The Washington Post - 29.08.2019

(Joyce) #1

THURSDAY, AUGUST 29 , 2019. THE WASHINGTON POST EZ RE K 7 A


Ring officials have stepped up
their sharing of video from moni-
tored doorsteps to help portray
the d evices a s theft deterrents and
friendly home companions. In o ne
recent example, a father in Massa-
chusetts can be seen using his
Ring Video Doorbell’s speakers to
talk to h is daughter’s d ate while he
was at work, saying, “I still get to
see your face, but you don’t get to
see mine.”
The company is also pushing to
market itself as a potent defense
for c ommunity peace of mind, say-
ing its cameras offer “proactive
home and neighborhood security
in a way no other company has
before.” The company is hiring
video producers and on-camera
hosts to develop user testimonials
and videos marketing the Ring
brand, with a job listing stating
that applicants should deliver
ideas with an “approachable yet
authoritative tone.”
Rotello, who runs his depart-
ment’s neighborhood-watch pro-
gram, said Ring’s local growth has
had a n interesting side effect: Peo-
ple now believe “crime is rampant
in Frisco,” now that they see it all
mapped and detailed in a mobile
app. He has had to inform people,
he said, that “the crime has always
been there; you’re just now start-
ing to figure it out.”
He added, however, that the
technology has become a potent
awareness tool for crime preven-
tion, and he said he appreciates
how the technology has inspired
in residents a newfound vigilance.
“Would you rather live in an
‘ignorance is bliss’ type of world?”
he said. “Or would you rather
know what’s going on?”
That h yper-awareness of murky
and sometimes-distant criminal
threats has been widely criticized
by privacy advocates, who argue
that Ring has sought to turn police
officers into surveillance-system
salespeople and capitalize on
neighborhood fears.
“It’s a business model based in
paranoia,” said Evan Greer, deputy
director of the digital advocacy
group Fight for the Future.
“They’re doing what Uber did for
taxis, but for surveillance camer-
as, by making them more user-
friendly.... It’s a privately run
surveillance dragnet built outside
the democratic process, but
they’re marketing it as just an-
other product, just another app.”

More powerful tools
Ring’s expansion also has led
some to question its plans. The
company applied for a facial-rec-
ognition patent last year that
co uld alert when a person desig-
nated as “suspicious” was caught
on camera. The cameras do not
currently use facial-recognition
software, and a spokeswoman
said the application was designed
only to explore future possibilities.
Amazon, Ring’s parent compa-
ny, has developed facial-recogni-
tion software, called Rekognition,
that is used by police nationwide.
The technology is improving all
the time: This month, Amazon’s
Web Services arm announced that
it had upgraded the face-scanning
system’s accuracy at estimating a
person’s emotion and was even
perceptive enough to track “a new
emotion: ‘Fear.’ ”
For now, the Ring systems’ po-
lice expansion is earning early
community support. Mike Diaz, a
member of the city c ouncil in C hu-
la Vista, Calif., where police have
partnered with Ring, s aid the cam-
eras could be an important safe-
guard for some local neighbor-
hoods where residents are tired of
dealing with crime. He’s not both-
ered, h e added, b y the concerns h e
has heard a bout how the c ompany
is partnering with police in hopes
of selling more cameras.
“That’s America, right?” Diaz
said. “Who doesn’t want to p ut b ad
guys away?”
drew.harwell@washpost.com

being alerted to a suspicious per-
son.” (A Ring spokeswoman later
said this example would be re-
moved from Neighbors because it
does not pass the s ervice’s commu-
nity guidelines, which require “an
attempted criminal activity or un-
usual behavior that is cause for
concern.”)

Aggressive push with police
Ring has pushed a ggressively t o
secure new police allies. Some po-
lice officials said they first met
with Ring officials at a law-en-
forcement conference, a fter which
the company flew representatives
to police headquarters to walk
officers through the technology
and help them prepare for its de-
ployment.
The company has urged police
officials to use social media to
encourage homeowners to use
Neighbors, and Pickering said the
Norfolk department had posted a
special code to its Facebook page
to encourage residents to sign on.
Ring has offered discounts to
cities and community groups that
spend public or taxpayer-support-
ed money on the cameras. The
firm also has given free c ameras to
police departments that can be
distributed to local homeowners.
The company said it began phas-
ing out the giveaway program for
new partners earlier this year.
Pickering said his agency is
working with its city attorney to
classify the roughly 40 cameras
Ring gave them as a legal dona-
tion. But some officers said they
were uncomfortable with the gift,
because it could be construed as
the police extending an official
seal of approval to a private com-
pany.
“We don’t w ant t o push a partic-
ular product,” said Radd Rotello,
an officer with the Frisco Police
Department in Te xas, which has
partnered with Ring. “We as the
police department are not doing
that. T hat’s not our place.”
Ring has for months sought to
keep key details of its police-part-
nership program confidential, but
public records from agencies na-
tionwide have revealed glimpses
of the company’s close work with
local police. In a June email to a
New Jersey police officer first re-
ported by the online publication
Motherboard, a Ring representa-
tive suggested ways officers could
improve their “opt-in rate” f or vid-
eo requests, including greater in-
teraction with users on the Neigh-
bors app.
“The more users you have the
more useful information you can
collect,” the representative wrote.
Ring says it offers training and
education materials to its police
partners so they can accurately
represent the service’s work.

recorded visitors include lizards,
deer, mantises, snakes and snoop-
ing raccoons.)

Bringing safety or distrust?
Ring users’ ability to report peo-
ple as suspicious has been criti-
cized for its p otential to contribute
to racial profiling and heightened
community distrust. Last Hallow-
een in Southern Maryland, a Ring
user living near a middle school
posted a video of two boys ringing
a doorbell with the title: “Early
trick or treat, or are they up to no
good?”
The video, which has been
viewed in the N eighbors app more
than 5,700 t imes, inspired a rash of
comments: Some questioned the
children’s motives, while others
said they looked like harmless
kids. “Those cuties? You’re joking,
right?” one commenter said. After
The Post shared this video with
Ring, the company removed it,
saying it no l onger fits the service’s
community guidelines because
“there is no objective reason stat-
ed that w ould put t heir behavior i n
question.”
Since formally beginning its
Neighbors police partnerships
with officers i n Greenfield, Wis., in
March 2018, Ring has extended
the program to 401 police depart-
ments and sheriff’s offices nation-
wide, from northwest Washington
state to Key West, Fla., company
data show. Shortly after this story
was p ublished o nline, Ring f ound-
er Jamie Siminoff released a blog
post saying that count had a lready
expanded, to 405 agencies.
The partnerships cover vast ex-
panses of major states — with 31
agencies in California, 57 in Te xas
and 67 in Florida — and blanket
entire regions beneath Ring’s
camera network, including about
a dozen agencies each in the met-
ropolitan areas surrounding Chi-
cago, Dallas, Detroit, Kansas City,
Los Angeles and Phoenix.
Sgt. William Pickering, an offi-
cer with the Norfolk Police De-
partment in Virginia, which is
working with Ring, compared the
system’s expansion to the onset of
DNA evidence in criminal cases —
a momentous c apability, u nlocked
by new technology, that helps po-
lice gain the upper hand.
“We have so many photojour-
nalists out there, and they’re right
there when things happen, and
they’re able to take photos and
videos all the time. As a law en-
forcement agency, that is of great
value to us,” Pickering said.
“When a neighbor posts a suspi-
cious individual who walked
across their front lawn, that allows
them at t hat very moment to s hare
that in real time with anyone
who’s been watching. Now we
have everybody in the community

time range and local area, up to
half-a-square-mile wide, and get
Ring to send an automated email
to all users within that range,
alongside a case n umber a nd mes-
sage from police.
The user can c lick to share their
Ring videos, review them before
sharing, decline or, at the bottom
of the email, unsubscribe from
future footage-sharing requests.
“If you would like to take direct
action to make your neighbor-
hood safer, this is a great opportu-
nity,” an email supplied by Ring
states.
Ring says police officers don’t
have access to live video feeds and
aren’t told which homes use Ring
cameras or how homeowners re-
sponded unless the users consent.
Officers could previously access a
“heat map” showing the general
density of where Ring devices
were in use, but the company said
it has removed that feature from
the video request because it was
deemed “no longer useful.”
Ring said it would not provide
user video footage in response to a
subpoena but would comply if
company officials were presented
with a search warrant or thought
they had a legal obligation to pro-
duce the content. “Ring does not
disclose customer information in
response to government demands
unless we’re required to do so to
comply with a legally valid and
binding order,” t he company said
in a statement.
Ring users consent to the com-
pany giving r ecorded video to “law
enforcement authorities, govern-
ment officials and/or third par-
ties” if the company thinks it’s
necessary to comply with “legal
process o r reasonable government
request,” i ts terms of service state.
The company says it a lso c an store
footage deleted by the user to
comply with legal obligations.
The high-resolution cameras
can p rovide detailed images of not
just a front doorstep but also
homes across the street and down
the block. Ring users have further
expanded their home monitoring
by installing the motion-detecting
cameras along driveways, decks
and rooftops.
Some officers said they now
look for Ring doorbells, notable
for their glowing circular buttons,
when investigating crimes or can-
vassing neighborhoods, in case
they need to pursue legal maneu-
vers later to obtain the video.
Ring users have shared videos
of package thieves, burglars and
vandals in the hope of naming,
shaming or apprehending the per-
petrators, but they’ve also done so
for people — possibly salespeople,
petitioners or strangers in need of
help — who knock on their doors
and leave without incident. (Other

focused companion app. “We’ve
had a lot of success in terms of
deterring crime and solving
crimes that would otherwise not
be solved as quickly.”
But legal experts and privacy
advocates have voiced alarm
about the company’s eyes-every-
where ambitions and increasingly
close r elationship w ith police, say-
ing the program could threaten
civil liberties, turn residents into
informants, and subject innocent
people, including those whom
Ring users have flagged as “suspi-
cious,” t o greater surveillance and
potential risk.
“If the police demanded every
citizen put a camera at their door
and give officers access to it, we
might all recoil,” said Andrew
Guthrie Ferguson, a law professor
and author of “The Rise of Big
Data Policing.”
By tapping into “a perceived
need for more self-surveillance
and by playing on consumer fears
about crime and security,” he add-
ed, Ring has found “a clever work-
around for the development of a
wholly new surveillance network,
without the kind of scrutiny that
would happen if it was coming
from the police or government.”


Data for a social network


Begun in 2013 as a line of Inter-
net-connected “smart doorbells,”
Ring has grown into one of the
nation’s biggest household names
in home security. The company,
based i n Santa Monica, Calif., sells
a line of alarm systems, floodlight
cameras and motion-detecting
doorbell cameras starting at $99,
as well as monthly “Ring Protect”
subscriptions that allow home-
owners to save videos o r have their
systems professionally monitored
around the clock.
Ring users are alerted when
their doorbell chimes or their
camera senses motion, and they
can view their camera’s live feed
from afar using a mobile app.
Users also have the option of shar-
ing footage to Ring’s public social
network, Neighbors, which allows
people to report local crimes, dis-
cuss suspicious events, and share
videos from their Ring cameras,
cellphones and other devices.
The Neighbors feed operates
like an endless stream of local
suspicion, combining official po-
lice reports compiled by Neigh-
bors’ “ News Te am” with what Ring
calls “ hyperlocal” posts from near-
by homeowners reporting stolen
packages, mysterious noises,
questionable visitors and missing
cats. About a third of Neighbors
posts are for “suspicious activity”
or “unknown visitors,” t he compa-
ny said. (About a quarter of posts
are crime-related; a fifth are for
lost pets.)
Users, which the company calls
“neighbors,” are anonymous on
the app, but the public video does
not obscure faces or voices from
anyone caught on camera. Partici-
pating police officers can chat di-
rectly with users on the Neighbors
feed and get alerts when a home-
owner posts a message from inside
their watched jurisdiction. The
Neighbors app also alerts users
when a new police force partners
up, saying, “Your Ring Neighbor-
hood just got a whole l ot stronger.”
To seek out Ring video that has
not been publicly shared, officers
can use a special “Neighbors Por-
tal” map interface to designate a


DOORBELL FROM A


BY TAYLOR TELFORD


The world’s largest hotel chain
is checking out of the tiny toiletry
game.
Marriott International an-
nounced Wednesday that it would
be phasing out miniature bottles
of shampoo, conditioner and bath
gel in f avor of larger, pump-topped
bottles at its 7 ,000 properties
worldwide by December 2 020.
The company estimates the move
will keep 1.7 million pounds of
plastic — or about 500 million t iny
bottles — from ending up in land-
fills e ach y ear.
“This is our second global ini-
tiative aimed at reducing single-
use plastics in just over a year,
which underscores how impor-
tant we believe it is to continuous-
ly find ways to reduce our hotels’
environmental impact. It’s a huge
priority for us,” Marriott chief ex-
ecutive Arne Sorenson said in a
statement. “Our guests are look-
ing to us to make changes that will
create a meaningful difference for
the environment while not sacri-
ficing the quality service and ex-
perience they expect from our ho-
tels.”
The shift reflects a wider reck-
oning w ith w aste within the hospi-
tality industry, where the empha-
sis on convenience and sanitation
has long meant that just about
anything a guest might need
would be single-use and plastic-
wrapped. And even if companies
don’t elect to cut back on waste,
some may soon be forced to: Cali-
fornia lawmakers are weighing a
bill that would ban hotels from
using small plastic bottles for
guests starting in 2023, and the
European Union is slated to ban a
wide array of single-use plastic
items by 2021.
The Bethesda, Md.-based com-
pany’s announcement follows
that of rival hospitality juggernaut
InterContinental Hotels Group,
which made the same move in
July, and other giants, like Hyatt,
which is testing bulk toiletries in
certain properties. Last year, the
Walt Disney Co. dispensed with
little plastic bottles on its cruise
ships a nd at i ts resorts.
Marriott, which counts
Sheraton, Ritz-Carlton and Wes-
tin among its many brands, has
been testing larger toiletry bottles
since January 2018. About 1,000 o f
Marriott’s hotels have made the
switch, and reaction from guests
has b een very positive, t he c ompa-
ny s aid.
Plastic takes more than 400
years to decompose, taking a toll
on the environment, especially
considering that about 8 .8 million
tons of plastic a re dumped into the
world’s oceans each year. And
while hundreds of millions of
pounds of plastic are produced
annually, o nly a small fraction of it
is recycled.
Marriott’s pivot away from tiny
toiletries feeds i nto the c ompany’s
larger efforts to limit its environ-
mental impact. The company
aims to reduce i ts l andfill waste by
45 percent and responsibly source
its top 10 product purchase cate-
gories, including guest amenities,
by 2025. Last year, the company
ditched plastic straws and s tirrers
— a move Sorenson believes
guests will support, despite some
inevitable kvetching.
“Human n ature is what it is and
we resist change,” Sorenson told
the Associated Press. “But people
understand that this is so much
better.”
taylor.telford@washpost.com

Marriott to


ditch small


plastic bottles


for toiletries


Doorbell


cams build


network for


surveillance


JESSICA HILL/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Ernie Field pushes the Ring doorbell at his home in Wolcott, Conn. The company says its technology and
police partnerships provide a modern-day neighborhood watch. Critics say the company is preying on fear.

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