Ring is shutting down a program that allowed police to easily obtain doorbell camera footage belonging to its customers.
The Amazon-owned company had a tool embedded within its Neighbors app called Request for Assistance (RFA), but it said on Wednesday it would cease operation. Now, police will need a warrant to accompany requests for Ring footage, for public ones at least.
RFA was set up to allow police to publicly request information, typically doorbell cam footage, but privacy fears have emerged regarding the source. Requests for RFA on Neighbors could not be deleted so it left a trail of info on when and where officers had attempted to gain content.
The Neighbors app can be used by anyone, regardless of whether they own a Ring device.
The idea behind it is to allow people living nearby to communicate with each other, another social community app, to create safer neighborhoods where individuals can help and get in touch with each other when it matters. This could be during an ongoing incident or when a pet is missing, for example.
As reported by Mashable, concerns have surfaced previously on a perceived close relationship between Ring and the law but the existing situation did provide transparency as you knew if police had attempted to see the footage.
Out of public view, into the dark?
In an official blog update on Wednesday, Eric Kuhn, Head of Neighbors, announced changes to the app, including the end of RFA:
“Public safety agencies like fire and police departments can still use the Neighbors app to share helpful safety tips, updates, and community events,” he said.
“They will no longer be able to use the RFA tool to request and receive video in the app. Public safety agency posts are still public, and will be available for users to view on the Neighbors app feed and on the agency’s profile,” added Kuhn.
No explanation has been provided on why the feature has been discontinued but that doesn’t mean police won’t be able to gather any information without a warrant. During 2022, Ring disclosed it handed over 11 videos to law enforcement without notifying customers due to “exigent or emergency” circumstances, one of the categories that allow it to release content but there is some ambiguity on what is or isn’t such a situation.
Another change is that police requests will no longer be visible on the app, leaving Ring as the arbiter of whether a user’s private camera footage is shared with police and you may not know about it.
Image: Kampus Production/Pexels.