January 24, 2021

Amazon’s Ring logs every doorbell press and app action

The Ring doorbells use both cameras and motion sensors to detect when someone approaches
Amazon keeps records of every motion detected by its Ring doorbells, as well as the exact time they are logged down to the millisecond.

The details were revealed via a data request submitted by the BBC.

It also disclosed that every interaction with Ring’s app is also stored, including the model of phone or tablet and mobile network used.

One expert said it gave Amazon the potential for even broader insight into its customers’ lives.

“What’s most interesting is not just the data itself, but all the patterns and insights that can be learned from it,” commented independent privacy expert Frederike Kaltheuner.

“Knowing when someone rings your door, how often, and for how long, can indicate when someone is at home.

“If nobody ever rang your door, that would probably say something about your social life as well.”

She added that it remained unclear how much further “anonymised” data was also being collected.

“This isn’t just about privacy, but about the power and monetary value that is attached to this data.”

Amazon says it uses the information to evaluate, manage and improve its products and services.

Motions and ‘dings’
The BBC originally made the data subject access request (DSAR) in January to tie into a wider investigation into the ways Amazon gathers and uses information about its customers.

At that point, the firm declined to elaborate on what information was collected beyond its privacy notice’s mentions of “data about your interactions”, “device characteristics” and other such inexact terms.

The records ultimately provided ran from 28 September 2019 until 3 February 2020. A Ring 2 Video Doorbell was in use over all this time, and a Ring Indoor Cam was added to the account over the final fortnight.

Over the period, there were 1,939 individual “camera events” documented.

These included:

a motion being detected by the cameras’ sensors
a “ding” of the doorbell, when its button had been pressed by a visitor
a remote “on-demand” action by the user to get a live video and audio feed and/or remotely speak to a visitor
Image caption
A sample of the “event” database, which has been edited to obscure the device IDs
In each case, the length of time the equipment was activated was also logged.

Ring says its cameras use face and body-shape analysis to help differentiate between humans and other living things in order to minimise false alarms. However, there was no indication of different types of motion being detected in the shared data.

Camera co-ordinates
The largest database provided documented every interaction with Ring’s apps.

It listed 4,906 actions over the 129-day period.

These included:

every time the app was opened
whenever the user “zoomed in” via a finger-pinch to view the footage more clearly
a variety of different-classed screen taps
details of the start and end to each live-view
In each case, the model of device used, the version of its operating system, the type of mobile data-connection involved and network supplier were all listed.

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