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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Amazon’s Ring to stop letting police request doorbell video from users

An Amazon Ring indoor camera.    (Chloe Collyer/Bloomberg)
By Matt Day Bloomberg Inc.’s Ring home doorbell unit says it will stop letting police departments request footage from users’ video doorbells and surveillance cameras, retreating from a practice that was criticized by civil liberties groups and some elected officials.

Next week, the company will disable its Request For Assistance tool, the program that had allowed law enforcement to seek footage from users on a voluntary basis, Eric Kuhn, who runs Ring’s Neighbors app, said in a blog post on Wednesday. Police and fire departments will have to seek a warrant to request footage from users or show the company evidence of an ongoing emergency.

Kuhn didn’t say why Ring was disabling the tool. Yassi Yarger, a spokesperson, said Ring had decided to devote its resources to new products and experiences in the Neighbors app that better fit with the company’s vision. The aim is to make Neighbors, which had been focused on crime and safety, into more of a community hub, she said. New features announced on Wednesday – one called Ring Moments that lets users post clips and a company-produced Best of Ring – highlight that push.

The move marks a course change for Ring, which from its startup days through its years as part of Amazon couched its mission almost exclusively as an effort to improve public safety through surveillance. “Our mission to reduce crime in neighborhoods has been at the core of everything we do at Ring,” founding chief Jamie Siminoff said when Amazon sealed the acquisition of his company in 2018.

Amazon joins Google in paring back law-enforcement access to its users. The Alphabet Inc.-owned company last month said it was changing its location history feature on Google Maps, eliminating the ability of police to request data on everyone in the vicinity of a crime.

Grabbing user data from Google had become an increasingly popular route for police departments, a Bloomberg investigation found.

Civil liberties groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation have long criticized Ring, accusing it of building a residential surveillance network available on demand to law enforcement and highlighting the history of biased policing in the US.

Initially, when police departments sought footage from Ring doorbell owners in a particular area during an investigation, the company would email users and ask them to voluntarily share clips. Ring in 2021 began requiring police and fire departments to make those requests publicly through its Neighbors app, a Nextdoor-like hub that lets people upload footage and share information. That didn’t defuse the critiques, including from Senator Ed Markey, who lambasted the “growing web of surveillance systems” built by Amazon and other technology firms.

Siminoff left Ring last year. He was replaced as chief executive officer by Liz Hamren, who had worked at Discord Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Meta Platforms Inc. Hamren told Bloomberg last year that Ring was rethinking its mission statement, in part to account for its expanded portfolio of devices, which include indoor and backyard home monitoring and business services.