Ring, the popular doorbell camera company, recently announced a significant change in their policy. They will no longer share their camera footage with police departments, a decision made in response to privacy concerns raised by campaigners. While the company did not explicitly state the reasons behind this decision, it is believed that they are trying to alleviate fears of excessive surveillance. Part of this new policy involves discontinuing the 'Request for Assistance' tool, which allowed police departments and public safety agencies to obtain video footage from Ring's doorbell cameras through their Neighbors app.
This adjustment will take effect this week. Despite this change, Ring users can still choose to voluntarily share their footage with the police, even though the company will not facilitate it. This latest update reflects Ring's ongoing efforts to address privacy concerns raised by privacy watchdog organisations and users, particularly with regards to their relationship with law enforcement agencies nationwide.
Critics argue that the proliferation of these partnerships and the ability for users to report suspicious behavior may contribute to constant surveillance in neighborhoods and potentially perpetuate instances of racial profiling.
Ring implemented a policy change in 2021 to enhance transparency by making police requests visible to the public through its Neighbors app. Previously, law enforcement agencies could privately email Ring owners residing near an active investigation area to solicit video footage.
Matthew Guariglia, a senior policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, expressed hope that Ring's new approach will eliminate unsolicited and unauthorized police requests for footage. However, law enforcement agencies can still obtain video access through a search warrant.
Ring retains the right to share footage under specific circumstances without user consent. In mid-2022, it was revealed that Ring handed over 11 videos to the police without notifying users due to exigent or emergency situations, which is one of the exceptions allowing video sharing without owner permission.
Nonetheless, the Electronic Frontier Foundation remains skeptical about the ability of the police and the company to accurately determine what constitutes an emergency.
Additionally, Ring settled with the Federal Trade Commission for £4.5 million after facing allegations of improper employee and contractor access to user videos, alongside inadequate security practices that enabled unauthorised control over consumer accounts and cameras.