Monday, December 9, 2019

"How Amazon's Ring Went From ‘Shark Tank’ Reject to America’s Scariest Surveillance Company" (AMZN)

From Motherboard:

Amazon's Ring started from humble roots as a smart doorbell company called "DoorBot." Now it's surveilling the suburbs and partnering with police.
This is the first of a three-part series, where we’ll explore how Ring transformed from start-up pitch to the technology powering Amazon's privatized surveillance network throughout the United States.
When Ring came to Baltimore, residents believed they were out of options.
Pastor Troy Randall, who lives in northwest Baltimore, said that his neighborhood has been “held hostage” by drug sales and associated violence. Many people want to move, he said, but don’t have enough money, while older residents can’t move to a new place. People are trapped.

“The police are not doing anything,” he said. “They are not getting out of the cars. They're not walking the beat. They allow the guys to continue to sit around and to sell drugs.”
Many residents don’t trust the Baltimore police at all, and for good reason. A 2016 Department of Justice report found that the Baltimore Police Department systematically targets people of color in the city. Compared to white residents, people of color are disproportionately stopped, searched, arrested, and subject to violent and excessive force. They’re also at a disproportionately high risk of being killed by police.

Enter Ring.
Pastor Terrye Moore, a friend of Randall, first learned about Ring, which is owned by Amazon, through a radio ad. The company sells a variety of home security cameras, which can be placed outside or inside the home. One links to a floodlight. Its best seller allows you to see people who ring the doorbell from your smartphone. Ring also makes Neighbors, an app that allows users to upload footage from Ring devices and other security cameras for anyone to see.

The pastors work together in a church coalition called the Northwest Faith-Based Partnership, so Moore contacted Randall right after she heard the ad. To him, Ring sounded like a godsend. As president of his neighborhood association, he had already asked the city of Baltimore to install street cameras in his neighborhood; the city declined.

Even if Baltimore wouldn’t invest in surveillance, Randall thought, there was no reason why residents couldn’t do it themselves. Moore contacted Ring.

Selling Crime Reduction to the Vulnerable and Scared
Ring, whose stated mission is "to reduce crime in neighborhoods," gives hope to people who feel unsafe, can’t trust the police, or simply want to take surveillance into their own hands and become watchers.

Although there’s no credible evidence that Ring actually deters or reduces crime, claiming that its products achieve these things is essential to its marketing model. These claims have helped Ring cultivate a surveillance network around the country with the help of dozens of taxpayer-funded camera discount programs and more than 600 police partnerships.

When police partner with Ring, they are required to promote its products, and to allow Ring to approve everything they say about the company. In exchange, they get access to Ring’s Law Enforcement Neighborhood Portal, an interactive map that allows police to request camera footage directly from residents without obtaining a warrant.

Ring, has, among other things, helped organize police package theft sting operations, coached police on how to obtain footage without a warrant, and promised people free cameras in exchange for testifying against their neighbors.

In recent months, people have started to mobilize against these partnerships. Fight for the Future, a digital-rights activist group, launched a campaign in August to help people demand that their local governments and police departments stop partnering with Ring. In October, 36 civil rights groups signed an open letter demanding an end to Ring’s partnerships with police, new regulations, and a congressional investigation into the company....

 Related: BoingBoing, November 27:
 Amazon secretly planned to use facial recognition and Ring doorbells to create neighborhood "watch lists"

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