Amazon faces privacy concerns over Ring

Grace Crocker, Staff Writer

 

Amazon Ring is marketed as a home security system with its main feature being a “doorbell” that can be accessed through an individual’s smartphone, allowing the owner to see through a camera embedded within the device in real time and communicate with people at the house.

The product sells for $100 on Amazon. Despite the popularity of the product, a growing number of people are concerned about data collection and privacy breaches linked to Ring.

Max Eliaser, an engineer for Amazon, brought forth privacy concerns about Ring: “The deployment of connected home security cameras that allow footage to be queried centrally are simply not compatible with a free society…the privacy issues are not fixable with regulation and there is no balance that can be struck. Ring should be shut down immediately and not brought back.”

Amazon’s Ring home surveillance has been criticized for its abundance of privacy issues, such as police partnerships, account security, employee snooping, and sharing of data — including location data.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit digital rights group, examined the Android version of the Ring app. Their published findings brought some concerning details regarding customer information usage to light.

The findings indicate that personal data which Ring collects is sent to four main recipients: Branch, AppsFlyer, MixPanel, and Facebook. These companies are presumed to combine the received data with any other information they can collect about an individual, and create a “digital doppelgänger.” The data received by these companies differs, though not to a very large degree.

Facebook was found to receive information such as a user’s time zone, device model, language, and screen resolution, as well as when the app is opened. The Electronic Frontier Foundation claimed the information is received regardless of whether the user has a Facebook account or not. Branch, another company connected with Amazon, receives personal identifiers like phone model, screen resolution, finger prints, and IP addresses.

The other two companies receive very similar information, with Appsflyer being granted access to a person’s wireless carrier data, their phone settings — and when Ring was installed and launched on the phone, as well as what app was used to carry out the process.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation found that MixPanel, which provides user data, gets the most personal data: full names, full email addresses, device information, Bluetooth information, and app settings, including how many locations the user has Ring devices installed. 

The Electronic Frontier Foundation concluded that the Ring app is “packed with third-party trackers sending out a plethora of customers’ personally identifiable information,” and that it is done “without meaningful user notification or consent and, in most cases, no way to mitigate the damage done.”

There have already been several privacy breaches tied to Ring, resulting in several lawsuits against Amazon, that accused them of negligence, breach of implied contract, and invasion of privacy. Examples include a chilling time when a Ring placed in an 8-year-old girl’s bedroom was hacked, allowing a strange man to talk with the girl and attempt to befriend her. Similarly, another case occurred in which a hacker harassed a couple by threatening to “terminate” them if they did not pay a ransom in Bitcoins. 

Amazon’s Ring has also partnered with hundreds of police departments, allowing those departments to download and save videos collected by Ring, regardless on whether the footage is considered evidence or not. On top of that, there is no policy restricting the extent to which police can distribute the materials.

“Amazon Ring’s policies are an open door for privacy and civil-liberty violations,” said Ed Markey, Democratic Senator from Massachusetts; he was joined by other lawmakers concerned with what the device means for police surveillance. 

Markey stated, “If you’re an adult walking your dog, or a child playing on the sidewalk, you shouldn’t have to worry that Ring’s products are amassing footage of you, and that law enforcement may hold that footage indefinitely or share that footage with any third parties.” 

A Ring representative told Business Insider that “it’s up to users whether to share video from their Ring cameras with the police, emphasizing that the police could download footage only with a consumer’s consent.”

Amazon has yet to comment on growing concern of Ring’s privacy breaches, other than recommending consumers to use two-factor authentication to improve their security and privacy.

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