Amazon is helping police convince people to hand over their Ring camera footage
Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge
Amazon’s home security company Ring is coaching police departments in how to effectively request security camera footage from its customers, police emails obtained by Motherboard suggest. The emails contain advice like being more active on social media or speaking at meetings in order to encourage a better “opt in rate.”
Over the past month, multiple reports have emerged about the partnerships between police departments across the US and the Amazon security company, which produces a range of app-controlled home security cameras. Over 200 police departments have reportedly partnered with the company, after which they are able to request footage via an interactive map in the “Law Enforcement Neighborhood Portal.” Although it is entirely up to users whether they choose to share their security camera footage with law enforcement, the newly uncovered emails suggest that Ring knows how to persuade people to offer up this footage, and is prepared to share its knowledge as part of its partnerships with police departments.
“The more users you have the more useful information you can collect”
“The agencies with the best opt-in rate are the ones that are actively sharing on social media, having community outreach speak at meetings and spread via word of mouth,” reads one email from Ring to the Bloomfield Detective Bureau Commander in answer to a question about getting more responses from footage requests, “I have noticed you have been posting alerts and receiving feedback from the community. You are doing a great job interacting with them and this will be critical in regards to increased opt in rate. The more users you have the more useful information you can collect.”
As well as being more active on social media, a representative from Ring also reportedly advised that police pair their Law Enforcement Neighborhood Portal request with a public post on Neighbors, Ring’s neighborhood watch app. Ring will also provide police with templates to request footage from citizens. In a statement provided to Motherboard, a Ring spokesperson confirmed this practice, and said that the company will “provide templates and educational materials for police departments to utilize at their discretion to help them keep their communities informed about their efforts on Neighbors.”
Police do not need a warrant to request footage from Ring owners, which has lead to criticism by digital rights activist groups who claim the partnerships are leading to an unregulated surveillance network. There are also concerns that the partnerships are inadvertently causing police departments to promote the sale of Ring cameras as they encourage local communities to download the Neighbors app (which Motherboard reports is a “de facto advertisement for Ring”), and become more reliant on the cameras for surveillance data. There have also been reports of city councils subsidizing the cost of Ring security cameras, and police departments giving them out for free at neighborhood watch meetings.
In response to the report, a representative from Ring told Motherboard, “Ring offers Neighbors app training and best practices for posting and engaging with app users for all law enforcement agencies utilizing the portal tool… Ring requests to look at press releases and any messaging prior to distribution to ensure our company and our products and services are accurately represented.”