Amazon Ring Surveillance Cameras Are Spying On You, They Want Private Watchlists; Mobile Providers Cease Selling Location Data To Third Party Apps
By Aaron Kesel
It’s not enough that Amazon is on record working with the FBI with its Facial Rekogntion biometric software … no, Amazon is also spying on its customers of its recently purchased home surveillance cameras called “Ring,” The Intercept reported.
For those unfamiliar with Amazon “Ring,” they are miniature cameras that can be placed anywhere on your property from outside your house to your garage to inside your home. Amazon acquired the “Ring” camera company in 2018, as Activist Post previously reported.
When Activist Post first reported on this shocking technology we were under the impression it was just algorithms tagging objects and people. We were so wrong; this statement by the ACLU is even more on-point now.
Amazon is dreaming of a dangerous future, with its technology at the center of a massive decentralized surveillance network, running real-time facial recognition on members of the public using cameras installed in people’s doorbells. – Jacob Snow, ACLU
While the details are sketchy, the application describes a system that the police can use to match the faces of people walking by a doorbell camera with a photo database of persons they deem “suspicious.” Likewise, homeowners can also add photos of “suspicious” people into the system and then the doorbell’s facial recognition program will scan anyone passing their home. In either case, if a match occurs, the person’s face can be automatically sent to law enforcement, and the police could arrive in minutes.
According to the report by The Intercept, there have been more than just algorithms watching through the lens of Amazon’s Ring surveillance cameras.
Several sources told The Intercept that numerous Ukrainian “data operators” under Ring Labs and U.S. engineers were given access to customer videos on the Amazon cloud, allowing anyone with access to view anyone with Ring cameras’ personal videos due to lack of any sort of encryption.
That’s not the only shocking detail according to The Intercept. The only thing required to stream and watch live videos of someone’s home or inside someone’s home was just a mere email address.
“Beginning in 2016, according to one source, Ring provided its Ukraine-based research and development team virtually unfettered access to a folder on Amazon’s S3 cloud storage service that contained every video created by every Ring camera around the world,” The Intercept wrote.
These employees at Ring Labs were there to supplement the lack of accuracy on the company’s facial recognition cameras using tagging in the video.
The Intercept’s Sam Biddle further reports:
Neighbors, the company’s disarming name for its distributed residential surveillance platform, is now a marquee feature for Ring’s cameras, billed as a “proactive” neighborhood watch. This real-time crime-fighting requires more than raw video — it requires the ability to make sense, quickly and at a vast scale, of what’s actually happening in these household video streams. Is that a dog or your husband? Is that a burglar or a tree? Ring’s software has for years struggled with these fundamentals of object recognition. According to the most recent Information report, “Users routinely complained to customer support about receiving alerts when nothing noteworthy was happening at their front door; instead, the system seemed to be detecting a car driving by on the street or a leaf falling from a tree in the front yard.”
A second source told The Intercept that a “video annotation team watches footage not only from the popular outdoor and doorbell camera models but from household interiors.”
This is all incredibly worrying for privacy rights advocates, as our data is being sold and retained for an undetermined period of time, as well as viewed by more and more third-party companies. The worst part is if you used this product, only god knows what video footage they have.
Amazon isn’t the only one facing backlash for privacy invasion. Mobile phone provider AT&T is also in hot water for selling user location data to third parties. Of course, we know from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden that AT&T and the NSA were partners and the company helped the agency install surveillance equipment in at least 17 of its U.S. internet hubs. AT&T also started in 2011 to provide the NSA with more than 1.1 billion domestic cellphone calling records daily after “a push to get this flow operational prior to the 10th anniversary of 9/11.” Further, the telecom giant, like other service providers that were involved in the NSA leak, did not try to protect its customers’ privacy or make efforts to restrict the NSA’s reach of customer data.
Just last year, to further illustrate AT&T’s relationship with the NSA, The Intercept reported that the agency used AT&T facilities across the country as part of a mass surveillance program to wiretap. So no one should be surprised about AT&T selling user location data, as creepy as that sounds. Now, AT&T has been caught red-handed and is facing a federal investigation by lawmakers into the alleged misuse of data, which came to light when Motherboard revealed a complex chain of unauthorized information sharing, Philly.com reported.
AT&T is far from the only company involved in the location aggregation work; and, according to the report, the company officially suspended selling its user location data last year after a congressional probe found that some of Verizon’s location data was being misused by prison officials to spy on innocent Americans.
Motherboard reported that major U.S. wireless carriers T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint have been selling customer location data in an unregulated market in which Americans’ personal information travels through third-party entities that buy the location data but are not authorized to handle the information.
Meanwhile, on Amazon’s front, the company’s reputation and relationship with law enforcement isn’t even a secret; Jeff Bezos, the founder of both Amazon and owner of The Washington Post, also has a deal with the CIA for a $600 million contract for cloud computing developed by its subsidiary Amazon Web Services.
Amazon blatantly wants homeowners to create their “own” private database of suspicious people, effectively creating private watchlist networks.
“The application describes creating a database of suspicious persons. Unwanted visitors would be added to the list when a homeowner tags them as not authorized. Other people could be added to the database because they are a convicted felon or registered sex offender, according to the application. Residents may also alert neighbors of a suspicious person’s presence,” CNN reported.
Ring’s relationship with law enforcement is so close that they created a webpage devoted to giving discounts to neighborhoods that work with them. (To learn more about law enforcement’s close relationship with Ring click here & here.)
This is all further evidence that Amazon, once known for online shopping, is now a key company aiding the police state and helping shape the future of surveillance with biometrics. If that’s not enough — as Activist Post has previously reported, Amazon is also taking a nose dive straight into retail with Amazon Go, which will utilize cashierless stations and likely biometric security cameras for anti-theft purposes … exactly like what is being planned by hundreds to thousands of other retailers.
Amazon’s fifth transparency report last year revealed that the company provided more customer data to U.S. law enforcement in the first half of last year than in its history with a shocking 1,936 different requests between January and June 2017, ZDNet reported.
Amazon didn’t state why there was a spike in U.S. government requests during the first half of the year, but for a company that openly has a partnership with the CIA for $600 million worth of cloud servers, all of this information should be quite troubling.
Earlier last year, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California tested Amazon’s Facial Rekognition software and the program erroneously and hilariously identified 28 members of Congress as people who have been arrested for crimes.
According to Jake Snow, an ACLU attorney, the ACLU downloaded 25,000 mugshots from a “public source.”
The ACLU then ran the official photos of all 535 members of Congress through Rekognition, asking it to match them up with any of the mugshots—and it ended up mismatching 28 members to mug shots.
Out of those 28, the ACLU’s test flagged six members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia.)
Facial recognition historically has resulted in more false positives for African-Americans.
The test came just two months after the Congressional Black Caucus wrote to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos expressing concern over the “profound negative consequences” of the use of such technology.
The ACLU is rightfully concerned that faulty facial recognition scans, particularly against citizens of color, would result in a possible fatal interaction with law enforcement. Amazon’s Rekognition has already been used by a handful of law enforcement agencies nationwide.
Because of these substantive errors, Snow said the ACLU as a whole is again calling on Congress to “enact a moratorium on law enforcement’s use of facial recognition.”
Activist Post has previously reported on another test of facial recognition technology in Britain which resulted in 35 false matches and 1 erroneous arrest. So the technology is demonstrated to be far from foolproof.
Numerous civil rights organizations have also co-signed a letter demanding Amazon stop assisting government surveillance; and several members of Congress have expressed concerns about the partnerships.
Amazon responded by essentially shrugging off the employees’ and shareholder concerns by the head of the company’s public sector cloud computing business, stating the team is “unwaveringly” committed to the U.S. government.
“We are unwaveringly in support of our law enforcement, defense and intelligence community,” Teresa Carlson, vice president of the worldwide public sector for Amazon Web Services, said July 20th at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, FedScoop reported.
Last year Amazon released an update to its controversial Amazon Rekogntion software which “improves the ability to detect more faces, increases the accuracy of facial matches and decreases the potential for false matches.”
The update is available for all AWS Regions previously leaked by WikiLeaks supported by Amazon Rekognition – U.S. East (N. Virginia), US East (Ohio), U.S. West (Oregon), AWS GovCloud (U.S.), EU West (Ireland), Asia Pacific (Tokyo), Asia Pacific (Mumbai), Asia Pacific (Seoul), and Asia Pacific (Sydney) according to the update. Amazon wrote in a press release written on its blog.
It’s worth noting with Amazon purchasing “Ring” the Facial Recokgnition software will be the biometrics program built into the hardware going forward.
A recent national survey of 3,151 U.S. adults in December, found only one in four Americans believe the federal government should strictly limit the use of facial recognition biometrics technology.
The survey also indicates Americans are more likely to support a trade-off to their own privacy caused by biometric technology if it benefits law enforcement, reduces shoplifting or speeds up airport security lines.
Only 18 percent of those polled stated they agreed with strict limitations on facial recognition tech if it comes at the expense of public safety, compared to 55 percent who disagreed with such limitations.
However, a poll from the Brookings Institution in September 2018 contradicts that and found half of Americans favored limitations of the use of facial recognition by law enforcement, while 42 percent felt it invaded personal privacy rights.
Aaron Kesel writes for Activist Post. Support us at Patreon. Follow us on Minds, Steemit, SoMee, BitChute, Facebook and Twitter. Ready for solutions? Subscribe to our premium newsletter Counter Markets.
Image credit: Pixabay (modified)