Ring Updates Privacy Dashboard Again, Allows Users To Preemptively Block All Law Enforcement Requests For Footage

from the 'get-a-warrant'-functionality dept

After months of negative publicity, Ring is finally taking a few small steps towards not being completely awful. The company clearly would rather be a government contractor than a supplier of consumer products, but has repeatedly gotten in its own way by selling products to consumers rather than surveillance tech to government agencies.

Trying to have it all, Ring welcomed police departments into the fold, offering steep discounts on cameras to agencies that played along with its PR pitches and distribution tactics. Citizens could get cameras for almost nothing from local cops with the implicit suggestion they share their recordings with cops whenever law enforcement asked.

That was the initial wave of bad press: the co-opting of police departments to turn consumer security cameras into extensions of law enforcement surveillance networks. The second wave was almost worse. It involved the hijacking of Ring cameras by malicious jerks who used lists of credentials taken from security breaches to take control of the connected devices.

Ring shifted the blame for these hijackings to the end users. While Ring does encourage the use of “strong” passwords and two-factor authentication, it did not — until recently — make either of these the default. A recent update to its “privacy dashboard” finally allowed users to easily control access to their cameras by providing lists of all IP addresses/devices currently logged in. It also nudged users in the direction of 2FA a bit more firmly, making this opt-out, rather than opt-in.

The latest update goes further. And it must have been painful to implement, since it undercuts part of the company’s sales pitches to law enforcement agencies. Ring has played up the advantages of cops handing cameras to citizens, creating portals that give officers maps of Ring camera locations and coaching cops on the finer points of obtaining footage without a warrant. This addition to Ring’s privacy dashboard is going to make it a bit more difficult for cops to bypass the warrant process when seeking to obtain camera footage from Ring users.

In the new update, users will be able to see an “Active Law Enforcement Map” clarifying which local institutions are part of the Neighbor Portal network. They will also be able to disable requests for video from officials, whether or not they have received one in the past. (This feature was available previously, but an account had to have received one request for the opt-out option to appear.)

Ring’s blog post on the dashboard update not-so-subtly hints that users shouldn’t do this by telling readers about a couple of times the video request tool was used to solve crimes. Even if this PR nudge proves ineffective, cops aren’t completely out of luck. Ring is happy to turn over footage stored in its cloud to law enforcement without notifying users, even as it claims this footage still belongs to the end users.

This is a move in the right direction for Ring. Unfortunately, it still seems focused on becoming an appendage of law enforcement, rather than a producer of consumer goods. As long as it spends more time trying to figure out how it can best assist government middlemen, it’s going to keep disappointing the actual users of its cameras.

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Companies: amazon, ring

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