Ring, which Amazon bought in 2018, has repeatedly said that police can’t view recordings unless clips are posted publicly or shared directly with police, though that doesn’t apply to police subpoenas and emergency requests. While the company’s policy has said this information can be shared without a user’s consent, this letter is the first time the company has confirmed that it has handed over this information. (Map above shows ring installations connected to law enforcement.)
It’s a data point that is likely to only heighten Congressional scrutiny of the tech giant, which lawmakers have already upbraided over its privacy practices, after its facial recognition service Rekognition falsely associated 28 members of Congress with criminal mugshots in 2018 and how its Echo Dot Kids Edition protected children’s privacy.
The company is also facing antitrust concerns over its dominance across online retail, and its treatment of the third-party sellers that use its platform.
Ring doorbells, in particular, raise privacy concerns because of their popularity, Amazon’s agreements with police, and Amazon’s growing technological capabilities. In 2020, Ring responded to a letter from five senators and revealed that four employees improperly accessed Ring video data.
Amazon currently has agreements to let 2,161 police departments across the country use an app called Neighbors where users post Ring camera footage and leave comments. Police can use the app to send alerts and request videos.
In 2021, the Electronic Frontier Foundation reported that police in Los Angeles requested Ring footage recording Black Lives Matter protests.
“As my ongoing investigation into Amazon illustrates, it has become increasingly difficult for the public to move, assemble, and converse in public without being tracked and recorded,” Markey said in a statement.
While Congress is mulling over a federal data privacy law, the proposed bill wouldn’t cover Ring sharing data with police, as it allows for exceptions in cases where a company needs to comply with law enforcement agencies.