Amazon’s Ring division has pledged to make police requests for users’ video footage from smart doorbells and cameras through its neighborhood watch app, more transparent.

The transparency move comes amid criticism that Ring’s products are being used by increasing numbers of law enforcement agencies in the US to facilitate surveillance and criminal profiling in cities and towns.

This is not the only privacy concern Amazon is facing. Earlier this week it emerged that Amazon is proposing to turn every Echo speaker and Ring security camera or doorbell in the United States into a shared wireless network. And American users just one week to opt out the proposal.

Ring solar-powered floodlight. Ring

Neighbors App

Ring however in a blog post on Thursday said it would soon require police department requests for user videos to be publicly disclosed on its community safety app, called Neighbors, via public posts accessible on the app’s main feed.

It comes privacy concerns have been raised in the US after thousands of police and fire departments partnered with Ring, according to the company’s active agency tracker.

Last November privacy activists expressed alarm when police in Jackson, Mississippi requested access to resident’s smart doorbells.

Privacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said at the time that Jackson police were conducting a 45-day pilot program to live stream the Amazon Ring cameras of participating residents.

Essentially, the police in Mississippi’s capital city had asked residents to connect their smart doorbells to a real-time surveillance hub, in an effort to fight crime.

But the issue of police use of Ring equipment is much bigger, and Ring is hoping to be more transparent about law enforcement requests.

Police notifications

“Ring’s mission is to make neighborhoods safer for everyone,” Rang said in a blog post. “Accomplishing this requires participation from all members of the community, including public safety agencies like police and fire departments.”

“We believe transparency and accountability are crucial to safer, better communities it added. “Beginning next week, public safety agencies will only be able to request information or video from their communities through a new, publicly viewable post category on Neighbors called Request for Assistance.”

“Public safety agencies can use these posts to notify residents of an incident and ask their communities for help related to an investigation,” said Ring. “All Request for Assistance posts will be publicly viewable in the Neighbors feed, and logged on the agency’s public profile. This way, anyone interested in knowing more about how their police agency is using Request for Assistance posts can simply visit the agency’s profile and see the post history.”

Ring said users whether they are a Neighbors user, Ring device owner, or both, always have total control over their experience.

Amazon acquired Ring in February 2018 for $1 billion.

The company operates as a subsidiary of Amazon, and offers a portfolio of smart security devices that allow people to remotely check in on their homes. Typically Ring kit includes video doorbells, floodlights, window and door alarms.

Image credit: Amazon

It is also releasing a flying security camera drone, which has added to privacy concerns.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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