Amazon’s home security arm, Ring, has fired employees for watching videos recorded by its customers.
In a detailed response to a letter of inquiry from five US senators, Amazon’s VP of Public Policy, Brian Huseman, admitted that Ring has received complaints about its staff accessing video recorded by smart home devices.
“Although each of the individuals involved in these incidents was authorised to view video data, the attempted access to that data exceeded what was necessary for their job functions,” Amazon said.
“In each instance, once Ring was made aware of the alleged conduct, Ring promptly investigated the incident, and after determining that the individual violated company policy, terminated the individual.
“In addition to taking swift action to investigate and take appropriate disciplinary action in each of these cases, Ring has taken multiple actions to limit such data access to a smaller number of team members.”
Bought by Amazon in 2018, Ring produces a suite of smart home and security devices.
Ring’s most notable product is the Ring Video Doorbell – an app-enabled smart doorbell equipped with an HD camera, motion sensors, and microphone for two-way communication with anyone at your door.
The US senators also queried Amazon over reports that Ring’s R&D team in Ukraine has had access to what The Intercept describes as “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”.
Huseman denied these reports.
“No employees or contractors have unrestricted access to customer’s camera data, regardless of where they are based,” he said.
“The R&D team in Ukraine can only access publicly available videos and videos available from Ring employees, contractors, and friends and family of employees or contractors with their express consent.”
Almost all the tech giants have been caught letting employees access private audio or video recordings at some point or another. Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft have regularly employed humans to conduct audits of its voice recognition software – often without customers’ consent.
I can see you
Possibly more disturbing is the ease with which people have demonstrated their ability to hack into other Ring devices – many of which monitor the inside of people’s homes.
Disturbing footage emerged last year of a young girl being spoken to through a Ring camera set up in her bedroom.
“Seeing that, that video of that girl, made me cry. And every time I think about it [it] makes me sad,” Ring founder, Jamie Siminoff, told Cnet.
That is only one of many recorded instances of hackers tormenting unsuspecting Ring users in their own homes.
Vice even documented a bizarre podcast launched by hacking forum Nulled.to that live streamed footage from breached Ring devices.
Brian Huseman, in Amazon’s response to the senators’ questions about these incidents, said that there was no breach to Ring’s systems and that the tech giant continues “to see stolen credentials and passwords (from other applications and sites) that have led to some bad actors gaining access to Ring devices.
“Our security team investigated these incidents and found no evidence of an unauthorised intrusion or compromise of Ring’s systems or network.”
At CES last week, Ring announced it was introducing a new privacy control centre to the Ring app so its users can see other connected devices. Amazon will also provide “more visibility” about how data is stored by the company.
Director of digital rights advocacy group Fight for the Future, Evan Greer, was highly critical of Amazon and Ring for putting the onus of security in its customers’ hands.
“Amazon is selling cheap, insecure, internet-connected surveillance cameras and convincing people to put them inside their homes, knowing that they put those people in danger,” Greer said.
“Despite a string of terrifying stories about Ring cameras being accessed in the most grotesque ways, the company doesn’t appear to be making any meaningful changes to their product.
“Instead, they’ve basically given their app a re-design and called it a new feature.”