Amazon Ring’s corporate policies and security practices are under scrutiny for privacy and civil liberties violations. Not only is Ring’s customer personal data security lax, it also facilitates access to law enforcement agencies to customer video footage.
What is Ring?
Ring is a company owned by Amazon that manufactures a range of home security and smart home products. Their product range includes the Ring Neighbors App and the Ring Video Doorbell.
The Ring Video Doorbell is Amazon’s leading product. It’s a smart doorbell that contains a high-definition camera and motion sensors, and is integrated with an accompanying mobile app. The Ring app allows users to view real-time video from the doorbell’s camera. They can also receive notifications when the doorbell is rung and communicate with visitors at the door through the doorbell’s integrated speaker and microphone.
Ring as a surveillance camera
The Ring Video Doorbell can also be used as a surveillance camera. If surveillance is enabled, the doorbell automatically triggers recordings when it is rung or when the motion sensors are activated. The video footage taken by the Ring camera is then automatically uploaded and saved on Amazon servers.
It’s this final functionality, i.e. Ring Doorbell’s surveillance capabilities, that has had most people up in arms. Not to mention the Ring Neighbors App. A neighborhood watch app that also allows users to opt-in to having their camera footage disclosed to law enforcement agencies.
Concerns Surrounding Ring Video Doorbells
The Ring’s video doorbells have raised many concerns. However, the three major concerns relate to breaches of privacy, lax corporate security practices and civil liberties violations.
The first major concern relates to possible privacy violations. In this case it is not so much about privacy violations of Ring doorbell owners, but more so of a doorbell owner’s visitors and their neighbors. Ring doorbell owners can choose whether to use Ring’s surveillance camera functionality or not. Visitors coming to the door or people in the neighborhood, on the other hand, have no such say.
Individual’s private lives could be videoed without them having provided approval. Nor do they have a say regarding what is done with the footage once taken. The privacy and security of millions of individuals could be placed in jeopardy without them even being aware of it. Especially if the footage falls into the wrong hands. People should have a right to know who, precisely, is in possession of video captured by Ring’s products.
Ed Markey, a Democratic United States Senator for Massachusetts, said in a statement: “Amazon Ring’s policies are an open door for privacy and civil liberty violations.” He went on to say: “If you’re an adult walking your dog or a child playing on the sidewalk, you shouldn’t have to worry that Ring’s products are amassing footage of you and that law enforcement may hold that footage indefinitely or share that footage with any third parties.”
Lax corporate security and safeguards
Privacy violations concerns are further heightened by the fact that Amazon’s security policies and practices regarding the vast amount of data gathered with Ring devices are anything but stellar. There has been reported incidents of Ring’s vulnerabilities being exploited, including one where Ring doorbells left users’ Wi‑Fi passwords exposed in unencrypted text.
Other reports have raised concerns about Amazon Ring’s internal cybersecurity and privacy safeguards in relation to customers’ video footage held on Amazon servers. For example, it has been reported that Ring employees in the Ukraine were granted virtually unrestricted access to videos from worldwide Ring cameras. Employees were provided access to the footage for research and development purposes with little to no security checks or safeguards.
Civil liberties violations
The third major concern is regarding Amazon providing law enforcement agencies access to video footage held on its servers. In the US, video footage from Ring cameras was provided to the police to store, analyze and share with no restrictions. Nor has Amazon placed any restrictions on the police as to how long they may keep the footage.
Moreover, according to an investigation led by Senator Markey, Amazon does not restrict law enforcement agencies from sharing footage with third parties. In addition, Amazon has refused to commit to not selling users’ biometric data held in Ring video footage to law enforcement agencies for use in biometric recognition systems, such as facial recognition systems.
It is this partnership with law enforcement agencies that is seen by many as a violation of civil liberties. “Amazon has found the perfect end-run around the democratic process,” digital rights campaign group Fight the Future said. “These partnerships undermine our democratic process and basic civil liberties – they should be banned.”
Amazon Ring’s Response
A Ring spokesperson said in a statement: “Ring users place their trust in us to help protect their homes and communities, and we take that responsibility very seriously. Ring does not own or otherwise control users’ videos, and we intentionally designed the Neighbors Portal to ensure that users get to decide whether or not to voluntarily provide their videos to the police.”
Are you reassured?