Amazon's Ring to require police requests for user videos to be public

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Devin Hance | CNBC

Amazon‘s Ring will soon begin requiring police departments’ requests for user videos or information collected by the company’s smart doorbells and cameras to be made publicly.

In a blog post Thursday, Ring said starting next week public safety agencies will only be able to submit requests for video clips through its community safety app, called Neighbors, via public posts accessible on the app’s main feed. Previously, agencies could privately message users to request videos.

Ring has been beset with concerns around privacy and racial profiling as it has formed partnerships with police departments that allow the agencies to request videos and share updates with Ring users. Thousands of police and fire departments in the U.S. have partnered with Ring, according to the company’s active agency tracker.

Amazon acquired Ring in February 2018. The company, which operates as a subsidiary of Amazon, offers an array of smart security devices that allow people to remotely check in on their homes, including video doorbells, floodlights, window and door alarms. It’s also releasing a flying security camera drone.

Ring’s smart doorbell, one of its most popular products, is equipped with a security camera that automatically starts recording when it detects motion. The user is then notified in the Ring app and they can view the footage.

Lawmakers and civil liberties groups have stepped up their scrutiny of how Ring collects and shares user data. Amazon employees have also raised privacy concerns about the technology. At Amazon’s annual shareholder meeting last week, a proposal to audit the company’s impact on civil rights, equity and diversity issues, including whether Ring and the Neighbors app “disproportionally tag people of color as suspicious,” was narrowly defeated.

Ring said the new “Request for Assistance” feature will provide greater transparency into what information law enforcement agencies are requesting. Users will be able to view a history of data requests made by specific police departments, and agencies won’t be able to delete posts from the app.