Tech

How Amazon Ring Uses Domestic Violence To Promote Doorbell Cameras

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A similar video was filmed in Arcadia, California in September 2019. Dressed in what looks like pajamas, the woman is captured by another doorbell camera. She, too, looks over her shoulder when she knocks, but her culprit quickly catches up. When she screams “No!” and tries to resist, the man drags her by the hair onto the front lawn. The view is closed, but he appears to be hitting her several times and stepping on her. Finally, he says, “Get up or I’ll kill you.”

These videos reveal traumatic moments, and experts say the people captured on camera have no control over what happens to the images. In both cases, the camera belongs to a stranger, as does the video. A homeowner is someone who agrees to Amazon’s terms of service and chooses how to share a video – whether it’s uploaded to the Neighbors app, reported to the police, or leaked to the media.

The person on the video “has nothing to do with the company … and never agreed to have their likeness cut, turned into a product,” says Angel Diaz, an advisor for the Freedom and Homeland Security program at the Brennan Justice Center. Critics such as Diaz argue that such videos are essentially free marketing materials for Ring, which is traded on fear and voyeurism.

The company believes that videos like these, while frustrating, can help protect the public. “Ring created Neighbors to enable people to share important safety information with each other and to connect with their public safety agencies,” Daniels, a Ring spokesman, wrote in an email statement.

And according to Ring, he is taking steps to protect the privacy of people who appear in such videos. “When it comes to sharing customer videos with the media or our own channels, our current policy is that we either get a release or blur the face of every identifiable person before sharing.”

When such violent incidents are captured on camera and broadcast for all to see, it can appear on the surface that the surveillance system and the neighbors looking out for each other are working properly. Video evidence can certainly help police and prosecutors. But advocates for domestic violence victims say that when these intimate moments are made public, the people involved become victims again, losing the ability to make their own decisions. The women in these videos may have wanted and needed help, human rights activists say, but not necessarily from the police.

For example, in Manora, Texas, police charged a man in the video with third-degree kidnapping. But the woman in the video later told local reporters that she was looking for a lawyer to try to drop the charges.

“They sell fear in exchange for people who give up their privacy.”

Angel Diaz, Brennan Justice Center


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