Ring Coyness About Adding Facial Recognition Tech To Its Cameras Doesn't Extend To Its Marketing Materials

from the unreasonable-suspicion dept

Ring may say it’s not getting into the facial recognition business, but its internal documents say otherwise. The company has a head of facial recognition tech in its Ukraine office. And its answers to Senator Edward Markey’s questions make it clear Ring hasn’t ruled out adding this tech to its doorbell cameras. Specifically, the company said it had no plans at the present but was always looking to “innovate” to meet “customer demand.”

Documents obtained by The Intercept show Ring is still “innovating,” even if there’s no apparent customer demand for facial recognition tech. Sam Biddle has the details:

Ring, Amazon’s crimefighting surveillance camera division, has crafted plans to use facial recognition software and its ever-expanding network of home security cameras to create AI-enabled neighborhood “watch lists,” according to internal documents reviewed by The Intercept.

The planning materials envision a seamless system whereby a Ring owner would be automatically alerted when an individual deemed “suspicious” was captured in their camera’s frame, something described as a “suspicious activity prompt.”

In the mockup seen by The Intercept, “suspicious” apparently translates to “shabbily dressed man.” This person is shown walking past a garage-mounted camera (which the company says users shouldn’t point at public areas like streets and sidewalks) with the alert “This person appears to be acting suspicious.”

Dress better, citizens. Otherwise, your image might be uploaded to Ring’s snitch app, Neighbors, where local randos can collectively gin up fear and sic the cops on you. Nowhere in the document does Ring define what triggers its “suspicion” sensors.

Here’s where the facial recognition tech is pitched but never named specifically:

A third potentially invasive feature referenced in the Ring documents is the addition of a “proactive suspect matching” feature, described in a manner that strongly suggests the ability to automatically identify people suspected of criminal behavior — again, whether by police, Ring customers, or both is unclear — based on algorithmically monitored home surveillance footage. Ring is already very much in the business of providing — with a degree of customer consent — valuable, extrajudicial information to police through its police portal. A “proactive” approach to information sharing could mean flagging someone who happens to cross into a Ring video camera’s frame based on some cross-referenced list of “suspects,”

Ring may not have facial recognition tech built in (yet), but plenty of police departments utilize or have access to this software. Any images or footage shared with law enforcement agencies — either voluntarily by Ring owners or acquired with a subpoena from the company — can be subjected to facial recognition tech and placed on a Ring-enabled “watchlist.”

Ring remains mostly a dump pipe in this scenario, but its aggressive marketing to law enforcement suggests it wants its 600+ government partners to take advantage of the tools they have on hand to make the most of footage cops are invited to download and hold onto indefinitely. Ring can then remain in a state of plausible deniability when being questioned by critics and/or Congress while still giving hundreds of law enforcement agencies all the reason they need to act as Ring brand ambassadors.

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Companies: amazon, ring

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Comments on “Ring Coyness About Adding Facial Recognition Tech To Its Cameras Doesn't Extend To Its Marketing Materials”

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17 Comments
Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

The Tech ain't ripe, and may never be

Could it be that Ring’s definition of suspicious is the same as ‘extensively’ trained police officers who identify suspicious and furtive activity as being nervous when talking to police on one day and not being nervous when talking to police on another? If humans can’t get it right, or impose their own biases with or without knowing it, how will the software make such a decision? I don’t believe that software making these kinds of decisions can be written without bias as it will need to compare to something, and that definition of something will contain bias.

As to dressing better, according to whose standards? In the 1940’s almost every man wore a tie, and that has changed many times since then. Will they be updating their technology to the fashion trends of the day, and lambaste anyone wearing last years fashions? (Would they be trying to drive Amazon fashion sales?) Does not caring about fashion constitute suspicious activity? What are they gonna do on Halloween, or if you hold a costume party? How will it treat your kids when they come home from a mud-ball war with their friends, looking rather dirty and unkempt?

Norahc (profile) says:

Re: The Tech ain't ripe, and may never be

A third potentially invasive feature referenced in the Ring documents is the addition of a “proactive suspect matching” feature, described in a manner that strongly suggests the ability to automatically identify people suspected of criminal behavior — again, whether by police, Ring customers, or both is unclear — based on algorithmically monitored home surveillance footage.

Wait…this sounds remarkably similar ro predictive policing algorithms.

Anonymous Coward says:

The benefits of Ring far outweigh any privacy issues. The invention of the photograph led to rogues’ galleries that were the beginning of modern dossiers, and which made it difficult for criminals to move from town to town. People want surveillance to protect them, even if the tool can be abused (sounds like the anti-copyright arguments a bit there).

Between porch pirates, burglaries, and abductions, homeowners — who don’t live in big cities with doormen or police a few blocks away — value their safety.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Hi Amazon PR department employee. Do any of these scared out of their minds surveillance seekers ever consider the privacy of their neighbors? Do they ever consider the rights of their neighbors? Do they ever consider what rights they themselves are giving up? Or, are these scared out of their minds surveillance seekers totally bamboozled by the Amazon and police rhetoric about the ‘good’ the Ring system might do?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

DO the benefits of ring outweigh any privacy issues?

Personally, I have a network video camera at my front door… on the INSIDE. It keeps tabs on anyone who enters through that door, and alerts me if anyone does, no matter where I am.

I’ve never had an issue with porch pirates, and neither have my neighbors. Any burglaries or abductions would be caught on my camera and delivered to my (and my wife’s) phone, no matter where we were at the time. So we would be forewarned.

Ring doesn’t improve safety at all beyond that.

You seem to be conflating Ring with video surveillance; please don’t do that. Ring encapsulates all that is bad about video surveillance. There are many better alternatives out there that respect privacy and IMO get the security/privacy balance correct.

The idea behind the cameras is 1) let potential perps know that their actions will be recorded, and 2) let the home owner know what’s going on in their home. A distant third is 3) let the police have access to data that, by itself doesn’t say much, but when combined with other such information, provides a detailed view into who is moving around in a neighborhood.

Despite all this, about 50% of my neighbors have Ring devices facing the street. Thankfully none of them face my home directly, but there’s a couple that at least capture all traffic going down my street, because of their angle.

Oh, and if you don’t live in a big city, you have less to worry about from burglaries, abductions and homeowners — because there’s way fewer of them.

Anonymous Coward says:

"you can't see what I can see

ya blind, baby
ya blind to the fact – ya blind"

As usual, just follow the $. Who wants facial recognition tech combined with video recordings?
Hmmm??? The police? Brick and mortars (a la Minority Report)?
Ring (Amazon) may Say that they won’t use facial recog. tech in Ring doorbells, but if the $ is right…they can always "adjust" that statement. (Remember "do no evil"? That statement was adjusted too.) It’s not like Ring/Amazon has some kind of legally binding contract with the public at large forbidding using facial recog. tech in their doorbells or something.

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