Smart doorbell company Ring announced Wednesday it will remove a tool that gave police an easy way to request footage, marking a notable change in practice.
The move, revealed in a blog post by Ring’s head of its Neighbors app Eric Kuhn, affects requests from public safety agencies, including police and fire departments.
“They will no longer be able to use the [Request for Assistance] 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 post read.
The Amazon-owned Ring came under heavy scrutiny in 2022 when it was revealed that law enforcement could acquire camera footage without a warrant and also without informing users.
Notably, the announcement doesn’t say police and fire departments can’t request this information at all. It only states the company is sunsetting the Request for Assistance tool. Instead, according to a Bloomberg report, these organization must obtain a warrant before getting any footage from users or they must demonstrate “evidence of an ongoing emergency” to Ring.
“Yassi Yarger, a spokesperson, said Ring had decided to devote its resources to new products and experiences in the Neighbors app that better fit with the company’s vision,” Bloomberg reported. “The aim is to make Neighbors, which had been focused on crime and safety, into more of a community hub, she said.”
This lines up with the initial blog post as well, which emphasized that public safety groups can still use the app “to share helpful safety tips, updates, and community events.”
But the change in procedure is more notable than a company simply trying to rework its app. Ring, which is owned by Amazon, has faced intense scrutiny for its approach to law enforcement requests.
“Civil liberties groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation have long criticized Ring, accusing it of building a residential surveillance network available on demand to law enforcement and highlighting the history of biased policing in the US,” Bloomberg noted in its report.
Bloomberg continued, noting that, at first, law enforcement would make a request for footage to Ring, which would then ask users to voluntarily share the data. Then, in 2021, it required the organizations to make the requests publicly on the Neighbors app.
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