Today, The Washington Post reveals a semi-secret arrangement that police around the nation have with the Amazon-owned doorbell camera company known as Ring. More than 400 police departments partner with the company to allow officers to quickly solicit video footage from the Ring cameras by asking the owner through an email.
Dallas isn’t listed as part of Ring’s partner list. But, as a commenter pointed out below, the department has posted to Facebook that it is participating on the Neighbors app, which is Ring’s social media network for video. I’ve emailed for clarification. Our neighbors are mostly in on it: partner departments include University Park, Irving, Mesquite, DeSoto, Balch Springs, Grand Prairie, Richardson, Farmers Branch, Carrollton, The Colony, Frisco, Plano, McKinney, Allen, Selina, Sachse, Colleyville, Richland Hills, and Fort Worth.
Ring’s social network, Neighbors, allows residents to post their videos and talk about them. Sort of like a video-focused NextDoor, for better or worse. Police can chat with users through that, or they can automatically request footage via email with a time and a date. From there, you can turn them down. Or you can give them what they’re asking for. Ring owners are anonymous to the cops, but none of the footage is blurred or redacted.
The program began last March and has since expanded to 401 other departments. There are 57 in Texas that are participating, according to The Post. And the company seems eager to get more onboard. Ring even gifted some to Frisco officers, who felt weird about accepting a product. And there’s this:
In a June email to a New Jersey police officer first reported by Motherboard, a Ring representative suggested ways officers could improve their “opt-in rate” for video requests, including greater interaction with users on the Neighbors app.
“The more users you have the more useful information you can collect,” the representative wrote. Ring says it offers training and education materials to its police partners so they can accurately represent the service’s work.
And here’s a quote from the other side:
“It’s a business model based in paranoia,” said Evan Greer, deputy director for the digital advocacy group Fight for the Future. “They’re doing what Uber did for taxis, but for surveillance cameras, by making them more user-friendly. … It’s a privately run surveillance dragnet built outside the democratic process, but they’re marketing it as just another product, just another app.”