Amazon Ring doorbells ‘unjustifiably invaded’ neighbour’s privacy, judge rules

The use of the doorbell was found to be in breach of the UK Data Protection Act and UK GDPR

Adam Smith
Friday 15 October 2021 14:02
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A person using a Ring doorbell was found to have “unjustifiably invaded” the privacy of their neighbour by using the device, a judge has ruled.

Dr Mary Fairhurst argued that the devices installed on her neighbour Jon Woodard’s house broke data laws and contributed to harassment. Woodard claimed the devices were installed in good faith to deter burglars, but the judge upheld the claims of Dr Fairhurst.

"Personal data may be captured from people who are not even aware that the device is there, or that it records and processes audio and personal data," Judge Melissa Clarke said in her judgement.

At the time, Ring doorbells collected audio data automatically with no way of disabling it – an option that was rolled out to the devices in 2020.

Judge Clarke said that she found the audio data that could capture conversations "even more problematic and detrimental than video data" and that it was a breach of the UK Data Protection Act and UK GDPR, as reported by the BBC.

Amazon said that customers must "respect their neighbours’ privacy, and comply with any applicable laws when using their Ring device” and that it had “put features in place across all our devices to ensure privacy, security and user control remain front and centre - including customisable privacy zones to block out ‘off-limit’ areas, motion zones to control the areas customers want their Ring device to detect motion, and Audio Toggle to turn audio on and off."

However, the judge said that “even if an activation zone is disabled so that the camera does not activate to film by movement in that area, activation by movement in one of the other non-disabled activation zones will cause the camera to film across the whole field of view."

The Independent has reached out to Amazon for more information about how it informed users about Ring’s potential privacy violations if used improperly.

This is not the first instance that the smart home giant has been criticised for violating others’ privacy, however. The internet-connected doorbells have been hacked in the past, and used for police surveillance in the United States.

As well as doorbells, Ring is developing a drone that flies around the home to check whether the users’ home is secure, although privacy critics have called the product Amazon’s "most chilling home surveillance product" to date.

In 2020, Amazon also had to recall a batch of the products because they were catching fire.

Ring’s “video doorbell’s battery can overheat when the incorrect screws are used for installation, posing fire and burn hazards,” according to a recall notice from the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

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