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Amazon’s Ring has contemplated adding facial recognition to its cameras

Amazon has contemplated adding a facial recognition feature to its Ring doorbell cameras, the company revealed in a response to US Senator Ed Markey. In a letter to the Senator, Amazon said that facial recognition on Ring’s cameras is a “contemplated, but unreleased feature”. “Amazon is not doing enough to ensure that its products and practices do not run afoul of our civil liberties,” Markey said in a statement. Amazon had acquired Ring last year for a billion dollars.

Ring’s parent, Amazon, has a face recognition system called Rekognition, which is already being licensed by law enforcement agencies. The company is also creating a database of suspicious people using the same tech. An addition of face recognition to Ring’s cameras could potentially prove detrimental to its users.

Police can access footage more than a month old, no information on data sharing: Amazon said that police can ask for Ring footage that is 12 hours long, and up to 45 days old. Also, police doesn’t require an evidentiary standard to ask users for their footage, because they are “simply asking Ring users if they have relevant footage”.

  • The company didn’t disclose if police can keep the footage forever and if they can share it with anyone, without necessarily seeking a user’s consent.

Ring’s data has been breached: Amazon admitted that data of Ring’s customers has been breached by third-parties. It didn’t specify when or how many times or how severe the breach(es) were.

No oversight for protection of children: Ring doesn’t have any policy or oversight in place to ensure that its cameras do not capture footage of children. Amazon’s vice president for public policy, Brian Huseman, said that Ring has no way to “verify if a child has come within range of a device”.

Will Ring ‘commit’ to sell users’ biometric data? Markey had also asked Amazon if Ring commits to never selling users’ biometric data. To that, the company simply replied that Ring doesn’t sell customer information, without committing that Ring would never sell users’ biometric data.

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How customer information is shared with police: Users can decline to provide footage to police and it can not view the people who may have declined assistance. However, Ring might give out information of customers to police in case it furnishes a a search warrant, “or in an exigent or emergency circumstance”.

Amazon was responding to a letter sent to it by Senator Markey on October 11. Markey had also written to Amazon in September and said that Ring’s partnership with police “raise serious privacy and civil liberties concerns”. Following that, more than 30 digital rights and civil liberties organisations had demanded that local, state, and federal officials end partnerships between Ring and over 400 law enforcement agencies in the US, claiming that these partnerships a serious threat to civil rights and liberties, especially for black and brown communities already targeted and surveilled by law enforcement.

Ring is a doorbell camera and offers a portal called Neighbors where users can choose to share footage recorded by their cameras. The portal provides real-time crime and safety alerts from users of the app and also by local law enforcement agencies. Users of Ring’s doorbell camera are automatically enrolled on the app. Users can also post videos from their home camera and comment on others’ videos on the app, according to Vox. As of now, more than 500 law enforcement agencies are active on Rings’ Neighbors app.

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