Half of the announcements from Amazon’s big show in 2021 were directly related to home security, including the craziest discovery of the day, a $ 1,000 robot that can patrol your home autonomously. It’s basically a tablet on wheels, about the size of a small dog, with cameras that allow it to detect anomalies in the house, record videos, and send alerts to your phone. It also connects to the Ring, Amazon’s popular personal protection system, allowing the robot to move on its own and proactively investigate strange events while homeowners are away. His name is Astro. Yes, he has eyes.
The Astro was the culmination of a one-hour event that began with children’s toys and health services, and ended with a series of dystopian state police devices, each with the smile of a branded Amazon. There was a smart thermostat, an interactive children’s camera and Amazon’s own version of Fitbit, then Ring Always Home Cam, Ring Alarm Pro, Ring Virtual Security Guard, Blink Video Doorbell and spotlights, and finally Astro, an extensible robot that can record every inch of your home without user input. Add a layer of ominous music that is slowly amplifying, and Amazon’s show was the current episode Black Mirror.
In Amazon’s vision of the future, homeowners are constantly watching their security cameras, monitoring delivery people and spying on their dogs, relying heavily on the Ring ecosystem all the time. The Astro and Ring Always Home Cam, Amazon’s autonomous safety drone, are the company’s most striking visual devices, dealing with sci-fi dreams of robotic butlers and pets on AI. They move themselves and transmit data directly to the homeowner at any time, saturating the persistent type of home security paranoia created by neighborhood cameras along the edge and Nextdoor threads.
While robots are the face of Amazon’s home security business, the Ring is the backbone. The ring has been leading the leading cost of home security in the United States since 2018, selling 1.4 million doorbells in 2020 alone, which rounded up 18 percent of the total market. Unfortunately, Amazon has proven to be a far-sighted manager of this massive, unregulated housing surveillance system.
Since 2018, Ring has signed contracts with more than 2,000 police departments across the United States, giving authorities access to footage from residential cameras, often without a warrant and according to the company’s own parameters. For example, in May and June 2020, the Los Angeles Police Department used the Ring ecosystem to search for footage of the Black Lives Matter protest from home bell cameras, not noticing a specific incident that was under investigation. It’s a huge red flag, according to activist groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
“If the police request hours of filming from either side of a particular incident, they may receive hours of people engaging in First Amendment activities with the vague hope that the camera could at one point record illegal activities,” the EFF said in February. The report continues, “Technologies like Ring have the potential to provide police with videos that cover almost every inch of the entire neighborhood. This poses an incredible risk to First Amendment rights. People are less likely to exercise their right to political speech, protest and assembly if they know that the police can obtain and keep their footage.This creates a risk of retaliation or retaliation, especially in protests against police violence.Ring cameras, ubiquitous in many neighborhoods, create the possibility that if enough people share footage with the police, authorities are able to monitor block by block the movement of the demonstrators. “
As the number of police departments with contracts with Amazon rose sharply, the authorities themselves pushed Ring devices on the citizens they serve, using materials prepared by the company and earning incentives to get people to download the Ring’s Neighbors app. Amazon has effectively turned the U.S. police into its own mini-marketing team, blurring the line between public safety and the loyalty of private companies.
With problematic police partnerships, the Ring ecosystem is filled with uncontrolled bias. A study he conducted in 2019 Motherboard they found that colored people were disproportionately labeled as “suspicious” in the Neighbors app, a phenomenon that feeds on racism and hyper-caution, creating an overall less secure environment.
Ring has taken steps to address some of these issues, such as changing the text in the Neighbors app from “suspicious” to “unexpected activity”. In addition, police will no longer be able to send mass emails to Ring users who may have the desired recordings – instead there is a portal on the Neighbors page where they can publicly request recordings. Of course, these are not solutions. By changing the word, nothing diminishes the fertile ground of suspicion and racism inherent in the Neighbors app, and publishing police requests doesn’t stop them from happening, without warrants and with the broad boundaries still set by Amazon, a huge e-commerce company.
“The network is based on prolonging the irrational fear of crime in the neighborhood, often leading to disproportionate surveillance of people in color, all for the purpose of selling more cameras,” the EFF said in June. “Ring does so through police partnerships, which now include 1 in every 10 police departments in the United States. At its core, this partnership eases massive requests from police officers to Ring users for footage of their cameras, built on Ring’s growing surveillance network of millions of cameras with the public. The EFF strongly opposes these Ring-Police partnerships and advocates their dissolution. “
As Amazon continues to build its Ring ecosystem, without partnering with police, it is clear that the company is not focused on renewing public policy, reducing crime, or eliminating everyday racism. Amazon is focused on selling Ring cameras; Amazon is focused on making money. Personally, that doesn’t make me sure.
All products recommended by Engadget have been selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories involve partnerships. If you purchase something through one of these links, we can earn a commission for affiliates.
Friendly communicator. Music maven. Explorer. Pop culture trailblazer. Social media practitioner.