Digital rights group Fight for the Future has compiled a map that shows the breadth of Amazon Ring partnerships with local police for the first time. The interactive map reveals dozens of cities that have formed partnerships with the doorbell camera company across the United States — and there may be other partnerships in the works.
To narrow down the map to show where local law enforcement works with Ring, users can filter the map for "Police" (local and state) and search for the word "Ring."
"It's impossible to talk about government surveillance without also talking about corporate surveillance," Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, told BuzzFeed News. "These Amazon Ring partnerships with police are the perfect example. A private individual can buy a private surveillance device from a private company and install it at their private residence, but then the information it collects can be transmitted to government authorities because that company has a for-profit partnership with the cops."
A spokesperson for Ring told BuzzFeed News in a statement that the company's mission is to make neighborhoods safer. "We ... [partner] with law enforcement agencies so they can share official, important crime and safety updates and work together with their local community through the Neighbors app," the spokesperson said. "We are proud to have partnerships with many law enforcement agencies across the country and have taken care to design these partnerships in a way that keeps users in control."
The company also disputed Greer's statement, saying it "does not have for-profit partnerships with law enforcement." But the company would profit when a Ring partnership with a local government agency incentives a private purchase of its doorbell cameras.
Ring, a doorbell camera company that Amazon acquired in April 2018, has been minting partnership after partnership with local law enforcement that would let consumers share security footage from their doorsteps with police through Ring's Neighborhood app to aid police investigations — though a customer must actively opt in. This week, when the camera devices were heavily discounted on both Prime Days, Amazon's shopping event, some pointed out that the increase of Ring devices could also augment neighborhood surveillance.
There's good reason to be concerned about how sound Ring's privacy practices are. Last month, BuzzFeed News reported that Ring was using its customers' real footage for ads, which also revealed its incredibly broad terms of service. "You hereby grant Ring and its licensees an unlimited, irrevocable, fully paid and royalty-free, perpetual, worldwide rights to exploit Shared Content for any purpose," reads the company’s terms of service. In January, both the Intercept and the Information reported that Ring gave different teams access to unencrypted customer video files on company servers and live feeds from some customer cameras.
The cities on Fight for the Future's map include Addison, Illinois; Anne Arundel, Maryland; Auburn Hills, Michigan; Birmingham, Alabama; and Bloomfield, New Jersey, among others.
Meanwhile, CNET has reported that police in Indiana, New Jersey, California, and many other states have held events and offered discounts for Ring cameras. Those discounts are offered through a Ring "Subsidy Match," and through the program, subsidy partners approve funding residents can use towards buying a Ring device.
"Amazon is aggressively marketing surveillance products, including facial recognition, to government agencies with a proven track record of human rights abuses," Greer told BuzzFeed News. "Like Microsoft, they claim they're open to regulation, but that's because they want to assuage people's fears and avoid the real debate over whether this type of surveillance has any place in a free and open society. There is no amount of regulation that will 'fix' the problems inherent in facial recognition. It must be banned."
Although Ring CEO Jamie Siminoff filed a patent describing the use of cameras to identify a person's face in 2018, a spokesperson for Ring said, "Ring does not use facial recognition technology.” But in an October 2018 BuzzFeed News report, Amazon declined to comment when asked to commit to keep the data generated by each of these companies completely separate.