Posted on July 12, 2023

Why We Don’t Recommend Ring Cameras

Wired, July 9, 2023

MOST OF THE time, product testing is pretty simple. If a router is better and more feature-full than another with a similar price, then you give it a better score and move on with your day. However, we occasionally end up with products that can be dangerous to you, or to society in general, which we believe to be the case with Amazon-owned Ring and its relationship with law enforcement.

When you set up a Ring camera, you are automatically enrolled in the Neighbors service. (You can go into the Ring app’s settings and toggle off the Neighbors feed integration and notifications, but the onus is on you.) Neighbors, which is also a stand-alone app, shows you an activity feed from all nearby Ring camera owners, with posts about found dogs, stolen hoses, and a Safety Report that shows how many calls for service—violent or nonviolent—were made in the past week. It also provides an outlet for public safety agencies, like local police and fire departments, to broadcast information widely.

But it also allows Ring owners to send videos they’ve captured with their Ring video doorbell cameras and outdoor security cameras to law enforcement. This is a feature unique to Ring—even Nextdoor removed its Forward to Police feature in 2020, which allowed Nextdoor users to forward their own safety posts to local law enforcement agencies. {snip}


{snip}  The company has been clear it’s what customers want, even though there’s no evidence that more video surveillance footage keeps communities safer. Instead, Neighbors increases the possibility of racial profiling. It makes it easier for both private citizens and law enforcement agencies to target certain groups for suspicion of crime based on skin color, ethnicity, religion, or country of origin.

We have been concerned about this issue since Ring started partnering with police departments to hand out free video cameras. Via the Neighbors Public Safety Service (NPSS) within the app, law enforcement can create Requests for Assistance, and Neighbors can contact camera owners directly for footage.

We believe this feature should not exist. When we interviewed Nextdoor CEO Sarah Friar on steps the company was taking to reduce racial profiling, Friar cited the work of Jennifer Eberhardt, a Stanford professor whose work on the psychological associations between race and crime won her a MacArthur Genius grant.

Much of Eberhardt’s work revolves around decision points—the more you make people stop and think before they act, the less likely they are to engage in unconscious racial bias. Putting a frictionless feature directly into Neighbors makes it that much easier for Ring owners to bombard law enforcement with unsubstantiated and possibly biased alarms.