Ring Docs Show Company Is Testing Consumer Enthusiasm For Facial Recognition, License Plate Reader Capabilities
from the be-the-implemented-changes-you-want-to-see-in-the-world dept
It seems like Ring really wants to add facial recognition tech to its cameras. It employs a “Head of Facial Recognition Tech.” It pitches this still-nonexistent feature to law enforcement. And it says it will “continue to innovate” to meet customer feature demands in response to Congressional queries about its facial recognition plans.
But now is not the best time to be trotting out new facial recognition products. Cities and one entire state have enacted bans or moratoriums on facial recognition tech use by government agencies. Even the leader in law enforcement body cams (Axon, formerly Taser) has pulled back from adding this tech to its products. So, Ring is playing it safe even if it’s inevitably going to add this feature in as soon as it can justify it.
And it’s looking for ways to justify it. Just like it promised Congress, it will continue to “innovate” by adding features customers say they want — even if it’s tech many feel is untrustworthy, if not possibly dangerous. A document obtained by Ars Technica shows the company is feeling out its newest customers on several potential features, including facial recognition.
Ring last week distributed a confidential survey to beta testers weighing sentiment and demand for several potential new features in future versions of its software. According to screenshots shared with Ars, potential new features for Ring include options for enabling or disabling the camera both physically and remotely, both visual and audible alarms to ward off “would-be criminals,” and potential object, facial, and license plate detection.
The survey actually suggests two possible facial recognition tech uses: one alert for “familiar faces” and another for “unfamiliar.” This feature would presumably be tied to a user-generated whitelist of “familiar” faces, rather than something maintained by Ring. But just as presumably, Ring would have access to user selections and recorded footage. Law enforcement agencies are already running obtained Ring footage through their own facial recognition programs, so this addition would just save them a little bit of time.
And, as noted above, Ring is pitching something new — at least for its line of products: license plate recognition. This is a new development.
The company has also not publicly discussed any plans for potentially deploying object detection or license plate scanning technology. In the same letter, lawmakers asked Amazon if employees had access to “any previously tagged information in video feeds that specifically identify a person or vehicle,” including specific license plate data; to that question, Amazon answered simply “no.”
The survey doesn’t actually call this “recognition.” It calls it “license plate detection.” This feature would send an alert to users if a vehicle’s license plate is detected and readable by the camera. Again, this wouldn’t be linked to any license plate database and would rely on whitelisting for “recognition,” but it’s still somewhat surprising to see a home security system offer this functionality.
It’s not that license plate readers are unheard of in the residential sector. It’s just that they’re usually included in more expensive systems tied to lucrative 24/7 monitoring contracts. This would put some of that power in a doorbell camera, allowing Ring users to operate not-so-automatic license plate readers during their downtime.
Ring continues to claim it’s just engaging in blue-skying with beta testers and has no immediate plans to implement either of these features. But it’s not denying it has an interest in being a market leader in domestic surveillance tech and will follow the market wherever it’s led… or wherever it nudges the market towards.