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Ring employees may have been spying on your security cameras and doorbells

Ring Video Doorbell
Ring Video Doorbell (Image credit: Android Central)

A lot of smart home products have popped up over the last few years, one of the most popular being smart security cameras and video doorbells. Amazon-owned Ring has been one of the top players in these niches for a few years, but if you've purchased any of the company's products in the past, you may want to consider unplugging them and getting something else.

The Intercept published a report on Thursday, January 10, and in the report, it's said that Ring employees at the company's Ukraine research center have been able to view video footage from customers' cameras and doorbells with nothing more than an email address.

This all started back in 2016, with the report reading as follows:

Beginning in 2016, according to one source, Ring provided its Ukraine-based research and development team virtually unfettered access to a folder on Amazon's S3 cloud storage service that contained every video created by every Ring camera around the world. This would amount to an enormous list of highly sensitive files that could be easily browsed and viewed. Downloading and sharing these customer video files would have required little more than a click.

All of the videos were reportedly left unencrypted, which Ring's execs justified because "encryption would make the company less valuable." Furthermore, Ring employees were given data that connected video files with specific customers.

The report continues:

Only a Ring customer's email address was required to watch cameras from that person's home. Although the source said they never personally witnessed any egregious abuses, they told The Intercept "I can say for an absolute fact if I knew a reporter or competitor's email address, I could view all their cameras." The source also recounted instances of Ring engineers "teasing each other about who they brought home" after romantic dates. Although the engineers in question were aware that they were being surveilled by their co-workers in real time, the source questioned whether their companions were similarly informed.

A Ring spokesperson responded shortly after this story broke, saying:

We take the privacy and security of our customers' personal information extremely seriously. In order to improve our service, we view and annotate certain Ring video recordings. These recordings are sourced exclusively from publicly shared Ring videos from the Neighbors app (in accordance with our terms of service), and from a small fraction of Ring users who have provided their explicit written consent to allow us to access and utilize their videos for such purposes. Ring employees do not have access to livestreams from Ring products.We have strict policies in place for all our team members. We implement systems to restrict and audit access to information. We hold our team members to a high ethical standard and anyone in violation of our policies faces discipline, including termination and potential legal and criminal penalties. In addition, we have zero tolerance for abuse of our systems and if we find bad actors who have engaged in this behavior, we will take swift action against them.

So, why did Ring give its employees access to all this information in the first place?

According to The Intercept, at least part of it was a result of Ring's facial and object recognition system not being as good as the company wanted. By giving this data to employees, the goal was to improve the software to be better at accurately determining what the cameras were seeing.

A never-before-published image from an internal Ring document pulls back the veil of the company's lofty security ambitions: Behind all the computer sophistication was a team of people drawing boxes around strangers, day in and day out, as they struggled to grant some semblance of human judgment to an algorithm. (The Intercept redacted a face from the image.)

Ring supposedly began to be stricter about this practice with its Ukraine employees following a visit from Amazon in May 2018, but that "staffers in Ukraine worked around the controls."

So, what should you do if you have a Ring camera?

This is obviously a huge invasion of privacy, but it's likely something you agreed to when you purchased a Ring camera and agreed to the company's terms of service and privacy policy.

Whether or not your own a Ring product now, does this change your thought of the company as a whole? Let us know in the comments below.

Smart home tech isn't just convenient — it's added security and peace of mind to my life

Joe Maring was a Senior Editor for Android Central between 2017 and 2021. You can reach him on Twitter at @JoeMaring1.

22 Comments
  • Not surprising at all.
  • Exactly. Who would have thought!
  • What is this thing called privacy? Sounds like a foreign concept to grasp.
  • Shocking... Gratuitous extra words.
  • Andddddddd there goes my trust. Thank you next
  • I was even contemplating at purchasing one soon but after reading this FORGET IT!
  • It's the Russian's.
  • It's the Russian's what? And who is "the Russian" anyway? Ivan Drago?
  • Yes, it's his.
  • No worries though because...
    https://m.androidcentral.com/smart-home-tech-isnt-just-about-convenience.... It even uses the same picture!
  • Haum and CTOS are real
  • This is why I don't have cloud cameras in my house. Outside, is public anyway. The employees wouldn't see anything more than my neighbors.
  • All of my camera's are outdoors. This kind of activity is not surprising. The more we use these types of tech, the more "freedoms" we potentially give up to developers, hackers, etc.
  • I've been looking for security cameras but have never felt comfortable with the systems that use their cloud storage and make you pay. It's hard to find a system that allows you to store locally and monitor from away.
  • Arlo does exactly that. They're pricey but you get your cameras and your base station into which you can plug a thumb drive or an external hard drive and keep your storage local. Only reason I didn't go with them is that a starter system - base station and two cameras - is something like $400.00 or more. But I'm not having any electronic device that can watch or listen to me inside my house... I'm just getting into cameras with Blink which is cheaper and they'll be going on the outside of my house only...
  • Thx. I'll look at those.
  • Question for you Scoresone.. was considering Arlo actually as its one of the ones where monitoring away does not require complex setup for the parents. I thought that Arlo does use cloud storage? or is the cloud only for the viewing away concept? I do know that you can store localliy...
  • Arlo uses cloud storage for any clips it records. You do have the option to save locally as well to USB drive or external hard drive via the bridge though, but it's still going to upload to the cloud as well.
    Best I've found is the "best of both worlds" type by companies like night owl and Swann. You get an nvr for storage, no bnc cables to run, cameras just require an outlet to plug in to. Since it doesn't use a cloud solution it can record even if the internet goes out. Hook it up to your router or modem and you'll be able to view from a phone or tablet.
  • I only have their doorbell so not too concerned. I never walk out front with no clothes, nor does my wife. Nothing very interesting ever happens where the doorbell is unless a porch pirate comes along, and I'm totally ok with that being accessible to anyone!
  • In the report you cited, there was no known malicious use. However, the ring technology is no better than the open mics in homes this web site pushes on behalf of Google and Amazon. I'm amazed people buy Google home Assistant and Amazon Alexa products..... Oh yes, the algorithms are learning.
  • Do you own a phone? What's the difference? Are you also amazed that people buy phones?
  • Ring's research center in Ukraine and its spying employees makes me a bit uncomfortable, but mainly I'm more reluctant to get indoor cameras and smart speakers.