Ring's Security Woes Cause Some Tech Review Sites to Rethink Glowing Endorsements

By Dell Cameron on at

At least two tech review sites are discussing whether to rescind their positive recommendations of Ring’s home surveillance cameras, a leading digital-rights organisation announced this week.

In the wake of reporting by Gizmodo and other outlets this year concerning Ring’s troubled security and privacy practices, Fight for the Future has launched a campaign calling on tech review sites, such as Consumer Reports and PC Magazine, to suspend recommending Ring products.

“Tech reviews and guides play an important role in people deciding which devices to buy,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future.

Ring, acquired by Amazon in 2018, has recently become the target of hackers looking to harass and frighten owners of its home security cameras. Thousands of passwords belonging to Ring owners have been spread online, granting virtually anyone access to the indoor camera feeds. Startling footage acquired by a news outlet in the US state of Tennessee this month showed a voice emanating from a Ring camera equipped with a speaker that was installed in a child’s bedroom.

Ring has placed the blame for these incidents on the device owners themselves, saying they failed to adopt unique passwords or make use of the two-factor authentication security feature offered by the company. Ring otherwise says its devices are helping to curb crime in neighbourhoods by dissuading package thieves and would-be burglars.

The company’s partnerships with some 700 law enforcement agencies across the country has drawn equal scrutiny from privacy advocates and organisations like the American Civil Liberties Union and Electronic Frontier Foundation. The controversial agreements Ring seeks with police departments ultimately grant it control over what public officials can say about its products.

A group of US senators – worried that control of Amazon’s vast surveillance network could fall into the hands of hackers and foreign spies – expressed their concerns about Ring to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in a letter last month. “Ring devices routinely upload data, including video records, to Amazon’s servers. Amazon therefore holds a vast amount of deeply sensitive data and video footage detailing the lives of Americans in and near their homes,” the letter said.

Last week, the tech review site Wirecutter announced it was suspending its recommendation of Ring products citing a report about a data leak by BuzzFeed’s Caroline Haskins. This prompted Fight for the Future to contact other review sites and ask them to rescind their recommendations as well.

In a press release, Fight for the Future also pointed to a post by Gizmodo’s Adam Clark Estes, which instructs readers to avoid purchasing Ring devices for themselves or anyone else and look at buying other similar devices, such as the Nest Hello doorbell, instead.

“Just steer clear of Ring,” Estes wrote.

Fight for the Future said Consumer Reports was discussing options internally. Several other sites, including PC Magazine, Safety.com, and Digital Trends, reportedly didn’t respond to the group’s emails. However, popular review site Tom’s Guide has published an explanation of why it has no plans to rescind its recommendation that consumers buy Ring cameras.

Despite additional shortcomings in Ring’s security policies outlined by Motherboard this week, Tom’s Guide says it believes the company is not fully to blame for the problems plaguing Ring customers.

“Is Ring completely absolved of blame? Not in the least. It should have done a better job at demanding users turn on two-factor authentication, and its lack of transparency with regards to its cooperation with police departments brings up all sorts of privacy concerns,” the site says. The site’s explanation includes additional security tips for Ring users, all of which you can read here.

“The reviewers we’ve reached out to recommended Ring as the best in their category. Meanwhile, report after report details security issues, concerns, and leaks with Ring technology,” Greer told Gizmodo. “These devices are not safe. It’s important reviewers honour the public trust and suspend their recommendation.”

Featured image: Stephen Brashear (Getty)