Crime

Ring's Expanding Public-Private Panopticon Doesn't Actually Stop Crime

Despite broad claims from the company, available police reports don't support the idea that filming everything in front of people's doors stops much crime.

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As America moves further into the COVID-19 era, a concerned citizen might start worrying: Hmm, everything is shut down, most people can't legally earn a living, is property crime going to see a huge upswing? Americans may even begin yearning for a world where the authorities see and record everything. Some business owners might fear looting, depending on how long their storefronts must be left unattended.

In light of those worries, it's worth examining what the internet-connected Ring video doorbell, owned by Amazon, which video records the space in front of your door, saves the footage, and allows you to remotely speak to whoever is at your door, has done to curb crime.

Not much, turns out, though Ring and its users are sharing footage with local police in over 1,000 towns now. Ring claims it has "millions" of customers but otherwise does not release hard user counts.

As NBC reported last month, even though Ring hyped their relationship with the cops in Winter Park, Florida, in a promotional video, police there admit not a single arrest has resulted from Ring footage. NBC interviewed over 40 law enforcement agencies spread over eight states and found "little concrete evidence" to support any claim that sharing your doorbell footage with police helps solve or lessen crime.

Indeed, police griped that the connection between Ring-enabled worrywarts and the police led more often to them wasting time "reviewing clips of non-criminal issues such as raccoons and petty disagreements between neighbors. Others noted that the flood of footage generated by Ring cameras rarely led to positive identifications of suspects, let alone arrests."

Thirteen agencies did say arrests have resulted from their access to Ring videos, although "large cities like Phoenix, Miami, and Kansas City, Missouri, said that they don't know how many arrests had been made as a result of their relationship with Ring—and therefore could not evaluate its effectiveness—even though they had been working with the company for well over a year."

Residential burglary and other property crimes have already been on the decline preceding the rise of Ring, and no one seems to have any hard research indicating that the doorbell monitor has played a role. Ring itself also doesn't know, and isn't trying to learn, the facts about its effectiveness in crime deterrence or arrests, even though, as CNET reported in a new analysis of Ring and crime, Amazon's hardware chief Dave Limp said at a public event in September that "We continue to believe that when you add Ring to a neighborhood, crime is reduced."

CNET, however, found when they analyzed property crime stats from:

three of Ring's earliest police partners, examining the monthly theft rates from the 12 months before those partners signed up to work with the company, and the 12 months after the relationships began, and found minimal impact from the technology.

The data shows that crime continued to fluctuate, and analysts said that while many factors affect crime rates, such as demographics, median income and weather, Ring's technology likely wasn't one of them.

Police who've partnered with Ring drew the same conclusion.

Ring continues to hope, despite this lack of evidence that it does much good, that every law enforcement agency in America will sign on to its Neighbors Portal app program. (Ring had made huge claims about their crime-cutting powers in Los Angeles, claims an MIT Technology Review study debunked.) CNET's surveys of crime stats in cities where police allied with Ring found fluctuating crime rates and continuations of previous crime trends before Ring entered the picture. Some cities without Ring-police partnerships showed crime rate cuts comparable to cities in which Ring had allied with the cops. They found no police agencies willing to say they knew for sure that Ring's partnership was an effective crime-cutting tool.

CBS reported on that Neighbors program last month, whereby Ring users who sign up share their doorbell footage with both local police and their Ring-using neighbors who also signed up. This little system allows police to, as CBS reports, create "a so-called 'geofence' around a crime location and [to request] video footage captured on home security cameras filmed at specific times."

As Vice reported last year, "Video posts on Neighbors disproportionately depict people of color, and descriptions often use racist language or make racist assumptions about the people shown…with a Ring camera, users can frame neighbors as a threat." They even found that, of a small survey of 100 posts, "between December 6 and February 5, and the majority of people reported as 'suspicious' were people of color."

Declan McCullagh reported for Reason in our December 2019 issue on this unholy cop/Big Tech alliance, noting the "arrangement…creat[es] a massive surveillance network. In cities dotted by many Ring cameras…law enforcement can probably reconstruct a pedestrian's movements from the time he enters a neighborhood until he exits" and that, alas for those hoping for legal defense from this, "Lower courts have said that you enjoy no reasonable expectation of privacy on a public street, let alone on your neighbor's doorstep."

While we may not have seen much evidence it helps prevent actual property crime, it is easy to see how a network of Ring videos connected to the police could be a tool to help police identify an easier-to-catch variety of criminal: any citizen daring to violate shelter-in-place orders either now or to come. Ring plus facial recognition technology could be a powerful tool for compliance, if not for halting actual property crime. This could become increasingly relevant in an age of coronavirus-related restrictions on people's ability to freely leave their houses.

Sen. Ed Markey (D–Mass.) sounded almost prescient about such potential abuse, when he said after an investigation of Ring last year, "Amazon Ring's policies are an open door for privacy and civil liberty violations. If you're an adult walking your dog or a child playing on the sidewalk, you shouldn't have to worry that Ring's products are amassing footage of you and that law enforcement may hold that footage indefinitely or share that footage with any third parties."

NEXT: Half of United Kingdom Already Infected With Coronavirus, Says Oxford Model

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  1. I particularly enjoyed the analysis of the potential for Ring doorbells to open the homeowner to liability in “two party consent” or “all party consent” states.

  2. They even found that, of a small survey of 100 posts, “between December 6 and February 5, and the majority of people reported as ‘suspicious’ were people of color.”

    Oh, FFS! Get a life!

    1. You said it Rich. Get a job, browns!

      1. You said it Rich. Get a job, browns!

        I know, right? Once this whole social distancing fad is over crossing the street to stay away from black people is gonna start looking racist again.

    2. I think it’s well known that young Asian females are disproportionately represented in crime statistics.

    3. disproportionate to what? To the number of people of color living in the neighborhood? To the number of burglaries or other crimes committed by people of color in that neighborhood? To the number of people of color living within 5 houses either direction?

      Somehow I doubt that any serious and applicable analysis of such things was done. No, I’ll posit that they went looking to find that racism motivated reports on Neighbors and that’s what they found.

    4. Uh, I’d have been right there with you but for my own experience.

      Although I live in one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the U.S. on my former Nextdoor account, once people starting getting and advocating that everyone get surviellance systems including Ring, the posted videos of “does anyone know who this suspicious character is” were posted by white neighbors of people of color.

      Their “suspicions” were off the charts and, seemed to fall well within the definition of a racial paranoia. Things like some black guy getting out of a car that pulls up and walking away while the car leaves. They were too blinded by their fears to notice that the car was an Uber and the guy that got out and walked away was a friend of a neighbor of theirs.

      I never fully understood how paranoid people had become until I joined and, eventually resigned from, Nextdoor.

  3. From what I can tell by looking at publicly-shared Ring videos is that if anything cameras merely divert the crime to homes without cameras

    1. That would be my hypothesis – if the would-be crook sees a camera, or hears the homeowner’s voice telling him to go away, then he’ll go to a less-protected place.

      Which, from the purely selfish point of view of course, would be a benefit to the owners of this technology.

      As for the police not being able to follow up quickly enough on reported incidents, even if they’re in a “partnership” with Ring, that’s a different issue and a reason to be skeptical of the company’s wilder claims.

      1. He’ll probably have to go far unless his face is covered. If he just goes next door, the camera evidence would be available.

        Of course you’d have to live in some Shangri La where cops will actually investigate a break in.

    2. I’m not so sure about that. How visible are Ring doorcams? Can they be recognized while driving by and scouting? Seems to me that if burglars skip Ringed homes in favor of others, not only would it set a noticeable pattern (10% of homes are Ringed, 2% are burgled), but the cops should be able to use the neighboring Ring footage to get some clues to the burglars. For instance, I’d guess most neighborhoods show less traffic after midnight and in the middle of workdays; it should be easier to identify common cars showing up around the time of burglaries.

      On the other hand, if burglars skip entire neighborhoods when they see any Ringed houses, that ought to skew burglary reports, and I’d think Ring would be all over that. The absence of such fact-based marketing makes me think it is not a factor.

      My conclusion is that all Ring cameras are good for is porch pirates.

      1. Actually, my Arlo Video Doorbell has helped a rather ignorant neighbor locate his missing cat before the coyotes ate it for dinner.

    3. Cameras deter crime and provide information to help solve crimes after the fact.

      “Ring’s Expanding Public-Private Panopticon Doesn’t Actually Stop Crime”

      Well, duh. A camera is not a RoboCop. Who knew?

  4. Ring does itself or the public no favors when it tries to get contracts to establish a surveillance state in a public/private partnership, and oversells the beneficent possibilities of such a surveillance state.

    Still, for those who can afford it, a doorbell camera and loudspeaker to scare off would-be burglars would probably be a good thing for one’s home – scaring off the crooks even if the police fail to catch them afterwards.

  5. Indeed, police griped that the connection between Ring-enabled worrywarts and the police led more often to them wasting time “reviewing clips of non-criminal issues such as raccoons and petty disagreements between neighbors.

    On the plus side, a fewer than usual number of dogs have been shot. So there’s that.

  6. How cute. People think that cops actually investigate crimes against little people. They don’t. They will file a report if you’re lucky, and if you’re unlucky they’ll search you and your home for contraband as punishment for asking them to do their job. But investigate crime? Nope. Cops can’t be bothered with that shit.

    1. Right? You basically said what I was going to say. You might see an uptick in solving property crimes and arresting perpetrators IF the cops gave a flying flaming shit about the well being of those who are forced (by them directly) to fund their salaries and budgets.

    2. “They will file a report if you’re lucky…”

      This is exactly what happened when I called them about my home having been burglarized. They didn’t want to do anything at all and grudgingly came out the next day to take a report.

      1. They might make a report so you can submit it to your insurance company. But will they check local pawn shops for the items you reported as stolen…. HAAAAHA HA HA HA HA HAAAAA! Whew sarc, that was a good one!

        1. They told ME to go to a couple of specific pawn shops they knew that fenced nice shotguns like my engraved Winchester Model 101 O/U that had been taken as well as to go to the local flea market to see if it was there. (This was before today’s background check requirements in a private sale.)

      2. And it’s the “next day” part that really chaps my hide. I know they’re not going to go all CSI and put a whole team on it, but that bullshit about “being too busy” to send someone out when I called was just that- bullshit. Given 15 minutes, I’d have had no problem finding a cop sitting in his car with a radar gun, handing out tickets.

        1. Tickets make money for the department. Investigating stupid shit like robbery, mugging, assault, and rape doesn’t add cash to the slush fund. That’s an inconvenience. Takes time away from making money! Even murder is largely ignored unless it makes the news.

        2. My daughter, eight at the time, was sexually abused at a hospital. Cops mocked me for thinking they had time to investigate that shit, and went so far as to chastise me for implying that a business with such a stellar reputation could ever allow that to happen.

          And people wonder why I have nothing but contempt for law enforcement.

        3. Show me someone who trusts the cops, and I’ll show you someone who’s never called the cops after being the victim of a crime.

          1. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

            Exactly!

            Once you interact with them on an actual case where you’ve been victimized, you come away with a whole new understanding.

            I’ve had maybe five such encounters in my life.

            Believe me, the average citizen could do a must better job if we were only allowed to do so with the full threat of use of force that the boys in blue have.

            That’s how my rural friends have handled such encounters their whole lives and why their podunk towns tend to be very low crime areas. And no, it’s nothing like the vigilante justice and has none of the racial overtones that the media casts on such things. They just have a zero tolerance policy for such crap and, somehow the perps know it and stay away. Or risk finding themselves being dealt with by people with little patience for them.

            1. I signed up for a “NRA Personal Protection Outside the Home” class.

              Looks like a lot of fun.

              Knowledge like that is important right now.

              I’ll blockquote from the email.

              During the two classroom sessions no ammo will be required that day, however, please do bring your unloaded gun, holsters, mag carriers into class so we can check them prior to Saturday.
              .
              .
              Please also inform the instructors if:

              · You are planning on using a 1911 (or any single action semiautomatic) or

              · You are planning on using a Revolver or

              · You are planning on using any subcompact, pocket or mouse gun or

              · You are planning on using a traditional double action semiautomatic that does not have a factory de-cocker installed.

              I think it will be a hundred bucks well spent.

      3. It’s unusual they came out. Here in CA, most police departments just send you a form to fill out and return, listing the items taken and when.

        Worse, our own PD publicly announced that they would no longer respond to calls for home burglar alarms! But they were happy to cite anyone for a false alarm and an $80 fine to the city.

        Sure, I understand that false alarms had been a problem and they didn’t want to waste resources responding to them. But publicly announcing the no response policy it was like issuing a region wide call for burglars to head right on over to our city. That was an almost criminal announcement.

  7. Ed Markey , D – Mass ., said in a statement Tuesday. In this July 16, 2019, file photo, Ernie Field” If you ’ re an adult walking your dog or a child playing on the sidewalk , you shouldn’t have to worry that Ring ’ s products are amassing footage of you and that law enforcement may hold that footage ..
    Now do red light cameras.
    How does anyone expect privacy rights on a public thoroughfare. As for dog walkers, last year I caught a guy letting his dog take a dump on my lawn and then pretending to scoop it up. I ran out there and threatened to feed him that turd if he didn’t pick it up. He did so and I never saw him again. If the cops aren’t following up on evidence it’s because the cops don’t want to follow up on evidence.
    .

    1. Bought my sister and brother in law a security camera system.

      The main use is seeing who has their dog pooping on the lawn.

      Maybe they should take people to small claims court.

  8. If someone wants a video doorbell, is it Reason’s position that they should be free to get one? Or should the government step in and prohibit individuals from setting up video doorbells?

    How is it anyone’s business whether it stops crime?

    1. The point is how the product is marketed. It’s being sold with the idea that you can use the recordings to catch criminals. Fact is that the cops don’t care. They’re too busy handing out tickets and stealing property to be bothered with investigating crimes against actual people.
      In reality it’s nothing more than a novelty. Because the cops don’t care.

      1. So what about how it’s marketed? Product marketing need not meet your approval.

    2. “f someone wants a video doorbell, is it Reason’s position that they should be free to get one?”

      Sure go ahead and get one that doesn’t automatically share all the video with the cops.

      1. Ring doesn’t automatically share video with the cops.

        1. Let me put it this way, feel free to get one that only makes the video available to the home owner, and if the home owner chooses to do so they can share some particular relevant chunk of it with the cops.

          1. Can I also set up a webcam available to all?

            1. Reason’s libertarian writers clearly believe that setting up a public webcam is worse than what Hitler did! /sarc

      2. People shouldn’t be free to automatically share video?

  9. As the popularity of home surveillance systems blossomed, and so many people touted them as crime prevention, I frequently asked, based on my own experience, if anyone could point to an actual arrest and/or prosecution that was made based on home surveillance video on blogs where such was being touted.

    Not one person provided such an example. Not one!

    I felt safe in doing this because at my former employment, a public bus operator, we had cameras on every bus and in our yards. And, numerous times, we had video of physical assaults on our personnel, including sufficient force to have the victims hospitalized. And, in those videos the perps could be clearly seen and heard. And, we certainly provided them as evidence to the police.

    But guess what? Every time, the police said they appreciated it. But, since they didn’t know who the perps were, they were of little value.

    But, interestingly enough, every time there was some crime affiliated with one of our buses, the police would demand that we troll through on bus video we had, for a specific time frame on a specific day and provide it to them. After have been no use in our cases.

    Several people in my Nextdoor world posted videos of punks breaking into their house and asked for help. Video they had provided to the police. Not one of them resulted in identifying the thieves. And, even if they had, PD would say that it wasn’t sufficient evidence to make an arrest.

  10. Ring is disappointing, generally speaking.

    I was given one as a gift so its not as if I was roped into any marketing. But after the trial period expires, you find out that it doesn’t save video for you unless you opt-in for a paid subscription; so, the only thing you can do is see live video from the doorbell. However, the Ring app often takes more than a few seconds to load, so by the time that it opens you can’t see who went through the door.

    The rationale for the subscription is that it stores the videos on their company’s server for 30 to 60 days. But I’d prefer a doorbell that just saved the video on my own server, even if it just kept it there for a couple of hours to a day, just giving me the ability to see who was at the frickin’ door, and give me a chance to save the video permanently if I wanted to.

    Btw, and I’ll agree with an above poster that if you go to postings by neighbors they’ll point out “suspicious” people that aren’t that suspicious and often they’re blacks and other minorities. But they’re also ethnic groups that don’t live much in our neighborhood, and for every poster that points out a “suspicious” person, there are at least five to correct him and say “he doesn’t look suspicious,” which should say something positive. On the other hand, you get creepy videos of people entering backyards in the middle of the night, etc (that is if you pay for the subscription). Not sure what you can do about that anyway except take more security precautions.

  11. Wrong again, Reason! My Ring doorbell camera was used to bust my neighbor and his dog pooping on my lawn.

    I filed a nuance complaint with the City of Fremont, CA and used my Ring video as evidence as what neighbor was letting his dog run unleashed and pooping on my property. And the City of Fremont, CA issued a warning and the neighbor and his dog has never done that again.

    So the crime was indeed prevented. If the city of Fremont, CA hadn’t intervened, it may have resorted to physical confrontation (which surely is a crime). But I had Ring video evidence which helped me prove which neighbor was acting boorishly and illegally.

  12. Yes! So true! As LIBERTARIANS, we should demand that the government immediately outlaw this grave intrusion into people’s privacy! I mean, what is the world coming to when private individuals put cameras on their private property and contract with a private company for monitoring! Such outbreaks of totalitarianism must be stamped down upon by the shiny libertarian jackboots of government! /sarc

  13. As Vice reported last year, “Video posts on Neighbors disproportionately depict people of color, and descriptions often use racist language or make racist assumptions about the people shown…with a Ring camera, users can frame neighbors as a threat.” They even found that, of a small survey of 100 posts, “between December 6 and February 5, and the majority of people reported as ‘suspicious’ were people of color.”

    Gosh, that might just possibly reflect actual crime statistics!

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  16. It’s funny how dystopian books like 1984 usually have the govt forcing surveillance on everyone. Turns out we’re actually paying for the privilege of having ourselves constantly surveilled at home.

  17. “ Despite broad claims from the company, available police reports don’t support the idea that filming everything in front of people’s doors stops much crime.”

    I only care if it stops crime at *my* house. Right?

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