Jan 7, 2020

Amazon executives defend Ring over security, privacy concerns

Ina Fried, author of Login

Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Andrej Sokolow/picture alliance via Getty Images, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, and Amazon

The executives in charge of Amazon's Ring doorbells insist their products are making the world better and safer, largely dismissing concerns they are helping lay the foundation for a police surveillance state.

Why it matters: Civil rights groups and others have criticized the company for both its security practices and its close ties with law enforcement.

Background: Ring, which makes internet-connected doorbells and other connected "smart home" devices, has been criticized for both the security of its products and its Neighbors app, which allows first responders to request footage from camera owners.

What they're saying: "I don't think any of the concerns I saw were reasonable," Ring CEO Jamie Siminoff told Axios in an interview at CES. "What we are doing is a good, beneficial thing."

  • Siminoff said the company has helped reunite kidnapped children with their families, recover lost pets and get guns off the street.
  • Amazon senior vice president Dave Limp also pointed to improvements the company has made to its software, including the ability for customers to decline all requests for footage from law enforcement, and a move last year that allows customers to choose which portions of their camera's view they want access to.

Yes, but: All that puts the onus on customers and law enforcement to use the technology appropriately.

Critics rejected the notion that Ring's products are making the world safer.

  • "Ring's business model is fundamentally incompatible with democracy and basic human rights." Fight for the Future's Evan Greer told Axios. "A world full of cheap, insecure, privately owned surveillance devices is not a safer world for the majority of people on this planet."

Between the lines: While customers have control of what is or isn't recorded and shared, they aren't the ones in the footage.

  • "Ring giving their users more privacy features doesn't help the person who lives across from a Ring owner whose camera is looking in their window, or the children in the playground across the street from a Ring doorbell," Greer said.

The bottom line: These controversies don't appear to be having an impact on Ring sales.

  • "Ring had a great holiday," Limp said, adding it was a record for not only Ring's smart doorbells, but also its companion lighting products.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Trump hits back at Mattis: "I gave him a new life"

President Trump speaks at the White House. Photo: Doug Mills - Pool/Getty Images

President Trump unloaded on his former defense secretary via Twitter on Wednesday, hours after James Mattis condemned him for making a "mockery of our Constitution" in his response to mass protests in the wake of George Floyd's killing.

What he's saying: "Probably the only thing Barack Obama & I have in common is that we both had the honor of firing Jim Mattis, the world’s most overrated General. I asked for his letter of resignation, & felt great about it. His nickname was 'Chaos', which I didn’t like, & changed it to 'Mad Dog'"

Obama praises young protesters, urges mayors to pursue police reforms

Former President Barack Obama called on all mayors to review their use-of-force policies and commit to policing reform in a virtual town hall Wednesday hosted by the Obama Foundation's My Brothers Keepers Alliance.

Why it matters: Obama has addressed the killing of George Floyd and the nationwide protests that followed on social media and in a Medium post, but this was his first time speaking about the past week's events on camera. His voice will add weight to the growing pressure on local, state and federal officials to pursue policing reforms.

James Mattis condemns Trump as a threat to the Constitution

Mattis on Fox in Septemnber 2019 in New York City. Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis condemned President Trump for making a "mockery of our Constitution" in a statement to The Atlantic on Wednesday, saying he was "appalled" at the president's response to mass protests in the wake of George Floyd's killing.

Why it matters: Trump’s former defense secretary had refrained from publicly criticizing his former boss since resigning in 2018.