Amazon's Ring doorbell used to spy on customers, says FTC

The federal agency has levied nearly $31 million in fines for privacy violations.
Ameya Paleja
Amazon took over Ring in 2018 but failed to improve privacy concerns
Amazon took over Ring in 2018 but failed to improve privacy concerns


The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the U.S. has revealed in a court filing that a former employee at Amazon used the Ring doorbell to spy on female customers for several months in 2017. The company has been fined $5.8 million over privacy violations in this case, The Guardian reported.

Amazon acquired Ring in 2018 but has found itself deep in controversy over alleged malpractices in the company. A report from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group, based in San Francisco revealed in 2020 that the Ring's Android app shared user data such as names, IP addresses, and information about mobile network carriers with third-party trackers. Information from sensors such as magnetometers, gyroscopes, and accelerometers was also shared with these trackers without informing customers.

Misuse of videos from Ring

Ring offers smart doorbells and home security cameras to users who can then use the devices' cameras to interact with their visitors even if they are not at home. The devices are also part of many class action lawsuits after the cameras were hacked and used to harass users instead.

Amazon's Ring doorbell used to spy on customers, says FTC
Ring offers video doorbells and home security cameras

In 2017, an employee was also able to access videos made by at least 81 female customers as well as other Ring employees using the products. This went undetected for months before a colleague reported the misconduct.

In its complaint filed within Washington state, the FTC said that Ring provided its employees' unrestricted access to customers' sensitive video data and a "lax attitude towards privacy" meant that even third-party contractors could view, download and transfer data for their own purposes.

After acquiring Ring in 2018, Amazon vowed to bring changes but was also responsible for sharing the content with the U.S. police on 11 occasions without permission from users, a report revealed last year.

Apart from Ring products, the FTC complaint has held Amazon liable for the violation of privacy rules and for deceiving users who used Alexa. The company told users that it would delete voice transcripts and location information upon request but failed to do so.

In a separate filing in Seattle court, the company has agreed to a $25 million settlement for these violations, bringing its tally to $30.8 million. The settlement hopes to hold Big Tech companies accountable for their actions but the settlement fees are a small portion of the billions Amazon has made in the last quarter alone.

As part of the settlement, Ring has agreed to disclose to its customers how much of their data is held by the company and its contractors. Amazon too has a history of keeping track of user data, even through simple actions like reading a book on its Kindle.

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board