Fears of Mass Surveillance Grow with the Popularity of Doorbell Webcams


It seems like a good idea: a video camera that shows you exactly who is on the other side of your door no matter where you are in your house or even outside your house. But the video webcam is much more than a useful tool for the occupant. With the increasing number of webcam doorbells, it seems smart to ask who has access to video of your house’s perimeter?

The most popular service is Ring. I have one, I’ve had it for more than year and its still in the box because it makes me uncomfortable. I am not the only one.

But as more police agencies join with the company known as Ring, the partnerships are raising privacy concerns. Critics complain that the systems turn neighborhoods into places of constant surveillance and create suspicion that falls heavier on minorities. Police say the cameras can serve as a digital neighborhood watch.

Critics also say Ring, a subsidiary of Amazon, appears to be marketing its cameras by stirring up fear of crime at a time when it’s decreasing. Amazon’s promotional videos show people lurking around homes, and the company recently posted a job opening for a managing news editor to “deliver breaking crime news alerts to our neighbors.”

It’s smart marketing to hype up the conditions under which your product is necessary. It’s even smarter to get the police involved.

The cameras offer a wide view from wherever they are positioned. Homeowners get phone alerts with streaming video if the doorbell rings or the device’s heat sensors detect a person or a passing car. Ring’s basic doorbell sells for $99, with recurring charges starting at $3 a month for users who want footage stored. Ring says it stores the recordings for two months.

Many law enforcement agencies nationwide said the idea to partner with Ring came after the company promoted its product at law enforcement conferences.

There’s no way of knowing how vulnerable the systems are to hacking. But the system doesn’t even need to be hacked.

A new report from The Intercept quotes unnamed sources who confirm that engineers and executives at Ring have “highly privileged access” to live customer camera feeds, utilizing both Ring’s doorbells as well as its in-home cameras.

All that’s apparently required to tap into the live feeds is a customer’s email address. Meaning the company has been so egregiously lax when it comes to security and privacy that even people outside the company could have potentially done this, using merely an email address to begin spying on customers, according to the report.

What kinds of things did these voyeurs see? “Within the company, a team that was supposed to have been focused on helping Ring get better at object recognition in videos caught customers in videos doing everything from kissing to firing guns and stealing.”

And it’s not even clear that changing your privacy permissions on the device could stop corporate looky-loos from snooping on your front door.

Regarding this new report, The Intercept also disclosed that a Ring R&D team in Ukraine could access a folder containing “every video created by every Ring camera around the world.” Additionally, as if that wasn’t bad enough, those employees could access a “corresponding database that linked each specific video file to corresponding specific Ring customers.”

It keeps getting worse from there. Those videos were also, you guessed it, unencrypted. Because, why else? Ring decided it would cost too much.

Your security comes with the price of your privacy, think carefully when you make your choice.

(Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

About Liz Sheld

Liz Sheld is the senior news editor at American Greatness. She is a veteran political strategist and pollster who has worked on campaigns and public interest affairs. Liz has written at Breitbart and The Federalist, as well as at PJ Media, where she wrote "The Morning Briefing." In her spare time, she shoots sporting clays and watches documentaries.

Photo: SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 20: A "Ring Stick Up Cam" is pictured at the Amazon Headquarters, on September 20, 2018 in Seattle Washington. The camera was launched alongside more than 70 Alexa-enable products during the event. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Want news updates?

Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.