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Amazon's Home Security Company Is Turning Everyone Into Cops

Saturday February 9, 2019. 12:20 AM , from Slashdot
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Neighbors is not just a social media app: it's a service that's meant to be used with Ring security cameras, a Wi-Fi-powered home security company that was acquired by Amazon last February in a $1 billion deal. Neighbors was launched in May 2018, three months after the acquisition. If you have Ring security cameras, you can upload video content straight from your security camera to Neighbors. Beyond creating a 'new neighborhood watch,' Amazon and Ring are normalizing the use of video surveillance and pitting neighbors against each other. Chris Gilliard, a professor of English at Macomb Community College who studies institutional tech policy, told Motherboard in a phone call that such a 'crime and safety' focused platforms can actively reinforces racism.

In Amazon's version of a 'new neighborhood watch,' petty crimes are policed heavily, and racism is common. Video posts on Neighbors disproportionately depict people of color, and descriptions often use racist language or make racist assumptions about the people shown. In many ways, the Neighbors/Ring ecosystem is like a virtual gated community: people can opt themselves in by downloading the Neighbors app, and with a Ring camera, users can frame neighbors as a threat. Motherboard individually reviewed more than 100 user-submitted posts in the Neighbors app between December 6 and February 5, and the majority of people reported as 'suspicious' were people of color. Motherboard placed the 'home' address at the VICE offices in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and kept the default 5-mile neighborhood radius, meaning the neighborhood encompassed all of lower Manhattan, most of Brooklyn, and parts of Queens and Hoboken. According to the Ring Community Guidelines, the Neighbors app bans 'direct threats against any individuals, bullying, harassment, and any posts that demean, defame, or discriminate,' but it relies on Neighbors users to report posts that violate that rule. The guidelines also claim that only 'crime and safety related content' is allowed. The guidelines do not define what qualifies as 'safety,' but they do encourage users to 'consider the behavior that made you suspicious and whether such suspicion is reasonable.'

When asked if Ring moderates content on Neighbors or reviews posts for racism, a company spokesperson said, 'The Neighbors app by Ring is meant to facilitate this collaboration within communities by allowing users to easily share and communicate with their neighbors and in some cases, local law enforcement, about crime and safety in real-time.'

Read more of this story at Slashdot.
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