Amazon’s home security subsidiary Ring wields tremendous power over the messaging used by its law enforcement partners about its products, including by pre-writing and approving police statements about Ring’s services. But according to a new report, Ring is also instructing police in the US on how to persuade customers to hang over surveillance footage even when they aren’t responsive to police requests.
According to a police memo obtained by Gizmodo US and reported last week, Ring has partnerships with “over 225 law enforcement agencies” in America, and is actively involved in scripting and approving how police communicate those partnerships. As part of these relationships, Ring helps police obtain surveillance footage both by alerting customers in a given area that footage is needed and by asking to “share videos” with police. In a disclaimer included with the alerts, Ring claims that sharing the footage “is absolutely your choice.”
But according to documents and emails obtained by Motherboard, Ring also instructed police from two departments in the state of New Jersey on how best to coax the footage out of Ring customers through its “neighbourhood watch” app Neighbors in situations where police requests for video were not being met, including by providing police with templates for requests and by encouraging them to post often on the Neighbors app as well as on social media.
In one such email obtained by Motherboard, a Bloomfield Police Department detective requested advice from a Ring associate on how best to obtain videos after his requests were not being answered and further asked whether there was “anything that we can blast out to encourage Ring owners to share the videos when requested.”
In this email correspondence, the Ring associate informed the detective that a significant part of customer “opt in for video requests is based on the interaction law enforcement has with the community,” adding that the detective had done a “great job interacting with [community members] and this will be critical in regard to increased opt in rate.”
“The more users you have the more useful information you can collect,” the associate wrote.
Ring did not immediately return our request for comment about the practice of instructing police how to better obtain surveillance footage from its own customers. However, a spokesperson told Motherboard in a statement that the company “offers Neighbors app trainings and best practices for posting and engaging with app users for all law enforcement agencies utilising the portal tool,” including by providing “templates and educational materials for police departments to utilise at their discretion.”
In addition to Gizmodo’s recent report that Ring is carefully controlling the messaging and implementation of its products with its police departments, a report from GovTech on Friday claimed that Amazon is also helping police work around denied requests by customers to supply their Ring footage. In such instances, according to the report, police can approach Ring’s parent company Amazon, which can provide the footage that police deem vital to an investigation.
“If we ask within 60 days of the recording and as long as it’s been uploaded to the cloud, then Ring can take it out of the cloud and send it to us legally so that we can use it as part of our investigation,” Tony Botti, public information officer for the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, told GovTech. When contacted by Gizmodo, however, a Ring spokesperson denied this.
“The reports that police can obtain any video from a Ring doorbell within 60 days is false,” the spokesperson said. “Ring will not release customer information in response to government demands without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us. Ring objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course. We are working with the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office to ensure this is understood.”
Featured image: Ring