The problem is, Ring's procedures with law enforcement agencies will still raise some red flags for privacy-minded customers.
Editor's note, March 25, 2021: Ring has been called out for its partnership with local police departments in the US, leading privacy advocates to express concern about the data Ring shares with law enforcement and how they use that information. In December 2019, thousands of Ring users' personal information was exposed, leading us to stop recommending Ring products. Ring has since updated its security policies, from offering customers a Control Center dashboard allowing people to more easily access privacy and security settings to requiring two-factor authentication.
We have resumed recommending Ring's products with this caveat: If you have concerns about Ring's privacy policies, make sure to familiarize yourself with its privacy statement. You can read more about how we factor Ring's privacy policies into our recommendations here. CNET has not and will not be issuing Editors' Choice awards to Ring while the company's policies around law enforcement and surveillance remain on their current course.
Ring's new $60 Video Doorbell Wired may well be the best value in a video doorbell on the market. It's a better deal than the second-gen Video Doorbell released last year and other high-quality devices from competitors, and it includes almost all the same monitoring smarts, clear image quality and a simple installation process that most people will be able to figure out in under half an hour.
While Ring has significantly improved its security over the past year, however, questions about privacy linger: Just this week, police in LA were discovered to have been asking customers through the Ring app for footage of demonstrations without indicating specific crimes they were investigating -- raising serious questions about the company's past aggressive courtship and ever-expanding relationship with police forces across the country.
Despite my concerns about such issues, I can't deny that Ring has broken new ground. This is a great video doorbell under $100, something few companies have tried and none until now have accomplished. (It'll be £49 in the UK and AU$119 in Australia when it goes on sale later this year.)
The Ring Video Doorbell Wired is the result of years of honed hardware and sharpened software -- from its 1080p resolution and solid night vision, to its motion alerts and easy-to-use two-way talk. Compared to other devices on the market, this new doorbell clearly offers the best value around.
Held up next to last year's $100 Ring doorbell, the two devices look similar. The two biggest changes are that Video Doorbell Wired is exclusively wired (it can't be battery-powered) and it doesn't support dual-band Wi-Fi. In addition, it doesn't have a near zone for motion detection, though this won't feel like a significant loss for most people.
Even excellent competitors (including our current favorite, the Arlo Video Doorbell) boast similar features at significantly higher prices. Arlo's device costs $150 -- not terrible, but not terribly affordable either. The cheaper Ring doorbell doesn't have a field of vision that's quite as wide as Arlo's, so many packages will be left below the camera's line of sight. And its motion alerts aren't quite as customizable -- Ring doesn't distinguish between pets and cars, for instance. Even so, this accessible doorbell cam will do what most people want it to.
Read more: The best video doorbells for 2021
Testing out the Ring Video Doorbell Wired was the first time I'd ever installed a doorbell. Sure, I've used each of the major devices, but in those cases one of my colleagues did the hard work of actually getting the things up and running.
I was delighted to discover that installing doorbells isn't that hard after all -- at least, not when you have an app that walks you through the process, step by step. I was testing out my new Ring less than 30 minutes after unboxing it, and I was showing my parents how to check the front door feed and use the two-way audio soon afterward.
In short, installing the Wired doorbell is a breeze -- inasmuch as fiddling with circuit breakers and wires can be a breeze. My one question is, since the $60 price tag may appeal just as much to renters who don't have access or aren't allowed to alter their wiring, has Ring missed a bit of an opportunity to release a battery-powered alternative alongside this device?
That thought has more to do with the quality of the video doorbell than anything else: At $60, it's hard to imagine these things won't fly off the shelves.
Alas, while Ring is breaking new ground on its price, the $3 monthly fee -- which is fairly standard in the industry now -- is the same as ever.
A subscription-based Ring Protect Plan isn't required, by any means, but without the basic plan ($3 a month or $30 a year), you won't get the best features of the device and app: 60-day video storage, video saving and sharing, snapshot capture, People Only Mode (which only notifies you if a person approaches the door, as opposed to, say, a truck passing in the distance) and push notifications that use snapshots.
If you have a Ring Alarm device, you can also opt for a more expensive subscription service called Ring Protect Plus, which offers 24/7 professional monitoring among a few other minor perks -- all for the price of $10 a month or $100 a year.
Most people, it seems, will use the Basic Protect Plan, and what you get for the price is solid. It's neither exciting nor disappointing.
Late in 2019, CNET temporarily placed a moratorium on recommending select Ring devices as security snafus piled atop privacy scandals -- but the security developer has made significant and laudable strides in the year since, to the point that we feel comfortable that your video feed will remain under your control under the company's current policies.
Multifactor authentication, which is by no means an industry norm yet, is now mandatory on Ring products, diminishing their vulnerability to certain types of hacks. A new security Control Center handed more transparency and control to people who are concerned about their privacy and security settings in the Ring app. Most recently, Ring began to roll out end-to-end video encryption (though the Video Doorbell Wired does not support it at this time).
All of these improvements seem to mark a tide change in the company's approach to security, and it's made recommending Ring's products easier.
While Ring has dramatically improved its device and app security, the company's approach to privacy has been less commendable. Ring has continued to foster relationships with police forces across the country, and it's waffled on how transparent it's been about the nature and scale of those relationships. (Up-to-date information remains on the Ring website, though it's not particularly easy to find.)
What's wrong with working with the authorities? If police get a warrant, they can likely get footage from any security company, after all, not just Ring.
You might reasonably worry about police overreach in a world where privacy seems to be at risk of dissolving at any moment, but the problem with Ring is more particular than that: Ring actively facilitates the connection between police investigators and users for requests that may or may not be ethical or even constitutional. Typically, individual investigators or investigative teams require warrants to access private footage from security cameras, and warrants, crucially, require that a specific crime is being investigated.
If their police department is partnered with Ring, by contrast, investigators do not need to satisfy these requirements. They'll have to provide a case number and incident details, but those don't necessarily correlate with specific criminal investigations, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation report on last year's LAPD requests demonstrates. And since people are opted into the Neighborhood program by default, recipients of police requests may not fully understand their right to refuse them -- or the significance of accepting such requests -- despite Ring adding some clarifying information in the body of request emails.
This issue is complicated. During a phone conversation I had with Yassi Shahmiri, Ring's director of communications, she described some of the measures delimiting how law enforcement investigators can use the footage request forms. Beyond requiring a case number, Ring uses geographical restrictions to limit requests from police to users in close proximity to the crimes being investigated. In addition, police can only request a 12-hour window of footage.
Given such guardrails are already in place, and recent improvements to the Neighbors feature in the Ring app, how much more responsibility for curbing potential abuses by police forces should Ring shoulder?
If Ring's partnerships with police weren't part of the equation, maybe the company's current privacy measures would be sufficient. But certain abuses by police -- such as requesting footage of demonstrations without a clear crime to investigate -- are made significantly easier through their relationships with Ring.
In a follow-up email, Shahmiri said, "Ring's policy expressly prohibits Video Requests for lawful activities... This LAPD Video Request meets our guidelines, as it includes a case number and specifically states that the public safety enforcement user is requesting video to only identify individuals responsible for theft, property damage, and physical injury."
But this situation only serves to highlight the problem: if a police department requests footage of lawful activity, but can state as its intent the identification of perpetrators of a wide range of criminal behavior, there are clear loopholes in Ring's Video Request guidelines. In short, a case number and statement of crimes suspected doesn't seem to be sufficient.
Ring actively pursued (and continues to service) its relationships with police forces that seem to be using those services for questionable purposes and with questionable outcomes. Shahmiri says Ring has not been proactively seeking partnerships with police forces since the beginning of 2020, but that doesn't change the fact that the company has gained hundreds of such partners in the past 12 months.
Ring's recent partnerships may simply be a result of inertia, but they have real, present-day repercussions, enabling police overreach in a way few could have imagined 10 or 15 years ago.
While Ring has seriously improved its security in the past year, its inability to fully address the critical issues of privacy has left me feeling uneasy endorsing its products too enthusiastically -- even when the devices themselves are excellent, as is the case with the Ring Video Doorbell Wired.
The Ring Video Doorbell Wired is a great product -- a fantastic value for the $60 price tag. The Ring app is also a pleasure to use, and the Ring Protect Basic Plan is comparable to competitive subscription services. Ring's security has also dramatically improved over the past year or so.
Despite how much I like this Ring Doorbell, I can't give it an Editors' Choice award while the company's policies around law enforcement and surveillance remain on their current course. Perhaps it's more the responsibility of the governing bodies of the United States to enact policy that delimits how police can access and use footage gained from companies like Ring. But until such policy is put in place, Ring could and should be doing more to enact a responsible stop-gap, at the very least requiring its users to opt into receiving police requests (as opposed to being opted in by default) and requiring police to give more specific information about the customer's right to refuse.
The new doorbell is impressive for its price. I sincerely hope the company takes on privacy in 2021 as aggressively as it did security in 2020.