Ring has released an official map detailing every police department that's partnered with it, showing how widely and rapidly it's been cozying up to law enforcement. The map lets you see if your local police force is one of hundreds working with Amazon-owned video doorbell company.
The Active Law Enforcement Map, released Wednesday, shows every police partnership with Ring in the US, along with details on when the departments joined. Ring released the map after extensive reporting from CNET, Motherboard and Gizmodo on its close ties to local police.
At the time of this article's publication, the map showed 405 police departments partnered with Ring, with the number possibly set to grow. When The Washington Post reported on the map four hours prior to its unveiling, the official count was 401. This is the first time Ring has disclosed how many police partnerships it has. It began courting law enforcement agencies early in 2018.
Watch this: Ring convinced police to join its network through peer pressure and freebies
Rough estimates had previously appeared as privacy advocates manually searched for Ring police partnerships over the last few months. Groups like Fight For the Future and privacy researcher Shreyas Gandlur published their own maps, using open data available online. Those searches had discovered up to 250 police departments working with Ring, significantly fewer than the number disclosed Wednesday.
Ring said the official map makes it easy for people to check whether police in their area are working with the company.
"We will keep the map updated so users can search either by ZIP code, address or visually by zooming into a region or city," Ring CEO Jamie Siminoff said in a statement.
Ring, purchased by Amazon in 2018 for $839 million, makes video doorbells that let people view what's happening on their front porch and record that footage. It launched the Neighbors app in May 2018, calling it a "digital neighborhood watch" tool, through which residents can upload clips on the social network, whether of potential thieves or animals wandering in front of the camera.
The company started partnering with local police departments last year, offering them access to a Law Enforcement Portal that lets officers post alerts and request footage from residents through Neighbors. In emails with police, Ring told officers that details about the surveillance tools offered should be kept hidden from the public. Ring's wide network of police partnerships raised concerns among privacy advocates because the doorbells gave law enforcement an impromptu surveillance network in residential neighborhoods. The partnerships also benefit Ring -- police have been promoting Ring products and encouraging residents to purchase the video doorbells. In some towns, officials have used taxpayer money to provide Ring discounts for residents. In April, the city of Hammond, Indiana, said it was making nearly $19,000 of city funds available for such discounts, with Ring matching the amount.
The map shows a cluster of police partnerships in states including Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Texas. Security researcher Gandlur said it makes sense that the official number was higher than what he and others had been able to unearth.
"New agencies have been joining the program at a steady pace, so I was initially very surprised at the low number that I could find," he said.
The map also reveals a rapid rise in how many police departments have partnered with Ring over the course of the law enforcement program. In June 2018, there were six partnerships. This August alone, 40 police departments joined Ring.
"Once you start seeing how quickly this has been ramping up, that is really alarming," said the Electronic Frontier Foundation's senior investigative researcher, Dave Maass. "It is not our imagination that this has exploded recently."
Privacy advocates said Ring's disclosure of its full number of partnerships is a positive step, but they remain concerned by the sharp rise in police partnerships.
"What this map shows is deeply worrying," said Fight for the Future Deputy Director Evan Greer. "Amazon's privately owned surveillance dragnet is expanding incredibly quickly, with zero public discussion, oversight or accountability. Local elected officials should act immediately to review existing partnerships and prevent law enforcement agencies from entering into future ones without community discussion and oversight."
Originally published Aug. 28, 10:01 a.m. PT. Update, 10:18 a.m.: Adds quotes, along with details of Ring's relationship with police.