Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, a long-time critic of Amazon’s surveillance doorbell camera, Ring, has released a letter of concern and inquiry concerning the device’s audio capabilities. This is partially in response to a recent study conducted by Consumer Reports that found that once the device’s motion sensor has been triggered, it can record conversation-level audio from up to 25-feet away.
This has disturbing implications for people who walk, bike, or even drive by dozens of these devices every day, not knowing that their conversations may have been captured and recorded. It may be even more problematic for people who live in an apartment building where neighbors have installed Ring cameras indoors, where echoey hallways might amplify conversations that could be recorded even beyond line of sight with the device. A surveillance doorbell owner may even have their own private conversations caught on tape if the device is triggered and captures voices drifting through open windows.
In his letter to Amazon, the senator writes:
Since Ring has well over 10 million device users, it appears likely that Ring products record millions of Americans’ activity without their knowledge every day. This surveillance system threatens the public in ways that go far beyond abstract privacy invasion: individuals may use Ring devices’ audio recordings to facilitate blackmail, stalking, and other damaging practices. As Ring products capture significant amounts of audio on private and public property adjacent to dwellings with Ring doorbells—including recordings of conversations that people reasonably expect to be private— the public’s right to assemble, move, and converse without being tracked is at risk.
In the UK, a judge ruled in October 2021 that the audio capabilities of Ring cameras amounted to a violation of the Data Protection Act when a neighbor put up multiple cameras aimed at a communal parking lot.
We applaud Senator Markey for his willingness to raise these concerns in public and to bring them straight to Amazon. We echo his concerns and will continue to advocate for default end-to-end encryption for the devices and for an end to default audio collection with every motion-triggered video recording. We will also push Amazon never to incorporate biometrics like voice recognition.