More than 20 civil rights groups are calling on technology media outlets to rescind their endorsements of Amazon’s Ring doorbell cameras in light of a long-running series of revelations about police use of the technology to surveil neighborhoods and people of color.
In 2019, Motherboard began exposing Amazon’s extensive partnerships with police departments and how the company uses law enforcement to push its products to consumers. Since then, privacy groups and the media have documented instances of police using Ring cameras to surveil peaceful protestors, offering homeowners free Ring cameras in exchange for testimony against their neighbors, and, in at least one instance, killing a man after a Ring owner posted a video of him at her door to Amazon’s Neighbor’s app.
The Amazon-police partnership is a threat to every person’s privacy and First Amendment rights, the coalition of civil rights groups wrote in its open letter, but it is particularly dangerous for people of color, who are disproportionately the targets of police surveillance and violence.
“Putting Black lives in danger is part of Amazon Ring’s business model,” the coalition wrote. “The tech giant weaponizes racist, fear-mongering culture by using racially-coded language and dog whistles to promote Ring products and partnerships.”
The letter is addressed to editors at CNET, Consumer Reports, Digital Trends, TechRadar, Tom’s Guide, and The Wirecutter, which is owned by the New York Times. The publications have all endorsed Ring products in lists of best doorbell cameras, many of which have been published as recently as this month.
“We have been in touch with organizers of the Rescind Ring campaign. We have worked with a number of these organizations on consumer issues over the years, and we plan to meet with them soon,” Consumer Reports wrote in a statement to Motherboard.
"In January of 2020, Wirecutter updated its smart doorbell guide to remove Ring as a pick due to concerns regarding its lack of transparency about how it used user information, specifically Ring’s use of video surveillance footage via Neighbors," a New York Times Company spokesperson told Motherboard. Wirecutter still does recommend Ring products, but only those without microphones or cameras, and will "continue to monitor privacy issues with Ring and Neighbors in further updates to its guides."
“We feel confident that our coverage of Ring clearly communicates with our audiences the realities of Ring’s business practices and gives them the unbiased information they need to make well-informed decisions,” a CNET spokesperson told Motherboard in a statement. “CNET has not and will not be issuing Editors' Choice award to Ring while the company's policies around law enforcement and surveillance remain on their current course.”
The other companies mentioned in the letter did not respond to requests for comment.
The letter highlights a conflict within the technology journalism industry that has long angered privacy advocates and civil rights groups. Many publications that deliver deeply reported news stories that are often critical of products and companies also publish favorable reviews for those same companies and link directly to websites where readers can buy them.
A February 22nd review of Ring in CNET, for example, lauds the doorbell camera’s low price and new features in the first paragraph, then briefly links to the outlet’s own stories about Amazon’s problematic partnerships with police before launching back into praise of the product.
“Despite my concerns about such issues, I can't deny that Ring has broken new ground,” the author wrote.
Evan Greer, deputy director at Fight for the Future, one of the organizations behind the rescind campaign, told Motherboard that companies and writers can’t continue to review products based solely on their benefit to the owner—they must consider the broader societal effects, particularly when a piece of technology is actively putting people of color in harm’s way.
“These sites don’t review stalkerware used by abusers to track spouses,” she said. “Amazon Ring is just as harmful, arguably even more harmful, to society at large. So it’s unacceptable for them to just review it like it’s a computer or a webcam.”
This article has been updated to include statements from the New York Times and CNET.