Privacy issue emerges as Amazon confirms it logs records of every motion detected by installed Ring doorbells, and interactions with its app
The privacy issues associated with smart devices in modern homes has been raised again after it was reported that Amazon keeps records of every motion detected by its Ring doorbells.
The BBC submitted a data request to Amazon, which confirmed the issue, and it also confirmed that it records the exact time the motion is detected, down to the millisecond.
It comes after the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), part of the UK intelligence agency GCHQ, warned about the dangers posed by ‘smart’ cameras, and it urged consumers to consider the privacy and security implications of their use.
Last month Ring confirmed it had tightened up the security of its smart home devices by making two-factor authentication (2FA) mandatory.
A month prior to that in January Ring had introduced new control features to the Ring app. Ring said a Control Centre feature would allow users to manage which devices can access Ring services, and to opt-out of receiving video requests from police departments.
That came after Ring had made headlines last year following a number of incidents in which unauthorised third parties were able to access Ring devices.
In some cases the hackers were able to view the users’ children and even speak to them via a Ring device speaker.
But now the BBC has reported that Amazon also stores every interaction with Ring’s app, including the model of phone or tablet and mobile network used.
Amazon says it uses the information to evaluate, manage and improve its products and services.
Amazon has also been facing criticism over the amount of data it gathers via its Alexa intelligent assistant and its Echo-based smart speakers.
Last August MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, urged tech firms “to come clean about how often this is happening and what is happening to the data.”
Amazon did not help matters when it admitted in a letter to a US senator that it keeps Alexa user voice recordings indefinitely.
One security expert warned that the data these smart devices collect, are often very valuable to tech firms, even when it is anonymised.
“This development unfortunately doesn’t surprise me,” said David Emm, principal security researcher at Kaspersky. “Home assistants and other smart technology – i.e. devices that have the power to monitor aspects of our everyday lives – gives huge companies access to lots of data, which is valuable even where that data is anonymised.”
“However, they can be a serious threat to people’s privacy – consumers are handing valuable information over freely and often without realising it. In today’s digital era, such information could be used by companies directly or shared with third parties, or stolen and misused by cybercriminals,” said Emm.
“Therefore, it’s vital that companies selling such products are open and explicit about the data they collect, and how they will use it,” Emm added. “People should also think carefully when they are considering buying smart devices.”
And he recommended that people implement some basic safeguards.
“If they do purchase these products, they should always ensure that updates are available, create hard-to-guess passwords for the device, and disable any feature they do not intend to use, or which causes them any privacy concerns,” said Emm.
In May last year Amazon was hit with two lawsuits alleging that its Alexa-powered smart speakers were recording children.
Those lawsuits alleged that “Alexa routinely records and voiceprints millions of children without their consent.”
That legal action came after it was revealed that a global team of people at Amazon reviewed audio clips of people speaking to their Alexa-powered smart speakers, to help improve its functionality.
Jitters were raised again about Amazon again in May 2019 when the e-commerce giant filed a patent that would allow Alexa to record everything a person says, before the wake ‘Alexa’ command is actually issued.
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