Amazon’s Ring — a company that is famously pretty chummy with law enforcement — will now require U.S. law enforcement officials to make their requests for security footage public, the company said in a blog post published Thursday. Starting next week, any time an officer wants to ask Ring’s customers for any recordings that their cams picked up, they’ll need to use the customer-facing Neighbours app to do so.
Up until this point, law enforcement officials across the U.S. that work with Ring were able to make their requests for footage using a dedicated portal built for this purpose. But as the Amazon-Cop relationship keeps getting deeper, concerns from civil rights groups and lawmakers over how this tech might be abused have grown. During an Amazon shareholder meeting last week, 35% of the attendees voted for a proposal meant to analyse how technologies like Ring and Amazon Rekognition disproportionally harm U.S. communities of colour.
And now, Ring finally caved. “Since our founding, we have been committed to improving our products and services by listening to and incorporating feedback from all parts of our communities,” the company wrote on Thursday. As part of this effort, the company noted that it’s spent the past year “working with independent third-party experts,” to figure out ways to offer customers more transparency into the ways authorities use the Neighbours app (though it declined to identify who those third parties actually were).
Based on their feedback, Ring will be rolling out a new publicly viewable post category in Neighbours called “Request for Assistance.” Similar to Nextdoor, the app is mostly a hub for Ring’s customers to gossip about public safety-adjacent news in their communities, and to share videos from their own devices. Now, it’ll be a place for those customers to see if cops in their neighbourhood are checking out their clips, too — per Ring’s blog, any Request for Assistance posts will be publicly viewable to anyone with an account and will be logged onto a law enforcement agency’s public-facing profile.
Per Ring’s new guidelines for these sorts of posts, police departments need to specify a specific time frame (between 15 minutes and 12 hours) for a video that they’re looking for. The requests are also limited geographically — cops can’t request footage from an area exceeding half a square mile. Not only that but any requests these agencies make can’t be altered or deleted once they’re submitted, meaning that they’ll be stuck on that agency’s Neighbours profile for good.
Per Ring’s blog, users that have already opted out of receiving requests from police can also opt-out from these new Request for Assistance posts — though the company has a track record of handing over certain stats about opted-out users, regardless. It’s also worth noting that the company is still obliged to hand over user data in cases where it’s subject to warrants and court orders.
According to the company’s most recent stats, it received close to 1,900 of those requests from law enforcement over the course of last year. Those numbers are only going to continue to boom as every state but two has an agency that partners with Ring to some degree. Amazon’s most recent map of those partnerships puts the number of partnering agencies at over 2,000.