Editor’s note: Since publishing this article Trusted Reviews received an in-depth response from Ring. We have documented the whole discussion in our article “Ring refutes excess data collection reports – but its response won’t please everyone”
Yet another privacy issue has been found on the Ring smart doorbell, this time relating to its Neighbours app.
In an investigation Gizmodo conducted in November, it scanned 65,000 posts on the app, which is used to share local security concerns and details about suspicious behaviour. The site found “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.”
The investigators managed to pinpoint the exact locations of tens of thousands of Ring products across 15 American cities. Importantly though, the only pinpointable cameras were ones owned by users who had signed up to the Neighbours app, which is optional. Any camera users who have not shared camera footage to the Neighbours app within the last 500 days can not have their locations found via the app.
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One of the most controversial elements of Ring’s range of video doorbells has been the ability to offer information to the police, or to with-hold information. According to Ring, police are not informed which camera owners receive requests when information from a certain area is sought. However, this latest investigation from Gizmodo shows that it’s not too difficult to pinpoint Ring cameras in a locality if you have access to the Neighbours app.
Ring sees the Neighbours app as being a sort of tech-assisted neighbourhood watch. Its store says: “Get real-time crime and safety alerts from your neighbors and local law enforcement. Always know when and where crime happens in your area, and share updates to keep you and your community safe. Together we can create stronger communities, just like the neighbors below.”
Obviously there are pros and cons to this pitch. Some level of privacy is going to be sacrificed in buying into a scheme like this, but Ring are hoping the security benefits will out-weigh the drawbacks. However, this new information from Gizmodo tips the scales slightly again. Giving away exactly where you live to anyone who also signs up for the app is a bit different to offering to pool more general information.
Ring didn’t deny that the it was possible to acquire the information. They simply told Gizmodo: “Only content that a Neighbours user chooses to share on the Neighbours App is publicly accessible through the Neighbours App or by your local law enforcement.”
We expect a more detailed public statement from Ring at some point and have contacted the firm for further comment.
Below you can see the network of cameras that Gizmodo found in Los Angeles via the Neighbours app.