Ring May Be Considering Adding LPR, Facial Recognition to Cameras

A leaked survey shows Ring asked beta testers how interested they would be in technology such as familiar faces detection, license plate detection and more.

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Ring has quickly evolved since launching as a crowdfunded video doorbell solution back in 2013. After being acquired in 2018 by Amazon, Ring has released an expansive line of smart security products, ranging from flood lights to a DIY security system.

As technology advances and artificial intelligence becomes more common in consumer electronics, it isn’t surprising that Ring would want to further enhance its offerings.

While its video doorbells already have features such as motion detection and pre-roll technology, Ring may be looking to add more advanced features such as facial recognition and license plate recognition (LPR).

According to screenshots obtained by Ars Technica, Ring recently sent out a confidential survey to beta testers regarding their feelings for potential new features in future versions of its software.

Questions asked participants to rank the following features from what they felt were “least important” to “most important”:

  • Unfamiliar faces detection
  • Familiar faces detection
  • Package protection
  • Object detection
  • Tamper detection
  • Car pull-in detection
  • License plate detection

While these features will help the company’s products better compete with professional video surveillance offerings, the company is frequently in hot water over privacy concerns.

According to a report, Ring’s Ukraine-based R&D team had access to an unencrypted folder on Amazon’s S3 Cloud storage service that contained every video created by every Ring camera around the world.

Last winter, hackers created a dedicated tool to break into Ring security cameras. It was also revealed that the company has fired a handful of employees over the years for snooping on customer videos. Can you imagine the potential dangers if facial recognition or license plate data ended up in the wrong hands?

There has also been controversy behind Ring’s relationship with law enforcement. According to a report from last summer, Ring essentially enlists police departments as salespeople for its video doorbells.

In exchange for police departments advertising and giving away free Ring video doorbells, Ring provides police with the company’s Law Enforcement Neighborhood Portal, which allows police departments to request footage from the cameras.

Typically, police departments would need to spend money on new cameras or upgraded software to institute facial and license plate recognition. Should these capabilities be added to Ring cameras, law enforcement could instantly gain these tools in countless neighborhoods around the country.

Ring’s parent company Amazon came under fire in 2018 when it was revealed that it was selling its facial recognition technology, Amazon Rekognition, to law enforcement and government agencies around the country. It’s unclear at this point if this is the facial recognition technology Ring would utilize.

While technology innovation is a good thing, it must also be balanced with privacy and common sense. What do you security professionals think? Are you concerned about a DIY camera gaining these types of features? Sound off below in the comments.

Update 4/28/20

Ring has provided SSI the following statements in regards to topics addressed in this article.

On facial recognition and license plate detection:

Privacy is foundational for us and protecting our customers’ privacy and data security is a job we take extremely seriously. Ring does not use facial recognition technology. Like many companies, we regularly engage with our customers to better understand the types of products and features they might find useful.  Any features Ring develops will include strong privacy and data security protections

On Ring’s Ukraine-based R&D team:

Privacy is of the utmost importance to us, and we design our services and products to include strong privacy protections, including limiting who has access to Ring videos. All Ring team members, including contractors working in the Ukraine office, adhere to strict policies and systems that restrict and audit access to user information. We hold our team members to a high ethical standard and anyone in violation of our policies faces discipline, including termination and potential legal and criminal penalties. In addition, we have zero tolerance for abuse of our systems and if we find bad actors who have engaged in this behavior, we will take swift action against them. All personal information is treated with high confidentiality. We use multi-factor authentication to restrict access, service encryption, and audits of our control environment to protect it. Users can delete their stored videos at any time.

On Ring donating devices to law enforcement:

Ring phased out device donations to Neighbors police agencies in early 2019. Ring does not offer free or discounted devices to law enforcement agencies, nor do we ask that they sell or promote Ring products or programs to their residents as a condition of joining Neighbors or for any other purpose.

On the Neighbors portal:

Ring is proud to provide Neighbors as a free tool to support community-driven conversations among residents and, in some areas, from the public safety agencies who serve them. When using Neighbors, public safety agencies can only view what has been posted publicly to the app in their area or what users have decided to share with them explicitly in response to a particular request.

Public safety agencies do not have access to user cameras, live streams or personal information when using Neighbors and residents decide whether or not they wish to engage or share any content to the app. 

About the Author

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Steven A. Karantzoulidis is the Web Editor for Security Sales & Integration. He graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a degree in Communication and has a background in Film, A/V and Social Media.

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