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Is your smart-home doorbell a danger to your privacy?

While the peace of mind might be nice, what are we willing to pay for it?

Americans rely on digital technology on a daily basis these days, but what are we doing to ensure that our privacy is still well protected?

Whether its something like FaceApp – the popular facial morphing application that caused alarm among privacy advocates this week – or the widespread use of digital currency, the realm in which the internet lies isn’t quite the safest place in 2019.  Cyber crime is increasing in complexity at an alarming rate, and the average citizen has no way of dispelling the digital ne’er-do-wells these days.

As it turns out, even the devices that we turn to for security themselves could be trouble when it comes to keeping our private lives private.

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With police precincts around the country increasingly partnering with smart doorbell company Ring, concerns over the widespread use of the camera-laden devices is coming home to roost.

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Many law enforcement agencies nationwide said the idea to partner with Ring came after the company promoted its product at law enforcement conferences.

Some departments have chosen to simply use Ring’s Neighbors app, which encourages residents to share videos of suspicious activity. Other agencies agreed to provide subsidies, matched by Ring, to offer hundreds of discounted cameras in hopes of tapping into footage of residential streets, yards and sidewalks. And some police chiefs raffle off the devices.

Ring would not disclose the number of communities with such partnerships. Sharing video is always voluntary and privacy is protected, according to the company and police.

“There is nothing required of homeowners who participate in the subsidies, and their identity and data remain private,” spokeswoman Brigid Gorham said. She said customers can control who views their footage, and no personally identifiable information is shared with police without a user’s consent.

There are concerns, however,

Tech industry analyst Carolina Milanesi said engaging with police and offering incentives is a “very smart move by Ring” and a missed opportunity for competitors, including Google’s Nest and smaller companies such as Arlo Technologies and SimpliSafe.

But a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California called the system “an unmitigated disaster” for the privacy of many neighborhoods.

Through the subsidy programs, Amazon “gets to offer, at taxpayer dime, discounted products that allow it to really expand its tentacles into wide areas of private life way more than it already has,” Mohammad Tajsar said.

Others worry that Ring’s marketing team is using fear as a motivating factor, given that the sort of crimes halted or solved by these devices have actually been decreasing over recent years.

 

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