Tools I No Longer Recommend: Ring Doorbell

There was a time, not too long ago, that I really liked the Ring Doorbell. I’m pretty sure I spoke positively about it on the podcast I used to do, and I may have even written about it. The device was a doorbell that alerted your smartphone. It had a built-in camera, allowing you to answer your door from anywhere you had an internet connection. Whether at the office, across the country, or in another country, when your doorbell rang you could answer it.

I started this article several months ago. It had kind of fallen to the back burner until I ran across the three-part series about Ring Doorbell on Vice this weekend. The first part is titled, How Ring Went From Shark Tank Reject to America’s Scariest Surveillance Company. Read it and Part II and Part III.

One of my close friends invested in the Ring system and loved it for the security it provided his family. Steve Gibson hawked the Ring Doorbell on his ‘Security Now!‘ podcast for a long time. At one point I recommended the Ring Doorbell as a viable security option. When Amazon purchased Ring in early 2018 I knew this product was on the downhill slide. I just didn’t realize yet how bad things would get.

Now Ring is much more than that. Much more important than the device itself is the cloud storage that comes with it. Videos are uploaded to Ring’s cloud. The video interacts with a number of features, including facial recognition and the “Neighbors” app. Sharing data is – at least currently – optional but is aggressively promoted. Ring memos to law enforcement agencies provide scripts for getting video footage without a warrant. Ring also provides maps of individuals who have refused to share footage with law enforcement.

In late 2018 Ring/Amazon took some heat for indicating it planned to integrate facial recognition into the Ring’s suite of features. This would ostensibly allow the cameras to identify “suspicious” persons and alert the owner and/or law enforcement. Recent documents have revealed that not only has Amazon done exactly that, they are also partnering with law enforcement agencies in novel and dangerous ways.

Most obviously, facial recognition is now fully integrated into the Ring system. More aggressively police can request access to your feed, which is housed by Amazon. I have yet to see reports of how this integrates with Amazon’s “Rekognition” FR system, but I won’t be surprised at all when it does. Facial recognition integration with Ring is extremely concerning. One neighbor with Ring could potentially track the comings and goings of nearly everyone in a neighborhood.

Almost as alarmingly, Ring has partnered with law enforcement agencies to promote sales of the product. Cops are now hawking the Ring doorbell for Amazon to victims of burglaries and other property crimes, increasing the product’s market penetration. Police departments partnering with Ring (over 600 so far according the articles linked above) get a lot of free goodies, but become corporate lackeys in the process. This intimate partnering of industry giants and law enforcement is concerning.

I strongly recommend reading the linked Vice articles above. I have just given you a quick sampling of the privacy problems with this product. The articles are very long reads, but well worth your time.

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