Amazon Reverses Decision and Withdraws Police Access to Ring Footage Through Neighbors Platform

Amazon today announced that it is end-of-lifing Request for Assistance (RFA), a controversial tool that allowed police and fire departments to request doorbell video through Ring’s Neighbors app. “Public safety agencies like fire and police departments can still use the Neighbors app to share helpful safety tips, updates, and community events,” Neighbors app head, Eric Kuhn, noted in a blog post. “They will no longer be able to use the RFA tool to request and receive video in the app. Public safety agency posts are still public, and will be available for users to view on the Neighbors app feed and on the agency’s profile.”The feature has been a major concern for privacy advocates for a number of years. In 2021, Amazon made police requests public as part of its biannual transparency report.

Amazon has announced the end-of-life for their controversial tool, Request for Assistance (RFA), which allowed police and fire departments to request doorbell videos through Ring’s Neighbors app.

“Public safety agencies like fire and police departments can still use the Neighbors app to share helpful safety tips, updates, and community events,” stated Eric Kuhn, head of the Neighbors app, in a recent blog post.

“However,” he continued, “they will no longer have access to the RFA tool within the app.” Instead, agency posts will remain public and viewable on the Neighbors app feed as well as on the agency’s profile.

The RFA feature has been a major concern for privacy advocates for a number of years. In fact, Amazon’s biannual transparency report revealed that in 2021 alone, the company received 3,147 legal requests from agencies – a staggering 65% increase from the previous year.

Public officials have also expressed their reservations about the tool. In 2019, Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts wrote an open letter to then-CEO Jeff Bezos, highlighting his concerns:

“Although Amazon promotes Ring as America’s ‘new neighborhood watch’, the technology has the capability to capture and store video from millions of households, including footage of bystanders who may not be aware of being recorded,” wrote Markey.

He also raised alarms about Ring’s potential use of facial recognition technology, stating, “I am particularly concerned about the potential for biases in facial recognition software, which could lead to a disproportionate misidentification among people of color.”

In response, Ring released their own statement, stating that they reserve the right to respond quickly to any emergency requests from law enforcement in cases where there is imminent danger of death or serious injury.

“According to Ring’s law enforcement guidelines,” the company wrote, “we may disclose information without delay in cases where there is an emergency situation with potential harm to an individual.”

To ensure the validity of these requests, they require a completed emergency request form and carefully review the circumstances described by the officer before making a decision.

Now, with Amazon’s announcement, it seems that a key change in policy has been made – one that is sure to be celebrated by privacy advocates everywhere.

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Dylan Williams

Dylan Williams is a multimedia storyteller with a background in video production and graphic design. He has a knack for finding and sharing unique and visually striking stories from around the world.

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