The Lakeland, Florida police department is required to “encourage adoption” of Ring products as part of a secret agreement with the company.
Amazon’s home security company Ring has enlisted local police departments around the country to advertise its surveillance cameras in exchange for free Ring products and a “portal” that allows police to request footage from these cameras, a secret agreement obtained by Motherboard shows. The agreement also requires police to “keep the terms of this program confidential.”
Dozens of police departments around the country have partnered with Ring, but until now, the exact terms of these partnerships have remained unknown. A signed memorandum of understanding between Ring and the police department of Lakeland, Florida, and emails obtained via a public records request, show that Ring is using local police as a de facto advertising firm. Police are contractually required to "Engage the Lakeland community with outreach efforts on the platform to encourage adoption of the platform/app.”
In order to partner with Ring, police departments must also assign officers to Ring-specific roles that include a press coordinator, a social media manager, and a community relations coordinator.
Ring donated 15 free doorbell surveillance cameras to the Lakeland Police Department, and created a program to encourage people to download its “neighborhood watch” app, Neighbors. For every Lakeland resident that downloads Neighbors as a result of the partnership, the documents show, the Lakeland Police Department gets credit toward more free Ring cameras for residents: “Each qualifying download will count as $10 towards these free Ring cameras.” A Ring doorbell camera currently costs $130 on Amazon.
Police already have access to publicly-funded street cameras and investigative tools that help them track down almost any criminal suspect. But Ring cameras are proliferating in the private sphere, with close to zero oversight. Amazon is convincing people to self-surveil through aggressive, fear-based marketing, aided by de facto police endorsements and free Ring camera giveaways. Consumers are opting into surveillance. And police are more than eager to capitalize on this wealth of surveillance data.
The result of Ring-police partnerships is a self-perpetuating surveillance network: More people download Neighbors, more people get Ring, surveillance footage proliferates, and police can request whatever they want.