Amazon’s Ring now requires police to request doorbell videos publicly

Previously, Ring owners got private messages from police looking for user videos

Amazon's Ring announced Thursday that police departments must now publicly request user videos from Ring's smart doorbells and cameras instead of doing so privately.

Until now, Ring device owners would get private messages from the app on behalf of law enforcement agencies looking for videos that may have captured footage of certain individuals, traffic accidents, or crimes in progress. 

Ring is likely taking this action because its partnerships with law enforcement agencies have sparked privacy, surveillance, and racial profiling concerns. According to Ring's active agency tracker, thousands of American police and fire departments in the U.S. have partnered with Ring by joining the Neighbors app.

"Beginning next week, public safety agencies will only be able to request information or video from their communities through a new, publicly viewable post category on Neighbors called 'Request for Assistance,'" Ring said in a blog post. "Public safety agencies can use these posts to notify residents of an incident and ask their communities for help related to an investigation.

"All 'Request for Assistance' posts will be publicly viewable in the Neighbors feed, and logged on the agency's public profile. This way, anyone interested in knowing more about how their police agency is using Request for Assistance posts can simply visit the agency's profile and see the post history."

Ring said it would roll out the new "Request for Assistance" feature in the Neighbors app starting next week.

The company reiterated that users can always choose what they share with law enforcement agencies.

Social media apps focused on neighborhood safety have recently come under increased scrutiny. For example, the crime-tracking app Citizen was in the news last month after a live stream from the app with over a million views sparked a search in California. The app showed the name and photo of a man believed to have started a wildfire, but he turned out to be innocent. 

Also in May, it came out that Citizen had been testing the idea of a private security force after vehicles branded with the Citizen logo were photographed in Los Angeles.

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