Ring steps back from sharing video with police — mostly

An image showing a Ring doorbell on a house
Photo by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy / The Verge

Ring will no longer let local police publicly ask people for doorbell footage through its Neighbors app. The Amazon-owned company announced it’s going to sunset its Request for Assistance tool this week, forcing police to obtain a warrant for most of its video requests.

This change might seem like a step in the right direction, but it may actually make the clip-requesting process less transparent, as police can still request clips from Ring during what they consider “emergencies.” In a statement to The Verge, Amazon spokesperson Yassi Yarger confirmed that on “rare occasions,” Ring will provide information to law enforcement “when there is an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury, such as a kidnapping or an attempted murder.”

Yarger adds that the “emergency requests are reviewed by trained professionals who disclose information only when that legal standard is met.” In other words, police can still get footage in an emergency without a warrant. Google will also show footage from Nest devices to police in emergencies, no warrant required.

Ring has faced criticism about its relationship with law enforcement for years. In 2019, a report from Motherboard revealed that Ring was working with police to help them convince device owners to hand over their security footage. The company also partnered with hundreds of law enforcement agencies, allowing them to request footage from specific users through Amazon. However, Ring adjusted its policy in 2021 to require police to publicly request clips in the Neighbors app from users living in a specific area, rather than contacting people privately.

“Now, Ring hopefully will altogether be out of the business of platforming casual and warrantless police requests for footage to its users,” Matthew Guariglia, senior policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says in a statement. “We are also still deeply skeptical about law enforcement’s and Ring’s ability to determine what is, or is not, an emergency that requires the company to hand over footage without a warrant or user consent.”

In addition to discontinuing its Request for Assistance feature, Ring is introducing other features to its Neighbors app, including a “Ring Moments” post category that’s supposed to let users share more than just clips about crime and safety. It’s also rolling out a “Best of Ring” feed, which may make the app look like a more invasive version of TikTok, as it offers a “curated selection” of Ring videos that you can scroll through. It’s still not clear how Amazon picks these videos (users can opt out), but it reminds me a little too much of that Ring Nation TV show that civil rights groups urged Amazon to cancel.