The doorbell-camera company Ring was purchased for $1 billion in February 2018 by Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos. Ring, the ultimate Cinderella story, was on the verge of going broke and got rejected by investors on ABC’s Shark Tank. Fast-forward to August 28, 2019, and Amazon Ring now works with 405 law enforcement agencies across the United States to make neighborhoods safer.
Ring has released a statement and the Neighbors Active Law Enforcement Map, which shows every police department it’s partnered with as well as details on when the partnership began. The Police departments listed have access to the Neighbors Portal, which is an extension of the Neighbor’s app that allows law enforcement to engage with their local community.
Through the Neighbors app, launched in May 2018, Ring shares information among nearby residents, including the locations of their video or written posts. In this way, Neighbors acts like a kind of open forum for users to ask one another about suspicious activities. Using the Neighbors app system, homeowners in a targeted area can opt to share real-time crime and safety alerts, including text updates, photos and videos taken on any device.
With the Neighbors Portal, police can submit a request through Ring to users for video recordings related to investigations. Police can request a video recorded by homeowners’ cameras within a specific time and area, so officers can see footage from Ring’s millions of internet-connected cameras installed nationwide. In addition, police can make public announcements as a “verified law enforcement officer.”
But even with all these security advantages, the number of partnerships has fueled broader questions about privacy, surveillance and the expanding reach of the tech giants and local police. Legal experts and privacy advocates have voiced alarm about Ring’s eyes-everywhere ambitions and increasing close relationship with police. Seeming to address this issue, Ring states in its blog post, “We’ve also been thoughtful about designing how law enforcement engages with the Neighbors app to ensure users always stay in control of the information they share, and that their privacy is protected.”
Despite the controversy, the video-sharing partnership is a success. As the Ring blog post states, “Neighbors and local law enforcement have achieved amazing results by working together through the Neighbors app, from getting stolen guns off the streets to helping families keep their children safe, and even recovering stolen medical supplies for a diabetic child.” The cooperation agreement between Ring and police signals the start of a new digital neighborhood watch in hundreds of cities across the country. And if the Ring/police partnership is not in place in your city yet, it could it could be coming soon!
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