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Ring CEO on security lapses: 'Seeing that ... made me cry'

New features include mandatory two-factor authentication for new devices and a new customer Control Center.

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A new Ring indoor camera.

James Martin/CNET
This story is part of CES 2020, our complete coverage of the showroom floor and the hottest new tech gadgets around.

Jamie Siminoff had a very personal reaction to seeing a video of a hacker slinging profanities at an 8-year-old in her Mississippi bedroom through a security camera her parents installed. Siminoff's home-security company, Ring, made that camera.

"Seeing that, that video of that girl, made me cry. And every time I think about it makes me sad," Siminoff, Ring's CEO, told me during an impassioned interview last week.

Looking to prevent a similar situation from happening again, Ring, which is owned by Amazon, on Monday revealed tighter privacy and security measures for its video doorbells, cameras and lights, including a new Control Center for users' privacy settings. These features, unveiled at the start of the CES tech show, are part of an effort to strengthen security on Ring devices and better inform its customers.


Also at CES: Ring introduces new home gate controller and lighting.


These new features come after Ring faced a barrage of criticism for security problems and its partnerships with police, which privacy advocates view as a dangerous step toward mass surveillance. Siminoff staunchly stood by those police partnerships, saying they're helping solve crimes, but added that he will continue to work to improve security measures for his products.

Amazon, Facebook and other tech giants withstood plenty of criticism for security issues in 2019. Like Ring, Amazon said it's working hard to create some of the best security features in the industry.

Sales of Ring products haven't appeared to be affected by the controversies, with strong growth for the security devices, according to both Amazon and the research firm NPD.

With the new changes, all new Ring devices -- including those being added to existing accounts -- will have to be set up using two-factor authentication, a security measure that requires both a password and a code entered from a text message. That extra layer of security would prevent hackers from accessing a security camera if they only stole your username and password, as was the case in Mississippi. There's no set date for when this change will happen.

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A Ring video doorbell.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Ring isn't requiring its millions of existing customers to switch to two-factor authentication but is instead continuing to strongly recommend they make the change on their own. Siminoff said the switch requires that users be logged out, which he said he doesn't want to do as a forced measure. Siminoff said forcing millions of people off their security systems could endanger customers and cause more harm than good, since Ring systems provide users with critical real-time information.

Ring also created a new Control Center, which is slated to come to the Ring app later this month and will help customers manage their privacy and security settings. The first major feature will be allowing customers to opt out of receiving any requests for video footage from local police.

The company has teamed up with hundreds of police departments across the country to allow its users to share videos of potential crimes. Ring said it's always allowed users to opt out of receiving video requests through an unsubscribe link or a call to customer service, but adding that option into the Control Center will make it easier for customers to turn off these requests.

Now playing: Watch this: Amazon beefs up Ring privacy with Home Mode feature
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Siminoff offered a full-throated defense of these police partnerships, saying that one such video helped save a kidnapping victim in Texas. He also rejected the notion that his company is helping build a surveillance state for police.

"If people responded to short-term controversy by immediately getting out of something they believe in and that is actually doing great things for the world, that's not the planet that I'd want to live on," he said. "I hope that humans and business people are tougher than that."

Going forward, Siminoff said the Control Center will become a new platform to give customers more privacy and account security settings.

Fight for the Future, a privacy advocacy group that's been a harsh critic of Ring, said the latest efforts weren't nearly enough to allay privacy concerns.

"The company doesn't appear to be making any meaningful changes to their product," the group said in a statement Monday. "Instead, they've basically given their app a re-design and called it a new feature."

Added to these new features, Ring said it already resets customers' passwords if their accounts are breached and blocks potentially unauthorized access to accounts. The company also flags logins from new devices to users' accounts and lets them block access. However, Vice reported last month that it found Ring's security protocols to be faulty and lacking. Ring said it also reviews stolen account credentials taken in other hacks and informs its customers if their credentials match any stolen usernames or passwords.

"We want to give full control to the customer to do exactly what they want, understand what's happening and feel in control. That's a good thing," Siminoff said in our interview. "It's something that we're going to lead on."

Originally published Jan. 6 at 6 a.m. PT.
Update, 11:38 a.m. PT: Adds statement from Fight for the Future.