February 21, 2020

Amazon has bolstered from the internet sensation of sharing plots to deceive porch pirates by planting exploding boxes of glitter by explaining that the goal of purchasing a Ring Doorbell is to ensure safety. Yet, the company has not promised the protection of basic civil liberties with its ability to stream live audio and HD video.  

Ring doorbells, a common accessory located at the entryway of many American households, has introduced several new features that violate privacy rights. The company, which has been under increasing scrutiny, has partnered with several police stations that could help to reduce neighborhood crime. 

Most commonly known for their ability to capture porch pirates stealing packages, law enforcement has become increasingly more interested in capturing individual's private surveillance videos in order to catch thieves. Ring devices pair to an app named “Ring’s Neighborhood” that allows users to share crime and images with the entirety of their closeby community. Its purpose is to alert others of potential crimes associated with neighborhood criminals, such as stealing mail or littering in your front yard. 

Ring devices violate basic privacy and civil rights protections by illicitly filming innocent residents without any knowledge. There are no security requirements for law enforcement agents to gain access to images and film if requested. Officers have asked users for their permission to share their Ring Doorbell footage within specific time frames in order to locate and identify unlawful behavior. Not only can footage be given to police officers, but third parties do not have any restrictions from becoming involved, such as sharing and saving videos forever. 

In the privacy agreement of Ring Doorbells, Amazon insists that users have the authority over their own security and that Amazon will not participate in the distribution or selling of video recordings. Although Amazon maintains that video surveillance is up to its consumers, it does reserve the right to share content with law enforcement if it is associated with an ongoing investigation. It is required for homeowners to give consent to sharing video content, but a warrant is not required to obtain footage. Once users agree to share their content with local police, anyone within that location is sent an alert.  

Ring does not currently have the ability to capture facial recognition, but this feature is becoming more prevalent in the security and protection industry and may be available in the near future. Currently, any interaction that occurs between someone's door and the stoop of their porch is subjected to documentation, without any consent. Users are not required to purchase a Ring Doorbell in order to access the Neighbor App, which raises the question of who and when are unknown people or groups watching the activity that is occurring in your local neighborhood.

Ailis Yeager
worked directly with the Center for Digital Ethics & Policy. She completed her bachelor's degree at Loyola University in 2020, majoring in integrated advertising, public relations, and history.