Ring found hiding coordinates in Neighbors posts that pinpoint its cameras

Ring Spotlight
Ring Spotlight (Image credit: Android Central)

What you need to know

  • Gizmodo found coordinate data hidden in posts from Ring cameras to Ring's Neighbors service.
  • Tens of thousands of cameras were mapped using available data.
  • The scope of Ring's potential surveillance network becomes more apparent.

After coming out strong against Ring Video Doorbells a week ago, tech site Gizmodo has published results of an investigation of more than 65,000 posts to Ring's Neighbors app. Ring allegedly hides GPS coordinates within each camera post that is sensitive to within inches of location precision. Using this data, Gizmodo was able to map approximately 20,000 discreet Ring cameras in several cities. According to the site, the number of cameras found was limited only by the fact they felt they'd made their point — being that Ring cameras are ubiquitous and the data is not difficult to mine. Gizmodo would not share a methodology for uncovering the GPS coordinate data, but said it was possible for any "technical user" to find.

Using this data, the site was able to construct multiple noteworthy hypotheticals. On a walk from a public school to a nearby field, students are seen by no less than 13 private cameras. While those camera owners can opt into the Neighbors app to share photos, anyone walking down the street becomes a participant in the plan without agreeing to the Terms of Service.

Working backward from Ring data, investigators can find a user's address, the location of the camera, and even use available nearby data to determine patterns such as when they leave for work and come home again. Electronic Frontier Foundation researcher Matthew Guariglia is especially worried about the traffic patterns discernible in front of "sensitive buildings," such as clinics that offer abortion services or legal offices that help immigrants.

The language on Ring's own site about what is shared is somewhat misleading, and users may believe they are sharing with a more limited circle, not the wider public. Gizmodo found language that stated "if you share an alert ... your neighbors will also get a notification," but in fact, the extensive data shared goes far beyond the neighbors within your radius, as the app implies.

Philip Berne