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12.03.19

A new neighborhood watch? Amazon’s “smart doorbell” raises privacy concerns

BY , Christian Albano

Special thanks to Christian Albano for his contributions to this post.

Today, smart devices are increasingly making their way into our everyday lives. While the smart phone may be the first example that comes to mind for many, so called "smart" technology has made its way into our cars, watches, and even our homes. Amazon, one of the world's largest technology companies, has a "smart home" store on its website where it offers many devices, including light bulbs, microwaves, printers, televisions, and speakers.

Another smart device finding a place in today's homes is the Wi-Fi powered "smart doorbell." Ring, a company recently bought by Amazon, provides its own version of the smart doorbell on Amazon's online marketplace. The Ring Video Doorbell is a device that monitors homes with HD video and uses sensors to send alerts to homeowners when motion is detected. The device even provides on-demand video, allowing homeowners to check-in on their homes even when the sensors have not been activated.

Although the features of the Ring Video Doorbell have provided its users with a greater sense of security, they have also recently raised concerns relating to privacy. Ring has agreed with police forces throughout the United States to provide access to homeowners' video footage, allowing law enforcement to request footage from specific times and places. Ring users have the option to deny police requests to access footage captured by their devices. However, this partnership between law enforcement and technology exposes visitors and even innocent passersby to increased government surveillance, and poses a potential threat to civil liberties.

In September, Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA) wrote to Amazon, in a letter addressed to the company's CEO and president Jeff Bezos, with questions addressing the privacy concerns surrounding smart doorbell technology. In response to a question regarding facial recognition, Amazon indicated that adding this feature to Ring products has been contemplated and said that privacy would be considered should it be implemented in the future. In making a decision on incorporating facial recognition into smart doorbell devices going forward, Amazon and Ring will have to find a balance between security and privacy.

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Jenny L. Holmes

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