Ring, the Amazon-owned maker of camera-equipped doorbells that let users monitor activity around their homes, has confirmed exactly how extensive its video-sharing deal is with law enforcement agencies around the US.
Ring has partnered with 405 US police forces to allow officers to request footage recorded by local residents’ devices, Ring CEO Jamie Siminoff wrote in a blog post Wednesday. Siminoff posted the blog shortly after The Washington Post published a report that showed the extent of Ring’s partner program and highlighted suspicions about privacy and security.
The blog post includes a map of all the agencies Ring has inked deals with, such as Austin, TX, and Edgewood, WA. Notably, it hasn’t (yet) partnered with police forces in Seattle, where its parent Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) is headquartered.
Santa Monica, CA-based Ring last year began forging partnerships with police departments under a program it calls “new neighborhood watch,” and the number of participating agencies has since grown rapidly, according to the report.
A key component of the program is Neighbors, a software application Ring developed to accompany its devices. Among other features, Neighbors allows users to anonymously upload video recordings captured by Ring products, and share the footage with other people who live nearby, according to the report.
The law enforcement agencies Ring works with currently use an extension of the Neighbors application known as Neighbors Portal, Siminoff wrote in the blog post. The extension can give officers access to information and media residents have uploaded to the Neighbors app, Siminoff says.
Ring’s flagship product is a connected doorbell with a built-in camera. When a visitor rings the bell, residents receive a smartphone alert and, if they choose, can see and talk to the person at the door. Ring configures the camera on its doorbell to begin recording in response to particular events, such as when the motion detector senses a passing person or object, according to the company’s website.
Siminoff has for years argued that Ring’s products can help reduce crime, both by acting as a deterrent and a resource for law enforcement organizations that are investigating burglaries, package thefts, and other crimes. In speaking engagements and interviews, including one with Xconomy before the Amazon acquisition, Siminoff said his company’s mission is to reduce crime in the communities where Ring’s customers live. Amazon acquired Ring in 2018 in a deal reported to be valued at about $800 million.
Still, privacy and civil liberties advocates have expressed concern over Ring’s “eyes-everywhere ambitions and increasingly close relationship with police,” Drew Harwell of The Washington Post wrote in the report. The partner program appears to have grown quickly, too, since Ring publicly launched it in the spring of 2018. Ring has previously been tight-lipped about the number of law agencies it was working with, but news organizations reported it had made deals with more than 225 as of late April.
The Neighbors Portal extension to Ring’s software application includes a feature that lets police send requests for recorded camera footage to residents living near the site of a reported crime, according to the newspaper. An officer can reportedly specify a geographic area up to half a square mile wide, and automatically email homeowners in the area to request footage from their Ring devices that was recorded around the time a crime is believed to have occurred. Residents are able to decline such requests from police, and officers do not have the ability to view live feeds of homeowners’ Ring devices, according to the report.
Ring’s data-sharing practices have drawn criticism from consumer advocates in the past, including earlier this year when The Intercept published a report alleging Ring provided some of its workers in Ukraine “virtually unfettered access to a folder … that contained every video created by every Ring camera around the world.”