Cities and local police departments asked Ring – Amazon’s home security company – to share with them the personal information of every citizen who bought a Ring surveillance camera through a tax-funded subsidy program.
Amazon is running a discount program in which cities subsidize the purchases of Ring smart doorbells with taxpayer money. Ring will match every dollar a city allocates for the discounts of these devices. For example, out of a $100 subsidy, $50 would come from tax money and $50 would be paid by Amazon. Ring also gives cities discount codes that can be used by residents to buy subsidized devices online.
Motherboard revealed that city officials from Arcadia and Rancho Palos Verdes CA had been able to obtain a database containing information about everyone who owns a Ring doorbell in the neighborhood, simply by asking.
Rancho Palos Verdes’ City Council – who had paid $100,000 in 2017 for a discount program – claims that Ring told the city that it could provide a list with a “full breakdown of every resident and address that purchased a device” as a part of the discount program.
In Arcadia, a document from its police department – which spent money on Ring’s discounts in 2017 and 2018 – reads that Ring would provide the city with and “address report” of the products purchased, in order to help Arcadia’s PD pinpoint the location of Ring’s smart doorbells and other security cameras, and “assess [their] level of community interest.”
An email exchange between the city government and a company employee shows that Ring had a detailed list of names and email addresses of people who bought a subsidized camera. According to Ring, the information was shared to help the city block people from using a discount code twice.
“We have names of all the people who purchased if you want to block these people,” said Ring’s employee. “We will match against names and emails of everyone who purchased at the event and prevent people from doubling up.”
In an emailed statement to Motherboard, Ring denied that the company has ever shared such kind of information about its customers with the city governments participating in subsidized programs. The company also pointed out that the city officials misinterpreted the communication:
“Ring does not provide, and has never provided, resident information to law enforcement or cities participating in Ring’s subsidy match program,” the company said. “The statements made by Arcadia’s representatives in presenting the subsidy program were a misrepresentation of what was contained in the agreement itself and no such information was provided to the City or Police of Arcadia at any point.”