Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Amazon Has Entered Into Agreements With U.S. Police Departments to Push Their Ring Doorbell Cameras with Kickbacks

Caroline Haskins, Vice:

Amazon’s home security company Ring has enlisted local police departments around the country to advertise its surveillance cameras in exchange for free Ring products and a “portal” that allows police to request footage from these cameras, a secret agreement obtained by Motherboard shows. The agreement also requires police to “keep the terms of this program confidential.”

Dozens of police departments around the country have partnered with Ring, but until now, the exact terms of these partnerships have remained unknown. A signed memorandum of understanding between Ring and the police department of Lakeland, Florida, and emails obtained via a public records request, show that Ring is using local police as a de facto advertising firm. Police are contractually required to “Engage the Lakeland community with outreach efforts on the platform to encourage adoption of the platform/app.”

At best, this is a gross partnership; more realistically, it’s a way to privatize a surveillance state through bribery. Amazon’s doorbell cameras have questionable privacy practices, too, and the company wants to be its own crime news broadcaster to further justify the existence of its products.

Joshua Benton, NiemanLab:

So think about this managing editor job. The places where Ring wants to be “covering local crime” are… everywhere, down to the house and neighborhood level. So one managing editor, plus however many other people are on this team, are supposed to be creating a thoughtful, non-exploitative editorial product that is sending journalistically sound “breaking news crime alerts,” in real time, all across the country. Will they really be delivering news or just regular pulses of fear in push-notification form? If that’s the job, it is literally impossible to do responsibly.


But what bugs me about this is that it wants to bring in the credibility of journalism as a layer on top of the state of constant fear it promotes. A company that relies on people feeling unsafe to sell its products will now be able to take whatever trust professional journalism has left and put it to work toward that end. It’s like relying on the people who make antivirus software to tell you about the latest cybersecurity issues: Even when the reporting is sound, it’s still prone to exaggerating the scale of the threat and still aimed at making you so afraid that you give them money.

Partnering with police departments is a logical next step for this deeply cynical product.

Update: Sam Kimbrel:

[…] Amazon is basically using this to drive down package loss, by giving police heatmaps of where lost Amazon packages are reported, then asking for sting ops.

So Amazon uses Prime Day to deeply discount their Ring cameras, contractually obligates police departments to promote sales of those cameras, and runs their own pseudo news division to emphasize the apparent need for cameras — all to cut down on losses due to Amazon package theft.