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Senator Ed Markey asks Amazon if doorbell cameras are listening to our conversations

Ring cameras can capture audio up to 25 feet away, according to a new study

Graig Graziosi
Tuesday 21 June 2022 17:27 BST
Related video: Senate fails to act over controversial surveillance laws

Don't move, your doorbell camera might hear you.

That dystopian sentence is the crux of Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey's latest gripe with Amazon. According to a recent letter of concern he forwarded, Mr Markey wants to know if Amazon's surveillance doorbell camera, Ring, is secretly listening in on our conversations.

The letter was prompted by a recent study conducted by Consumer Reports that found that once a Ring's motion detectors had been triggered, it could record conversation-level audio from up to 25 feet away.

That not only means that anyone within 25 feet of the doorbell — bikers, delivery drivers, pedestrians — could unknowingly have their conversations recorded by some random person's house, but that Amazon could be listening in on the homeowners or their neighbors.

If a family was having a conversation with a window open, or close to the door when its motion sensor activated, it could end up recording their conversations.

More troubling are individuals living in apartment buildings who use Ring cameras. In those cases, the cameras microphones are essentially aimed at their neighbors' doors.

"Since Ring has well over 10 million device users, it appears likely that Ring products record millions of Americans’ activity without their knowledge every day. This surveillance system threatens the public in ways that go far beyond abstract privacy invasion: individuals may use Ring devices’ audio recordings to facilitate blackmail, stalking, and other damaging practices," Mr Markey wrote in his letter. "As Ring products capture significant amounts of audio on private and public property adjacent to dwellings with Ring doorbells—including recordings of conversations that people reasonably expect to be private— the public’s right to assemble, move, and converse without being tracked is at risk."

The crux of Mr Markey's concerns is that law enforcement agencies will treat the doorbells as essentially a network of eyes from which they can spy on the public. He asked Amazon to never incorporate voice recognition software into the cameras and for the company to disclose how many private police agencies have access to its Ring software.

The senator went further, demanding that Amazon refuse to take financial contributions from police, refuse to donate to the police, and to permanently ban immigration enforcement agencies — like ICE — from requesting access to the camera footage.

It's not the first time the doorbell cameras have faced scrutiny. Last year, a UK judge ruled that Ring cameras' audio recording capabilities violated the Data Protection Act after a neighbor used several cameras to monitor a communal parking lot.

Ring sits solidly at the top of the US market for doorbell cameras, no doubt in part due to its Amazon branding.

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