Amazon’s Ring has a bad reputation with cybersecurity experts and the public alike, thanks to the company’s ability to consistently one-up itself with each new scandal. Ring’s connections to law enforcement across the United States have been a particular source of anxiety. Even though cops can no longer request Ring footage from the public, we’re still very much in the process of unraveling the web of Ring-related police connections.
This week’s revelation is a doozy: Ring gave officers at the Los Angeles Police Department free Ring cameras in return for spreading the word about just how great the devices are. Influencer marketing at its best.
The Los Angeles Times reports that at least 100 LAPD officers were given one or more free devices or discount codes, encouraging them to recommend the products to others. In at least 15 of those cases, officers ended up promoting Ring products to other officers or to the public.
In its early days, Ring posited its cameras as a useful crime-reduction solution. As of late, the company’s decided instead to distance itself from law enforcement. Turns out it isn’t exactly a great look for a camera company to be playing into government-sponsored surveillance.
Somehow the LAPD says no rules were broken — The influencer economy is built upon a rickety structure, just barely balancing consumer ethics with capitalism. When it comes to government officials, the lines are meant to be hard and fast — as the LA Times points out, LAPD rules restrict the acceptance of gifts, as this could be seen as an attempt to influence an officer’s actions.
Somehow the LAPD doesn’t seem to think accepting free Ring devices went against this seemingly cut-and-dry rule. An agency spokesperson said that, after a preliminary review of emails sent by officers about the Ring program, no rules had been broken.
“Of course, each situation is looked at on a case by case basis,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “If there is something brought to the department’s attention which appears to be misconduct, it will be referred to Professional Standards Bureau for investigation.”
ACAB — Surveillance technology is problematic enough on its own, so often does it disproportionately affect people of color and other minorities. This issue was given particular attention in the media last summer after the murder of George Floyd. In response, many big tech companies called for police reform, especially in relation to how law enforcement uses technology.
The LAPD’s use of free Ring cameras in exchange for influencer power is just further evidence that Ring — which is owned by Amazon — is absolutely willing to skirt around ethical issues for profits’ sake. The lack of transparency around the program from the LAPD (none of the officers involved responded to requests for comment from the LA Times, either) makes it clear the LAPD was well aware of this fact.
Ring’s copfluencer program is over, now, the company confirmed as much. We wouldn’t count on it being the last sketchy police program we see from Ring, though, even if the company has publicly pivoted away from law enforcement more recently.
Following the publication of this article, a Ring spokesperson reached out to Input with the following statement:
The practices and programs in question do not reflect Ring today. We stopped donating to law enforcement and encouraging police to promote our products years ago. As Ring has grown, our practices have evolved, and we are always looking for ways to better serve our customers and their communities.
Updated 6.25.21 to include Ring’s statement.