Ring: "We don't use facial recognition"; also Ring: "We have a head of facial recognition research"

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/09/03/oleksandr-obiednikov.html


We don’t use facial recognition … we’re just researching it … expect us to use it soon.


I want one for my tie clip, then I’ll know / remember everybody that talks to me, I’m so excited…

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Yeah, I could use that as well.

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@doctorow: Is Ring using facial recognition technology?

Ring Spokesperson:



Well, technically, if they haven’t yet rolled out their facial recognition system, saying they aren’t using it [yet] is accurate.

It’s like when they felt it necessary to specify that Dairy Queen doesn’t use human flesh in their hamburgers. You have to understand that comment to mean that they’re leaving the door open to the possibility they might start tomorrow.


Am I missing something? Aren’t these selling points for a home surveillance system? My neighborhood has fairly regular occurrences of petty crime; why would I not want the Cops to see my video feed? If the facial recognition can tell people that are ok being on porch from those who aren’t why wouldn’t I want it?

You may want it just for your home surveillance, but this is Amazon, who does things at Internet scale. Your cameras will become part of the Amazon global panopticon. One day, when you’re walking down the street in a different city, a Ring camera will note “StrawBoss at time X, position Y.” Amazon will then provide that information to the police on a nudge-nudge wink-wink basis, third-parties on a cash-money basis, and will ultimately use it themselves for their own for-profit reasons.


Amazon lacks what you might call good faith or credibility in how it merges its facial recognition, it attempts to discern emotions or intent from facial recog, and it’s seeming desire to share that information with law enforcement. Basically think what happened to Nextdoor.com and imagine that powered by machine learning.

One of the central plot enablers of the UK TV series Spooks was that all the CCTV cameras in the UK were linked centrally and immediately accessible to the security services. It seems Amazon is making this a reality, but worldwide. Nothing to worry about, surely.

You might want the cops to see your feed and the ability to have people automatically recognize, but these things can prove troublesome at scale. Consider, as an example, an anti-police violence protest campaign who holds a meeting at a private home to plan next steps. They might not be as eager to have their entire movement histories handed over to the cops because a neighbor consented or Amazon handed over a neighbor’s footage. Or consider a naturalized Haitian immigrant. They may no longer keep proof of citizenship on hand if it has been a long time, but some trace of an accent may linger.If ICE queries the database it can easily wrongly flag that citizen (facial recognition has high failure rates with non-white subjects) and you can easily trigger a pretty Kafkaesque nightmare when someone is unprepared to argue against a database they may not even know exists.

Facial recognition paired with large scale public surveillance is one of those things that develops massive problems when it scales because all of those low probability corner cases become huge issues. This is especially true when the product is changing after sale or when the company misleads about the nature of those features.

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Oh, oh! I’ll take “Official” Internet Blacklists for 1000, Alex!

And, let’s not fail to mention that facial rec has been shown to fail a good part of the time.


but what they never said is that if a customer turns down a police request, Amazon instructs the cops to make an “official request” to the company and then they grant warrantless access to the footage.

Following the links to find the source of this claim, you reach an article with an update that reads, After this article was published, a spokesperson for Ring clarified that video evidence is only turned over to the authorities after being served with a “valid and binding legal demand.”

A couple months ago, a postal inspector – federal law enforcement if we are going all FUDdy duddy – came to my door investigating a missing or stolen package. He said it had been delivered to my house by mistake. He was skeptical when I denied it, and finally I pulled up the Ring footage from that date and time. There was the video of the mail carrier walking up to my door, with no package.

I got my Ring before Amazon bought the company, before my local PD partnered with them. I’ve been in community meetings where they’ve encouraged people to use the creepy Ring Neighbors app. They’ve never pushed people to buy the doorbell. And they’ve always been clear that they have a relationship. It’s not a secret. Those 400 cities, not all of them have a Secret Relationship with Amazon.

Oh, do they not offer a Beyond Meat™ burger yet?

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