Information in this essay is taken from “Amazon’s doorbell camera Ring is working with police – and controlling what they say” by Kari Paul, The Guardian, Aug 30, 2019.
The science of surveillance enters new territory with Amazon Ring. It’s the new for-profit private surveillance network. The size is at the half-million mark across the US. Ring uses corporate partnerships to influence the communications of the police departments it deals with. This includes directing Department press releases, social media posts and comments on public posts. Ring is a system that allows users to remotely monitor their doorsteps. The accompanying app is called Neighbors by Ring, which allows users to view footage uploaded by other Ring users. Thankfully, there is a watchdog who is keeping tabs on this unsettling development. His name is Andrew Ferguson, author of The Rise of Big Data Policing. He decries the dual loyalty developing at the hands of Ring and other companies. And there is a test case. Pittsburgh, Kansas, population 20000 has publicly announced a partnership with Ring. Ring delivered a pitch to Pittsburgh, offering deals including discounts on devices and sending the police force a $200 device gratis for every 20 downloads of the Neighbors app. Tit-for-tat is the name of the game. Ring, in the relentless pursuit of profits, sent a press release to Pittsburgh police informing them that they reserved final approval of all communications to the public concerning Ring. “Remember to make sure you highlight your Branch/Text link to try and have your civilians download the Neighbors by Ring App.” The kind of editing that Ring is inducing the police department of Pittsburgh to adopt is telling. Wording was changed in police-Ring communications from “will be able to access videos submitted by subscribers of Ring” to say that departments will “join existing crime and safety conversations with local residents.” Another change was from “police cannot access live stream video” to “police will not have access to cameras, live footage, or user data.” Other techniques involve cross-promotion of alerts directly to the Amazon-owned Ring Facebook page, sharing images of people who had not yet been charged with a crime. Ring liaisons also encourage police to comment more frequently on crime posts to encourage users to report suspicious activity in the neighborhood. An attorney for the ACLU, Matt Cagle, voices a conclusion that should be obvious: these kinds of practices “undermine public trust in law enforcement.” He goes on the state that “It is shocking to see a private corporation dictating what public officials will say to community members about public safety issues. Ring answers to Amazon shareholders, and police are supposed to answer to the public. That is the core tension in these relationships.”