Ring, the home surveillance company owned by Amazon, reminded people on Tuesday of the breadth of its surveillance powers when it published a series of Instagram stories announcing its users had recorded millions of trick-or-treaters this past Halloween.
In a company blog and series of Instagram stories, posted Monday and Tuesday, the company showed that it collects, stores, and analyzes sensitive data about how, when, and where people use its doorbell cameras. Ring said that nationwide, its doorbell cameras were activated 15.8 million times on Halloween. The company makes several other types of surveillance cameras in addition to its doorbell camera.
As it has on other occasions, like Super Bowl Sunday, Ring turned Halloween into a marketing opportunity. As reported by Mashable, Ring circulated videos of children on Halloween on Twitter. Ring also promoted Halloween-themed skins to decorate doorbell cameras on its company blogs and Instagram. However, in promoting itself as a family-friendly company, Ring showed that it collects user data on a granular level.
The Instagram stories posted by Ring on Tuesday show that the company aggregates data about the total daily number of doorbell button "dings" in the US. Ring also collects hourly tallies of dings in at least four major cities — Miami, Chicago, Houston, and Los Angeles. Additionally, Ring can use this data to determine the “peak times” of doorbell camera activity on the East and West coasts.
"We use this information to provide and improve the service," a Ring spokesperson said in an email. "For example, we use a record of doorbell rings to provide notifications to customers when someone is at their door, and to best optimize our network to ensure a good customer experience at busy times. We anonymized and aggregated our usage data to provide the statistics in our Instagram Story."
It’s been previously reported that Ring keeps track of the number of camera owners and users of its neighborhood watch app, Neighbors, in particular cities and that it uses this data to convince police departments to partner with Ring, but the company rarely reveals that it collects, stores, and analyzes aggregate data at this scale.
Ring partnerships involve law enforcement accessing the app’s Neighbors Portal, a tool that allows police to request camera footage from residents without a warrant. In exchange, police have to promote Ring either implicitly, by only speaking about Ring in statements approved by the company, or explicitly, by signing contracts requiring police to “encourage adoption” of Ring products in their communities. Ring keeps data about how often people share footage with police, and shares this data with police, as reported by Gizmodo.
Ring partnerships with police have proliferated in the past two years. At the time this story went live, just shy of 600 police departments have partnered with the company, according to a live map of Ring partnerships.
The map of police partnerships is maintained by Ring. A previous version of this post mischaracterized it as being maintained by a privacy researcher.