Ring's new police request policy is only the first step on a long road


Over the past two years, Ring has suffered Near-constant (and usually correct) criticism For this Security and police participation policies, which facilitate video sharing between video doorbell owners and criminal investigators without a warrant. In response, Ring began to systematically improve its defenses, especially as it needed two-factor authentication For user login and implementation End-to-end video encryption, to make your devices more resistant to hackers.

But for all its security improvements, Ring, which is owned by Amazon, has never adequately responded to criticisms of its police involvement.

when that changes next week Ring will no longer allow you to contact police departments To ask your clients for relevant footage for active investigation. Instead, police can post a “Request for Help” on the Ring’s Neighbors app timeline, which provides a public forum for users to freely comment on requests. The “Tap Here for Help” button will let Ring customers privately share footage with police in the immediate vicinity of the incident under investigation. (If you use this option, Ring will share information with the police, including your name, home address, and email.)

In addition, Ring users can opt out of seeing these requests or receiving notifications posted to them.

Is this the big answer to Ring’s police problem? I think it’s a start, but it doesn’t make sense. Consumer advocacy groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union agree. This measure adds more transparency to the footage request process. But it doesn’t address the more fundamental problem of Ring’s Neighbors app and the company’s relationship with police: namely, that Ring devices are slowly replacing the public space. surveyed Allowing space and ring owners to decide whether to share recordings of that public space with police on behalf of their entire neighborhood.

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Ring sells a wide range of video equipment, including security cameras and video doorbells.

What exactly is Ring’s police problem?

From 2018, Ring began reaching out to police departments across the country. To date, the company has partnered with 1,771 Departments. These relationships positioned Ring as an intermediary between its customers and law enforcement agencies — a powerful position considering Ring leads the market for video doorbells. 18% share after selling 1.4 million doorbells in 2020According to research firm Strategy Analytics. The number 2 ranked Skybell sold nearly 800,000.

In the past, officers leading a criminal investigation could submit a request form to Ring through the Neighbors Public Security Service tool, which had to include a case number and the specific suspected crime. Officers can ask for up to 12 hours of footage from equipment within a half mile of the incident.

A team of monitors working in the ring who went through a six-week training period will then review the requests to make sure they have followed these guidelines. (The Ring Monitor will decline a request, for example, if the police requested 24-hour footage.) If the monitor accepts the request, Ring will send the request for video to the appropriate customers, if in the area. be someone. Ring if there are no users nearby No Inform the investigators, so that they are not encouraged to resubmit with new parameters. The email ring informed customers of their rights not to share footage with police, but also provided a link to do so.

The primary problem with Ring’s NPSS tool was how it enabled police access. Investigators may request footage of legal or even constitutionally protected activity under the guise of investigating a broader set of potential crimes.

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Ring Video Doorbells often capture footage of privacy assets, such as a front stop, and Public places, such as beyond the sidewalk.

We saw this problem in action in February this year, when news broke that Los Angeles Police had submitted multiple video requests To the ring, clearly opposes the summer before with regards to BLM.

The day after the report arrived, I spoke to Ring’s communications chief Yassi Shahmiri.

“This LAPD video request meets our guidelines,” she told me, “because it includes a case number and specifically states that [investigator] requesting video To identify persons solely responsible for theft, property damage and bodily injury“(emphasis mine).

As I wrote at the time, this statement only highlighted the policy’s weakness in limiting police access—particularly compared to alternative means of police obtaining footage from users, such as requesting warrants. do. Rather than granting requests for a specific person charged with committing a specific crime, Ring made several requests for footage of a large group of people suspected of committing a broad set of different but non-specific crimes.

In addition, the exchange demonstrated how Ring’s built-in railing for NPSS equipment was largely broken: in a highly populated urban setting, a half-mile radius limit meant that police could contact more potential Ring customers. ; And the 12-hour time frame meant that police could request footage of constitutionally protected demonstrations and protests as well as criminal activity.

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage was the general lack of transparency about the entire process. Amidst widespread unrest last year, hundreds of amateur videos (often captured on phone cameras) was shared on social media, capturing the lack of restraint and openly misbehavior by the police. Ring cannot be held responsible for police activity, but if its only defense against abuse (aside from self-evidently inadequate request limits) was a vague review process conducted by employees with only six weeks of training, customers and There was no way for the concerned citizens to know whether the police was exploiting the system.

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Ring’s new “Request for Support” post format will provide all the same information as usual — including case numbers, investigator contact information, time limits and incident fields — but will be accessible to all Neighbors app users.

So Ring solved the problem, didn’t it?

In my view, Ring’s new procedures are mostly delegated to the police: criminal investigators can make the same exact requests, provide the same exact information. But now those requests are public.

In other words, if police abuse the system by submitting overly broad solicitations to take advantage of highly interested community members, Ring will not be seen as the primary party at fault – however, as one Ring representative told me. That said, Ring still post by the same standards as before.

Tell me, rings own blog post On the new measures, “[Now] Anyone interested in learning more about how their police agency is using the Request for Assistance post can simply visit the agency’s profile and view the post history.”

This measure may protect Ring’s interests, but it’s a really good thing for transparency. Obtaining information on police video requests will no longer require a thorough investigation or Freedom of Information Act requests. If any department is misusing the system, people will be able to see and comment on that abuse immediately.

I spoke to EFF policy analyst Matthew Guariglia after Ring announced its policy change, and he agrees that this measure is an important first step.

“Ring is steadily becoming one of the largest surveillance tools in the country,” Guariglia said. “So to have this reform where the police have little help with access to that footage is, I think, a huge win for the activists… [But] The work is not over as the involvement of the police still exists.”

ACLU senior advocacy and policy analyst Chad Marlow agreed.

“I think the decision to stop sending unsolicited emails to members of the public…is a good move,” Marlowe told me. “problem is, [Ring is] Now it has been replaced by something else… still has the same problem of policing as other methods. That is, you’re soliciting the public’s assistance in policing efforts, and we know that policing efforts fall differently on different groups in America … they need to ask different questions.”

The LAPD did not comment when asked about changes to Ring’s policy. The Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents rank-and-file officers, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

asking the right questions

Both Guariglia and Marlowe say that the fundamental problems with Ring’s police involvement and the Neighbors app — where all this video-sharing happens — aren’t really solved by the company’s new Request for Assistance post.

First, as Marlow pointed out, the new posting system does nothing stop police misconduct; It just makes it easier to track. Without ever leaving his desk, an investigator can post a request for assistance and potentially get multiple camera angles of a public street of his choice—like the LAPD was doing last summer. Ease of access should have us concerned – not for the crime it could prevent, but for the abuse it potentially enables.

“What [this new measure] Doesn’t change that there is still a huge, centralized surveillance network in the country,” Guariglia said. “As long as that footage is somewhere, the police can eventually get access to it.”

Second, the Neighbors app encourages people to police their communities, fueling suspicion and racism. In examining the Neighbors app in 2019, Motherboard found that people of color were disproportionately labeled “suspicious” in a sample of 100 positions in New York. Posts on the app often develop into verbal attacks directed at those caught…

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