Ring, the Amazon video door entry system that triumphs in the US and worries in Europe | Technology
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There is a new category of devices that have made their way with tremendous speed in the US And, despite its success overseas, on this side of the Atlantic it raises privacy questions. These are smart doorbells, or connected video door phones. They are small devices that are placed at the entrance door of houses and have a button (the doorbell) and a video camera. The most popular is Amazon’s Ring Doorbell. The basic idea is simple: when someone calls and we are not there, we can see from our mobile or tablet who is there and even talk to the visitor. It can be connected to the lock and open the door remotely and, by paying a subscription, it allows recordings to be stored in the Amazon cloud (AWS) for up to six months.
It can also be used to watch people passing by on the street and record them without their consent. Or to extort whoever commits an infraction in front of the wrong portal. It is becoming fashionable to upload to social networks, especially TikTok, Facebook and Instagram, video clips recorded with these cameras, often making fun of the unwitting protagonists. Derek Lipp, a star of the Chinese short video platform, accumulates more than 691 million views of #ringseries, videos recorded entirely with the Ring camera.
Amazon dominates with Ring a booming market in which other options coexist, such as Google’s Nest. In 2020, two years after the Ring Doorbell launched, almost 1.5 million such devices were sold, and according to a 2019 survey, a quarter of the US population intended to get one. The Neighbors application, also from Amazon and only available in the US, allows you to create a community of neighbors in which alerts are exchanged and information is shared with other Ring device users. Last year Always Home Cam, a drone camera that moves around the home on predefined routes, was also put on sale in that country. At the same time, the company has closed agreements with various US police departments (estimates range from 400 to 1,771 reported by the CNET portal) so that, in exchange for receiving Ring cameras, they can ask users for the recordings that interest them. .
Alexa voice assistants are Amazon’s ears in homes; the Ring cameras, her eyes. “It seems we don’t look too much into history. Ring’s popularity surprises me a lot. Have we not learned anything from totalitarianism? ”, She asks in conversation with EL PAÍS Virginia Eubanks, professor at the University of Albany (New York) and author of The automation of inequality (Captain Swing). Five senators led by Democrat Edward J. Markey already in 2019 requested by letter the then CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, to explain what cybersecurity and privacy protection measures he was going to implement to protect the rights of users. “Whether you’re an adult walking the dog or a child playing on the sidewalk you shouldn’t fear Ring products amassing footage of you or law enforcement indefinitely storing or sharing those footage with third parties,” Markey wrote.
Three years have passed and the explosion of the Ring phenomenon is fueling the debate in the US What happens to the right to privacy of those who parade before the prying little digital eye? Can anyone who passes by be recorded indiscriminately? The answer, as stated wired, is yes. In the North American country it is legal to take images of what happens on one’s own property. And since there is no proper privacy law, it is very difficult to get a post that contains images of one removed unless it is proven that financial loss has occurred.
In Europe, a region that Ring considers “of critical importance” for its strategy, the situation is different. A judge agreed last year with a citizen of Oxfordshire, England, who denounced her neighbor for recording her. She complained that the Ring device focused on her garage and part of her yard. The judge considered that the device “unjustifiably invaded” his right to privacy and fined the neighbor. Amazon put out a statement stressing that its customers should make sure they use the products in accordance with the law.
In the EU, the situation is similar. Houses, like businesses, can use surveillance cameras, but as long as they are limited to recording their own premises or the entrance. “In theory, you cannot record what happens on the street, which is why it is forbidden in Spain for cars to carry cameras, as is the case in other countries,” says Borja Adsuara, consultant and expert in digital law. “As is often the case with these kinds of things, the mere fact that they exist is a ticking time bomb. Because they are always created with good intentions, but there are very imaginative people who do evil”, emphasizes Adsuara. Amazon actually fired four employees in 2020 for misusing images recorded by Ring devices.
Big Brother at home
But Ring and its competitors like Nest don’t just collect images and audio. An investigation by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) revealed that “the application is plagued by third-party trackers that send a large amount of personal information” to other companies. Among them is Facebook, which receives data on when the system is used and from what type of device.
EFF’s work revealed that Amazon’s smart doorbells were sending four major data analytics and trading companies (known as data broker) information such as “names, private IP addresses, mobile network operators, persistent identifiers, and sensor data from paying customers’ devices.” With this information properly crossed and processed, the trackers “can spy on what a user is doing in his digital life and when he is doing it.” Ring assures that this no longer happens. “We have taken steps to help protect Ring devices from unauthorized access,” explains a company spokeswoman.
Then there is the risk of a third party intercepting users’ recordings. Any digitized and connected material is likely to be hacked. Another journalistic investigation, in this case by Vice Y motherboard, proved in 2019 how easy it was to get into these devices. It was enough for the journalists to download a software that circulated on the Internet to be able to control the camera and the microphone of other devices. The same thing that the Pegasus spy program does with mobile phones. The company founded by Jeff Bezos said shortly after the bug was revealed that it had improved the security of its systems.
“I think people are not aware of the privacy they are giving up when using these devices. If you don’t think about the systemic consequences, you only see the possible advantages”, reflects the philosopher Carissa Véliz, professor of philosophy and ethics at the University of Oxford and author of Privacy is power (Debate). “What worries me is that if we have devices like Alexa or Ring that can be accessed by the police at any time, what difference does it make to having the police in your house?”
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