Update: Ring has commented on the issue:
“We take the privacy and security of our customers’ personal information extremely seriously. In order to improve our service, we view and annotate certain Ring video recordings. These recordings are sourced exclusively from publicly shared Ring videos from the Neighbors app (in accordance with our terms of service), and from a small fraction of Ring users who have provided their explicit written consent to allow us to access and utilize their videos for such purposes. Ring employees do not have access to livestreams from Ring products.
We have strict policies in place for all our team members. We implement systems to restrict and audit access to information. We hold our team members to a high ethical standard and anyone in violation of our policies faces discipline, including termination and potential legal and criminal penalties. In addition, we have zero tolerance for abuse of our systems and if we find bad actors who have engaged in this behavior, we will take swift action against them.”
Additionally, an earlier version of this article stated that Ring allowed employees to access recorded clips from customers cameras. Ring has said that is not the case, and this has been updated accordingly.
A report has surfaced today regarding Amazon-owned Ring and how its employees have been able to spy on its users through the cameras and doorbells it has sold to said users.
The report comes out of The Intercept who has gotten confirmation that some Ring employees have been watching clips recorded from customers’ video cameras and doorbells. According to this report, some employees and engineers have “highly privileged access” to these products, and are able to drop in and see what’s going on in your home. This actually began almost three years ago in 2016, when Ring gave its Ukraine-based R&D team access to virtually anything that is recorded on Ring products, through a folder on Amazon’s S3 cloud storage service. This wasn’t just for Ring products in use in Ukraine, but around the world. That means that if you had a Ring camera inside your home, members of this research and development team could see what’s going on in your home, whenever they wanted. To make matters worse, these video files were left unencrypted, so if Ring itself was hacked, anyone could get to these files very easily.
Ring reportedly granted this access to its R&D team in an effort to help improve its in-house facial and object recognition software, as it was laughably bad at the time. This decision resulted in a new feature for Ring, called Neighbors. Which is a way for neighbors (hence the name) to keep an eye on the neighborhood and make sure everyone is safe. Ring’s software has struggled for a long time in trying to identify what’s going on in and out of your home. For example, is that a dog or your significant other? Ring gave these video files to its R&D team in an effort to bolster its recognition software.
This isn’t the first time Ring has been caught
There have been numerous other reports over the past year, regarding Ring’s poor security and privacy. Including one from The Information just last month. While the decision to give its research and development team unfettered access to any video clips recorded on its products may have been in good faith. It’s apparent that its rookie engineers did not use this access solely for that purpose. The report indicates that Ring caught customers doing everything from kissing, to firing guns to stealing.
Ring is one of the most popular video doorbells on the market, and since debuting its video doorbell, it has also expanded into video cameras for both in and outside of your home. With Ring being so popular, you would think that it would be a bit more careful when it comes to security and privacy of its customers. Most of the decisions Ring has made when it comes to security and privacy were all about money. For example, the videos that its research and development team were able to access were unencrypted, why? Because Ring decided it would cost to much to encrypt it. These are some of the problems that a startup goes through when it’s just trying to get its feet wet. However, now that it is owned by Amazon, it is seeing a lot more scrutiny, as it should.
Why its important to be careful about putting cameras in your home
The fact that Ring employees were spying on its customers should, honestly, not be a surprise. Putting a camera that connects to the internet and uploads video to the cloud, in your home is bound to either get hacked or end up in the wrong hands. And in this case, those wrong hands are Ring employees. Now, yes, Ring did this to try and improve its algorithms and recognition, but there are better ways to do this. Like keeping those video files encrypted. This is one of the major issues with smart home products these days. Seeing as everything can be hacked, that means your smart lock can be hacked and anyone can walk into your home at any time. Your smart lights can be hacked, though that’s more of an annoyance than anything. And that’s really just the start. This is why the smart home industry hasn’t picked up as much steam as many have expected it too, and it’s something that companies need to focus on, and perhaps turn into a selling point. There are smart cameras launching that do only store footage on a micro SD card or local storage, those are cheaper, though it’s not as cool as being able to see what’s happening at home when you are on the other side of the country.
Ring has not yet commented on this story. As soon as Ring does have a comment however, we will be sure to update this post.