Ring, Amazon’s home surveillance company, announced it would stop letting police departments request video from your doorstep in a blog post Wednesday. The company has historically shared tons of footage with law enforcement, and Amazon came under fire for reportedly handing a full day’s worth of Ring footage to local authorities in March, despite the homeowner’s wishes to not help in prosecuting his neighbor.
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“This week, we are also sunsetting the Request for Assistance (RFA) tool,” said Eric Kuhn, Ring’s head of neighbors in the blog. “[Fire and police departments] will no longer be able to use the RFA tool to request and receive video in the app.”
Kuhn says public officials can still share safety tips and updates.
Ring does not say why it’s removing this tool, but the company has a long history of working with the police to use its massive network of video cameras. The company underscores privacy in its home security systems but has quietly created one of the country’s largest surveillance operations. Amazon’s Ring has even become one of the few companies to censor the police, barring New Jersey authorities from using the word surveillance to describe its products. For some reason, Ring has decided it’s no longer going to give police access in this way.
Amazon publishes transparency reports, like many companies, detailing how many police requests for information Ring receives every year. In the first six months of 2023, Ring received over 2,000 requests for information from government officials. In 40% of those cases, Ring handed over video content from user accounts. The company also handed over other account information to authorities such as names, addresses, and billing information.
“As we look to the future of Neighbors, we’re focusing our resources on delivering new product and app experiences that better empower our customers,” said a Ring spokesperson in an emailed statement to Gizmodo. The spokesperson did not comment on why police requests were being shuttered.
Gizmodo stopped reviewing Ring products in 2019 due to privacy concerns and noted why you should not get someone a Ring Camera as a gift. Ever since Amazon bought Ring in 2018, both companies have faced extreme scrutiny, including five U.S. Senators writing a letter to Jeff Bezos over security concerns.
The removal of police video requests seems to be a huge win for privacy advocates, but it’s unclear how this policy will really play out. Companies are required to comply with government agency requests for information and can be taken to court over the matter. A company can reject requests if they’re too broad, but Ring has historically worked with local authorities with its treasure trove of video. Amazon previously called stories about Ring cooperating with the police “a hoax,” but today’s policy reversal challenges that narrative.
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