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Ring’s Hidden Data Let Us Map Amazon’s Sprawling Home Surveillance Network

Gizmodo has acquired data over the past month connected to nearly 65,800 individual posts shared by users of the Neighbors app. The posts, which reach back 500 days from the point of collection, offer extraordinary insight into the proliferation of Ring video surveillance across American neighborhoods and raise important questions about the privacy trade-offs of a consumer-driven network of surveillance cameras controlled by one of the world’s most powerful corporations. And not just for those whose faces have been recorded. Examining the network traffic of the Neighbors app produced unexpected data, including hidden geographic coordinates that are connected to each post—latitude and longitude with up to six decimal points of precision, accurate enough to pinpoint roughly a square inch of ground.

Neighbors, which has millions of users, is advertised as a way to receive “real-time crime and safety alerts” from local law enforcement and other Neighbors users nearby. A Ring camera isn’t required to use the app. In cities where police have partnered with Ring, police officers have access to a special law enforcement portal, through which the officers can request access to Ring footage. They can choose a date, a time, and a location on a map, and Neighbors users with cameras in the vicinity are alerted. Ring says police aren’t told which specific camera owners receive the requests, ostensibly to ensure there are no repercussions for refusing to cooperate. The users’ exact locations are obfuscated, Ring says, unless they choose to impart that information to police. Nevertheless, using the hidden coordinates, Gizmodo was able to produce detailed maps depicting the locations of tens of thousands of Ring cameras across 15 U.S. cities with varying degrees of accuracy. Selected as a representative sample, the cities include Los Angeles, Houston, Seattle, Oakland, Boston, and Chicago, among others…”

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