Jolynn Dellinger, a senior lecturing fellow focusing on privacy and ethics at Duke University’s school of law, says recording audio when someone is on the street is a “serious problem” for privacy and may change how people behave. “We operate with a sense of obscurity, even in public,” Dellinger says. “We are in danger of increasing surveillance of everyday life in a way that is not consistent with either our expected views or really what’s best for society.” In October 2021, a British woman won a court case that said her neighbor’s Ring cameras, which overlooked her house and garden, broke data laws.
Ring can also keep videos shared to its Neighbors’ app—an app where people and law enforcement agencies can share alerts about “crimes” and post their videos of what is happening around the homes. (There are rules about what people are allowed to post.)
While Ring’s privacy policies apply to those who purchase its devices, people who are captured in footage or audio don’t have a chance to agree to them. “Privacy, security, and customer control are foundational to Ring, and we take the protection of our customers’ personal and account information seriously,” Rall says.
Ultimately, you agree to give Ring permission to control the “content” you share—including audio and video—while you own the intellectual property to it. The company’s terms of service say you give it an “unlimited, irrevocable, fee free and royalty-free, perpetual, worldwide right” to store, use, copy, or modify content you share through Neighbors or elsewhere online. (Audio recording can be turned off in Ring’s settings.)
“When I went out to buy a security camera last year, I looked for ones only that did local storage,” says Jen Caltrider, the lead researcher on Mozilla’s Privacy Not Included, which evaluates the privacy and security of products. Caltrider says people should try to keep as much control of their data as possible and not store files in the cloud unless they need to. “I don’t want any company having this data that I can’t control. I want to be able to control it.”
How Ring Works With Police
Ring’s deals with police forces—both in the US and the UK—have proved controversial. For years, the company has partnered with law enforcement agencies, providing them with cameras and doorbells that can be given to residents. By the start of 2021, Ring had partnered with more than 2,000 US law enforcement and fire departments. Documents have shown how Ring also controls the public messaging of police departments it has partnered with. “There is nothing mandating Ring build a tool that is easily accessible and helpful to police,” Guariglia says.
Rings’ terms of service say that the company may “access, use, preserve and/or disclose” videos and audio to “law enforcement authorities, government officials, and/or third parties” if it is legally required to do so or needs to in order to enforce its terms of service or address security issues. Government officials could include any “regulatory agency or legislative committee that issues a legally binding request for information,” Rall says. For the six months between January and June 2022, Ring says it had more than 3,500 law enforcement requests in the US.