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Ring Considered Using 911 Calls To Trigger Automated Streaming Of Camera Footage To Local PDs

DATE POSTED:September 30, 2019

Amazon's Ring doorbell/camera venture hasn't met a news cycle it can't fill with unintentionally-bad PR. Every time someone thinks they've heard the last odious effort by this company to become an unofficial extension of police department surveillance networks, another set of documents obtained through public records requests resets the counter to "zero days since last PR black eye."

To date, the company that's already formed partnerships with nearly 400 law enforcement agencies has:

Here's the latest PR coup by the expert self-maligners, as reported by Alfred Ng for CNET:

Ring considered building a tool that would use calls to the 911 emergency number to automatically activate the video cameras on its smart doorbells, according to emails obtained by CNET. The Amazon-owned company isn't currently working on the project, but it told a California police department in August 2018 that the function could be introduced in the "not-so-distant future."

One email obtained by CNET expressed the company's desire to implement a "call-for-service" trigger for recording. And not just recording. The cameras would start streaming footage to police departments partnering with Ring to give them a live feed of the affected (triggered?) area. Ring doorbell users would have to opt in, at least, but the pressure to do so would obviously be increased if the users got their doorbell cameras for free from their friendly local PD.

It appears this plan has been ditched, which will allow Ring to steer clear of at least one more terrible news cycle. That being said, everything else that's bad about this private/public partnership remains true, which isn't going to somehow start being less bad any time soon.

Ring's stated prioritization of customer privacy continues to ring (sorry) hollow. The company pushes users and police departments to gravitate towards its snitch app, where users can be encouraged to "share" footage of "suspicious" events, relieving cops of the burden of requesting footage from users or Ring itself. Investigators can still approach Ring directly for camera footage if residents aren't willing to cooperate. Ring says it only complies with "lawful demands" for recordings. What it doesn't say it that the "lawful demand" is usually a subpoena, not a warrant.

This is working out well for Ring. It's probably also working out fine for local law enforcement agencies. The latter seems very willing to cede creative control to Ring, so whatever relationship these parties have must be beneficial enough that cop shops don't mind taking a backseat to Ring's spin team. Ring seems willing to ride out these turbulent news cycles without making any changes to its business model. And why should it? It has claimed over 95% of the doorbell/camera market and is living rent-free in the hearts and minds of over 400 law enforcement agencies.

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