Ring, a home security camera company owned by Amazon, said it would stop allowing police departments to request users’ images in its app, due to long-standing concerns from privacy advocates about company relations with law enforcement.
Eric Kuhn, general manager of subscriptions and software for the Ring Neighbors app, announced Wednesday that the company was removing a feature that allowed police to request and receive videos from users of the app, a social platform similar to Nextdoor and Citizen where people can share alerts about nearby crimes from their home.
Mr. Kuhn did not explain why Ring was removing the app’s functionality, which allowed police to request help from the public for active investigations in a special category of messages called “Request for Assistance.”
People could respond to messages by sending police videos that might be relevant to an investigation without police needing to seek a warrant.
The “Support Request” feature has been introduced in June 2021 to provide users with more information about how local law enforcement was using Ring to collect information.
People can also opt out of receiving these types of posts on the app. Before, police were able to send private requests via email for images aimed at Ring users in an area of interest, not just people who have used the Neighbors app.
Police and firefighters will still be able to post public messages on Neighbors to share safety tips, updates and community events, Kuhn said. People don’t need a Ring device to use the app.
Privacy advocates have criticized Ring for its partnerships with police and said easy-to-install home security cameras exacerbate racial discrimination.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group, celebrated the change at Ring in statement but said the mass proliferation of doorbell cameras still threatens people’s rights.
“This is a victory in a long fight, not only against widespread police surveillance, but also against a culture in which private, for-profit companies create special tools to make it easier for law enforcement to access business users and their data – all of that. which ultimately undermines the trust of their customers,” the statement said.
On the Ring websitethe company said law enforcement cannot use the Neighbors app to access or control people’s Ring cameras or to view recordings that have not been posted to the app.
The website includes a map of fire and police departments that use the app. These agencies used Neighbors to provide updates on road closures and police activity, as well as share safety tips, such as reminders to lock car doors at night, and information about Upcoming events, such as virtual town halls.
Amazon acquired Ring in 2018. a letter made public by Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts in 2022, Amazon said more than 2,100 law enforcement agencies have participated in the Neighbors app.
In the letterAmazon’s vice president of public policy, Brian Huseman, also said that Amazon has shared Ring footage with law enforcement 11 times in 2022 using a process that does not require consent. user.
“In each case, Ring made a good faith determination that there was imminent danger of death or serious physical harm to an individual requiring disclosure of information without delay,” Mr. Huseman said.
Last year, Amazon agreed to pay $5.8 million after the Federal Trade Commission said Ring allowed its employees and contractors access to private videos and failed to implement security measures to protect the customers against online threats, such as hackers hacking into cameras. Ring disputed these claims in a May 2023 statement announcing the settlement.