How Amazon Ring used domestic violence to market doorbell cameras

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In September 2019, a similar video was shot in Arcadia, California. A woman dressed in what looked like pajamas ran into another doorbell camera. She was looking back when she knocked on the door, but her perpetrator quickly caught up. When she screamed “No!” and tried to resist, the man pulled her by the hair and dragged her to the front lawn. His sight was blocked, but he seemed to hit her repeatedly and stomped her feet. Finally, he said, “Get up, or I will kill you.”

These videos reveal traumatic moments, and experts say that individuals captured by cameras cannot control what happens in the images. In both cases, the camera belongs to a stranger, and so does the video. The homeowner is the person who agrees to Amazon’s terms of service and chooses how to share the video—whether it’s uploaded to the neighbor’s app, handed over to the police, or handed over to the media.

Angel Díaz, senior consultant for the Freedom and National Security Project at the Brennan Justice Center, said that the people in the video “have nothing to do with the company… and never agreed to cut their portraits into products” . Critics such as Diaz believe that such videos have essentially become Ring’s free marketing materials, and the company sells for fear and voyeurism.

The company countered that videos like this, while disturbing, can help protect the public. Ring spokesperson Daniels wrote in an email statement: “Ring established Neighbors to allow people to share important safety information with each other and establish contact with the public safety agencies that serve them.”

Moreover, Ring said it needs to take steps to protect the privacy of people who appear in such videos. “When sharing customer videos with the media or channels we own, our current policy is that before we share, we either get a release or blur the face of every identifiable person in the video.”

When violent incidents like this are captured by cameras and shared, on the surface, the video surveillance system and the neighboring system that monitors each other seem to be playing their due role. Video evidence can certainly help police and prosecutors. But people who support victims of domestic violence say that when these intimate moments are made public, the people involved become victims again because they lose the right to make their own decisions. Advocates say that the women in these videos may want and need help—but not necessarily from the police.

For example, in a Texas estate, the police charged the man in the video with a tertiary kidnapping felony. But the woman in the video later told local reporters that she was looking for a lawyer to try to drop the charges.

“They sell fear in exchange for people giving up privacy.”

Angel Díaz, Brennan Justice Center

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