a source of anxiety and fear. This raises the question: do you really need Ring, or have Amazon and the police misled you into thinking that you do?

Recent reports show that Ring has partnered with police departments across the country to hawk this new surveillance system—going so far as to draft press statements and social media posts for police to promote Ring cameras. This creates a vicious cycle in which police promote the adoption of Ring, Ring terrifies people into thinking their homes are in danger, and then Amazon sells more cameras.

Map of Ring partnerships with police compiled by Shreyas GandlurSee full screen

How Ring Surveils and Frightens Residents

Even though government statistics show that crime in the United States has been steadily decreasing for decades, people’s perception of crime and danger in their communities often conflict with the data. Vendors prey on these fears by creating products that inflame our greatest anxieties about crime.

Ring works by sending notifications to a person’s phone every time the doorbell rings or motion near the door is detected. With every update, Ring turns the delivery person or census-taker innocently standing on at the door into a potential criminal.

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