Ring & Neighbors Public Safety Service: A Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Audit
61 Pages Posted: 24 May 2022 Last revised: 19 Sep 2022
Date Written: December 16, 2021
In 2020, Ring, one of the nation’s largest home security companies, approached the Policing Project to conduct a civil rights and civil liberties audit of Ring’s Neighbors app and its work with law enforcement, paying particular attention to Neighbors Public Safety Service (“NPSS”), a service which allows police to post local crime and safety information and to make requests for video and other information as part of an investigation.
The resulting report represents nearly two years of work to examine the potential harms of Ring’s products and services and make recommendations to mitigate those risks. Our report discusses several categories of potential harm, including the potential for overpolicing, racial disparities and bias, lack of democratic accountability, and more. In response to the risks and harms we identified, Ring implemented over one hundred changes to its products, policies, and legal practices. Among the more notable are that:
(1) Ring now displays publicly every police request for information via NPSS, known as a Request for Assistance. In addition, Ring has created public profiles for every agency on NPSS and displays the full text of these RFAs on the agencies’ profiles.
(2) Ring now is recruiting non-police government agencies onto NPSS with a specific emphasis on community safety and non-police response. At present, Ring is recruiting fire departments onto NPSS. Ring has ceased actively recruiting policing agencies to NPSS.
(3) Ring has committed not to onboard immigration and federal law enforcement agencies, because these agencies are not democratically accountable to their local communities.
(4) Ring has implemented design and moderation changes to fight bias, such as restricting the types of content that can be posted to Neighbors and creating procedures to suspend or ban users with a history of posting problematic content.
Although this audit is directed to Ring, one of our central conclusions is that it is time policymakers pay attention to and regulate the ways that policing agencies rely on commercialized private surveillance. Ring is one part of a growing, largely unregulated, market for “lateral surveillance” — private individuals surveilling one another. Police increasingly are leveraging privately-owned surveillance devices, from internet-connected cameras to automated license plate readers. Lateral surveillance may at times have security benefits, but it also has real costs, as this report endeavors to make clear. In Part III of the report, we indicate what regulation of lateral surveillance should look like.
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