Amazon’s patents could turn whole neighborhoods into ‘surveilled space’ — Analysis
Amazon has registered 17 new patents for biometric technology intended to help its doorbell cameras identify “suspicious” people by scent, skin texture, fingerprints, eyes, voice, and gait.
Amazon purchased Ring in 2018 and began developing the doorbell camera system. According to media reports, Jeff Bezos’ company is now preparing to enable the devices to identify “suspicious” people with the help of biometric technology, based on skin texture, gait, finger, voice, retina, iris, and even odor.
On top of that, if Amazon’s new patents are anything to go by, all Ring doorbell cameras in a given neighborhood would be interconnected, sharing data with each other and creating a composite image of “suspicious” individuals.
One of the patents for what is described in the media as a “Alert mode for the neighborhood” would allow users in one household to send photos and videos of someone they deem ‘suspicious’ to their neighbors’ Ring cameras so that they, too, start recording and can assemble a “series of ‘storyboard’ images for activity taking place across the fields of view of multiple cameras.”
Aside from the possible future interconnectivity among the Ring devices themselves, Amazon’s doorbell cameras, as it stands now, already exchange information with 1,963 police and 383 fire departments across the US, according to Business Insider. Ring footage can be accessed by authorities without a warrant.
The news has got some privacy experts worried, with Hannah Hart from ProPrivacy telling the Guardian that, if implemented, the new technologies would let anyone with a Ring doorbell “You can turn your neighbourhood into an surveillance zone with its audio processing capabilities and video recording capability. These processors are capable of picking up sounds 40ft away.”
The tech company has been in trouble before for its surveillance technology. Last year, in a letter to Amazon’s management, software engineer Max Eliaser lashed out at the company’s surveillance network, describing it as “Not compatible with a libertarian society.”
Following media reports of possible biometrics-powered technology in Ring doorbells, Amazon tried to allay concerns, assuring Business Insider that “Ring doesn’t have biometrics or facial recognition technology in its products and services. The patents that have been granted and filed do not always reflect the products or services currently in development.”
Even though the doorbell cameras are legal, some owners have had to deal with their problems. For instance, earlier this year, a court in the UK ruled that the doorbell camera installed by a plumber from Oxfordshire had “Unjustifiably invading” his neighbor’s privacy, capturing videos and audio-recordings of her. The judge branded the “The range at which these devices are capable of recording audio” as not “Reasonable for the intended purpose of the device.” The defendant is now facing a hefty fine as a result, while Amazon advised all Ring doorbell users to “respect their neighbors’ privacy and comply with any applicable laws when using their Ring product.”