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Amazon’s Ring Considering Facial Recognition

Ring just gets creepier and creepier. While the basic home security idea isn’t bad, the implementation, especially when combined with the (existing or just discussed) partnerships with law enforcement, giving them unfettered access to the video captured by the cameras, is really, really disturbing.

(I have friends who have Ring cameras, some of whom have been very glad to have them when weird things have happened at their place. I don’t want to discount the benefits that these systems can provide. But for people who have been considering a Ring system, it’s worth thinking seriously about the potential wider concerns with the system and considering other options; for those who do have a Ring system, it might be worth reviewing the settings to see how much, if any, of the data sharing can be opted out of.)

In its public-relations efforts, Ring has maintained that only thieves and would-be criminals need to worry about the company’s surveillance network and the Neighbors app. From the way Ring’s products are designed to the way they’re marketed, the notion of “suspicion” remains front and center; Ring promises a future in which “suspicious” people up to “suspicious” things can be safely monitored and deterred from afar.

But “suspicious” is an entirely squishy concept with some very potentially dangerous interpretations, a byword of dog-whistling neighborhood racists who hope to drape garden-variety prejudice beneath the mantle of public safety. The fact remains that anyone moving past a home equipped with Ring cameras is unavoidably sucked into a tech company dragnet, potential fodder for overeager chatter among the suburban xenophobe set. To civil libertarians, privacy scholars, and anyone generally nervous about the prospect of their neighbors forming a collective, artificially intelligent video panopticon maintained by Amazon for unregulated use by police, Ring’s potential consequences for a community are clear.

A “proactive” approach to information sharing could mean flagging someone who happens to cross into a Ring video camera’s frame based on some cross-referenced list of “suspects,” however defined. Paired with the reference to a facial recognition watch list and Ring’s generally cozy relationship with local police departments across the country, it’s easy to imagine a system in which individuals are arbitrarily profiled, tracked, and silently reported upon based on a system owned and operated solely by Amazon, without legal recourse or any semblance of due process.

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Five Senators Join the Fight to Learn Just How Bad Ring Really Is: “…if police want to request footage from a person’s front door in reference to a car break-in on that street, there is no need for police to verify that footage would be helpful to solving that incident, or whether the footage would even be used for that particular incident and not for other purposes. If a person agrees to share their footage with police, police then have that footage forever and can share it with whoever they want without oversight or restrictions. This means footage from your door, requested by local police to catch an alleged thief in the neighborhood, could end up being used by another law enforcement agency for a completely attenuated purpose, such as identifying someone for deportation—without your knowledge or direct consent.”