Despite what you think (or have been told), your Amazon Ring camera may be providing video data to law enforcement without your knowledge or consent.
Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey revealed on Wednesday – during Amazon’s Prime Day event — that Amazon admitted it sent footage to police 11 times this year alone without a court order or users’ permission. Although the number is relatively small, this is also the first time the company says it has released data in this way. according to Politico. It’s also a reminder that if your data is out there and under someone else’s control — Amazon, for example — you have little or no say in whether the police get hold of it.
Markey is concerned about Ringo’s partnership with law enforcement and privacy issues years. “As my ongoing investigation into Amazon shows, it has become increasingly difficult for the public to move, gather and converse in public without being tracked and recorded,” he said in a statement.
His concerns are not unfounded: Amazon’s partnership with law enforcement agencies, which gives them access to its portal to search for user data, has expanded greatly since its inception. They were 405 police departments in the program in August 2019. Now they exist 2,161.
But the police’s approach pales in comparison to Amazon’s. The company also has huge data sets about what we buy and where we live, and it has growing advertising business that uses your data to target ads to you on Amazon and beyond. The company too recently introduced Amazon Sidewalk, a controversial service that connects certain Echo and Ring devices to each other unless the user opts out. It all adds up to a huge and powerful conglomerate that knows more about many of us than any other company – including those on our doorsteps or passing our homes.
The Ringo camera footage was sent in response to urgent requests, which should only be made when there is a belief that serious injury or death will result if the footage is not released immediately. The police are asking for information, but it’s up to Amazon to decide whether to release the footage, as well as whether the request is legitimate. Bloomberg recently discovered that people pretending to be law enforcement have managed to trick companies including Meta, Apple and Google into giving them data in this way.
“There will always be reasons why, in emergency situations, authorities may seek access to live cameras, but people have every right to be skeptical when the police and Ring decide behind closed doors what reasons meet the threshold of an ’emergency’ and allow police access to their personal devices without order,” Matthew Guariglia, policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Recode. Guariglia recommended users turn on Ring’s end-to-end encryption function if they are concerned about the police having unfettered access to their data.
The ring says in its guidelines for law enforcement, which are buried in his accompanying documents, so that he can send the video to the police in an emergency. Ring also sends user data and recordings to law enforcement in response to court orders, like any company who has information that the police need to obtain. Amazon recently discovered that it received more than 3,100 legal requests for data in 2021, a 65 percent increase from the year before. The reports did not say how many of those requests the company responded to. Although Ring says it tells users if police ask for their information, they may be legally prohibited from doing so. Only about 648 requests were notified to users.
Amazon also said that while customers have the option to mute audio while recording video, it wouldn’t make it the default because users might never look at their settings to know to turn it on. Which, by extension, means that many users don’t look in their settings to know that the sound can be muted. The company also told Markey that Ring “does not currently offer voice recognition.” It’s not a commitment to never offer it in the future, which is what Markey asked for.
“Law enforcement’s increasing reliance on private surveillance is creating an accountability crisis, and I’m particularly concerned that biometric surveillance could become a central part of the growing network of surveillance systems that Amazon and other powerful tech companies are responsible for,” Markey said.
Ring spokesman Brendan Daley told Recode that Ring does not offer “unfettered access” to customer data to anyone, including law enforcement.
“The law authorizes companies like Ringo to provide information to government authorities if the company believes that an emergency involving the threat of death or serious bodily injury to any person, such as a kidnapping or attempted murder, requires immediate disclosure,” the spokesperson added. . “Ring faithfully applies that legal standard.”
Amazon has worked for years spoke its Ring smart doorbell and security system partnerships with police departments across the country. Although privacy advocates were concerned that Amazon was creating its own national surveillance network, Amazon argued that Ring was a way for customers to feel safer and more secure in their homes. And while Amazon has offered police departments a portal through which they can access recordings from users’ Ring devices when they see fit, the company has assured users that police can only obtain those recordings with the user’s knowledge and permission. That was never entirely true, as the company’s letter to Markey became more apparent than ever.
Lawmakers and regulators have tried to rein in Amazon, but there appear to be significant limits on what they can actually do or how effective those measures will be. If it is government and agencies won’t or can’t protect consumer privacy, Amazon can decide how and when to do so, and its business interests lie in the data it collects and uses. And that leaves it up to the consumer to decide whether giving their data to Amazon is worth the benefits of the products and services it sells in exchange.
Update, July 13, 6:30 p.m. ET: This story has been updated to include a statement from Amazon.