So, you own or are thinking of buying a Ring camera. This post outlines a list of privacy and civil liberties concerns we have with Amazon’s Ring system so that you can be a more informed consumer, or—if you already own a Ring camera—be a more considerate neighbor.
If You’re Thinking of Buying a Ring Camera
1. You are not the only one who can access your footage.
Your Ring footage isn’t private. It’s in the cloud. That means that you are not the only one with access to your footage. Think about all of the personal events cameras inside and outside of your home will capture. Do you want strangers being able to learn your routines by watching you leave and return to your house every day? And think about the footage of others—friends, family, and neighbors who are nearby. Would they be comfortable with video evidence of when they walk their dogs or when their car isn’t home at its normal hour?
With a Ring camera, Amazon employees have access to the cloud where your footage is stored—and a few have already been fired for unauthorized access to people’s personal videos.
If your town’s police department has a partnership with Ring, you can also anticipate getting email requests from them asking for footage from your camera any time a suspected crime occurs nearby. Planning on refusing to share your footage? In some circumstances, police can still get your footage by bringing a warrant straight to Amazon—and you would never know.
Knowing all this, would you be comfortable if other houses—perhaps across the street from your own—had a Ring camera pointing at you? If your neighbors see that you have a Ring, consider that they may purchase one as well.
2. Bad actors have used them to look inside homes and talk to children.
Ring is currently involved in a proposed class action lawsuit concerning a number of high profile incidents in which people were able to gain access to Ring cameras and use them to traumatize children and harass families. Ring blamed these incidents on their customers by saying that people had made the mistake of repeating usernames and passwords that had been previously released in hacks. However, as EFF technologists have argued, gaining access to Ring cameras by repeatedly trying to log in with leaked usernames and passwords until you find one that works would not have been possible if Ring took security seriously. Ring did not put basic obstacles into place to stop repeat log in attempts, nor did they encourage customers to enable two-factor authentication. These are standard issue protections on other devices that Ring seems to have been negligent in enforcing.
This most recent round of controversies doesn’t even address previous vulnerabilities discovered in Ring, like one discovered last year that revealed a user’s Wifi password.
3. There is no conclusive evidence that Ring cameras prevent crime.
The idea that Ring cameras prevent crime is based on the idea that a potential burglar will see the Ring doorbell, recognize it, and then decide to turn around. But time and time again, research has shown that surveillance won’t necessarily prevent crime. What it can do, however, is create rifts between citizens and authorities, invade people’s privacy, and exacerbate racial bias by allowing people with preconceived notions of who is deemed “suspicious” to apply those assumptions on a mass scale.
4. Ring’s system is likely to make you paranoid.
Maybe you live in a pretty safe neighborhood. Maybe you just purchased a Ring camera for the purpose of keeping an eye on the front door, or being able to talk to people who ring your doorbell. But either way, Ring’s default setup is primed to instill paranoia: Ring doorbells send you an alert whenever the motion activation is triggered, which means that your phone will buzz every time a squirrel, falling snow, a dog walker, or a delivery person set off the Ring. There’s no faster way to convince someone incorrectly that their house is under siege and their neighborhood is crime-ridden than to be startled by every innocent passerby.
If You Already Own a Ring Camera
You have a Ring camera, or several, outside your house. But these incessant news stories about Ring are bothering you. What can you do about it? Here’s a few general tips to improve your security and use your Ring camera in a more responsible and conscientious way.
1. Don’t point your Ring camera at anyone’s property but your own.
This might be a tricky one depending on your housing situation, but it’s imperative not to put your neighbor’s house under constant surveillance. You installed the camera to watch your porch, not to stare through your neighbor’s window all day long. You wouldn’t want a camera controlled by other people, and accessible by Amazon employees and the police, documenting when you’re home or not, so why would you do that to your neighbors?
2. Tell police to get a warrant.
When police want footage from your Ring camera, and your police department has a partnership with Ring, the request will come in the form of an email. It will have two options: “Share footage” or “Review footage before you share.” There is also a third option, which is to ignore the email, which requires police to get a warrant. Getting a warrant means that police need to share with a judge a legitimate reason why they need your footage. In an ideal world, the police would present you with the warrant, allowing you to see that a judge has signed off on the necessity of the request. Even if that warrant is going straight to Amazon, however, it’s still important that a court have oversight over when and to what extent police get footage.
3. Use strong passwords and unique usernames.
Given the fact that people have exploited Ring’s security, and because any large collection of very personal material will always have a target it on it, it’s more important than ever that you use strong, random, and original credentials when you create accounts. EFF has resources that can help you to generate long random passwords.
4. Delete footage as often as you can.
Amazon’s Ring appears to have data storage plans that allow different access and retention times for footage on Amazon’s cloud. Depending on your storage plan, we recommend that any and all footage your camera records be deleted as soon as possible. Although it is unclear if Amazon has any way of recovering your footage after deleted, this process should reduce the amount of ambient conversations or unintended captured footage of people currently retained and sitting on the server.
5. Take steps to limit third-party trackers.
A recent study by EFF found that the Ring app for Android sends personalized and identifiable data to third-party trackers. These trackers do analytics for Ring, telling them how people are using the app, but also receive several pieces of information like what kind of phone you’re using or your personal IP address. Even small amounts of information allow tracking companies to form a “fingerprint” that follows the user as they interact with other apps and use their device, allowing trackers to spy on a user’s digital life. Whether you’re using an iPhone or Android, there are ways that you can make it harder for mobile ads to track you on your phone.
6. Don’t let surveillance convince you everyone is “suspicious.”
This is an important point because it might just be the one that prevents people from getting hurt. Not everyone you see through your Ring camera is doing something suspicious. If someone steps under an awning to avoid a downpour of rain, or if a realtor is in your neighborhood looking at homes, err on the side of trust. Just because you think a person looks like they “don’t belong” in your neighborhood doesn’t mean they’re a threat—and it definitely means you don’t have to broadcast their face on an app or call the police.