Amazon’s Ring, the home security and smart home company, has been making the news in the past year for all the wrong privacy reasons.
While Amazon has taken a step back from providing facial recognition tech to the authorities, Ring is determined to work with them closer than ever.
In 2020, Ring attracted more departments than ever to their network. And if you own or ever walk in front of one of their installed products, this should worry you.
There are over 2,000 departments in Ring’s network
The Ring network lets law enforcement ask users for footage from their Ring security cameras to assist with investigations.
In America, almost every regional law enforcement agency has police or fire departments in Amazon’s Ring network. The only two exceptions are Montana and Wyoming.
Figures from Amazon show there are 2,014 departments in the network that’s been rapidly growing over the years:
- 2018: 40 departments joined
- 2019: 703 departments joined
- 2020: 1,189 departments joined
According to Ring, these departments requested videos for over 22,335 incidents in 2020 through subpoenas, search warrants, and court orders. But since we don’t have any data for 2019, it’s hard to make any comparisons.
Ring complied with 57% of these requests. That’s down from 68% in 2019.
However, privacy advocates are still concerned over how Ring data is used and made available to law enforcement agencies.
Ring isn’t that efficient for catching criminals
Ring promised to make neighborhoods safer by deterring wrong-doers and helping to solve crimes. So, it’s no surprise that the law enforcement agencies have publicly supported the Ring network.
We have Ring cameras in our community (…) And we understand the value of those cameras in helping us solve crimes.
And yet, according to Lt. Edwin Santos, a department spokesman, the Winter Park Police Department hasn’t made a single arrest based on Ring footage even since it partnered with the company in April 2018.
An NBC News Investigation that looked at 40 law enforcement agencies in eight states that have partnered with Ring for at least three months has similar key results.
Here’s what they found:
- Thirteen of the 40 jurisdictions reached, including Winter Park, had made zero arrests due to ring footage.
- Other thirteen jurisdictions were able to confirm arrests were made after reviewing Ring footage. However, only two offered estimates.
- The remaining jurisdictions, including large cities like Phoenix, Miami, and Kansas City, didn’t know how many arrests had been made as a result of their relationship with Ring and therefore could not evaluate its effectiveness.
None of these departments collected data to measure the impact of their Ring partnership. And not one department kept consistent track of when Ring footage helped identify or arrest a suspect.
The company itself said it doesn’t know how effective the doorbells are in helping identify suspects. But this lack of evidence just adds to the privacy concerns that have plagued the company.
It’s time to activate your Ring end-to-end encryption
In the midst of all this, Ring has upgraded their security, introducing end-to-end encryption to their doorbells. That was after reports surfaced about Ring employees who were watching customers’ videos.
Now, the footage isn’t available to third parties, even if it’s stored in Amazon’s cloud.
However, this feature isn’t on by default. If you own a Ring, here’s how to turn on your end-to-end encryption:
- Open the Ring app.
- Go to ‘Control Center’ and select ‘Video Encryption.’
- Select ‘Advanced Settings’ and choose ‘Video End-to-End Encryption.’
- Tap the slider to toggle the feature on, then tap ‘Get Started.’
- Follow the in-app instructions to enroll your account, mobile devices, and Ring cameras in end-to-end encryption.
While this might make your footage unavailable to Ring employees and maybe hackers, it won’t keep law enforcement at bay. Even if you refuse to share it, the authorities can bring a warrant to Ring to get it.
But what do you think? Should law enforcement have free access to the Ring network? Is there a practical reason to? Let me know in the comments below.
Until next time, stay safe and secure!