Amazon's Ring has announced 29 new partnerships with police departments since the killing of George Floyd on May 25, public records show, drawing accusations of hypocrisy from activists who say Amazon's work on behalf of law enforcement is antithetical to its stated support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Activists and researchers offered muted praise for Amazon this week after the company announced it won't sell its controversial facial recognition technology to police departments for one year, responding to mounting pressure on tech companies to cut certain ties with law enforcement amid a nationwide reckoning over police brutality and racial inequality. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said he is "happy to lose" customers that do not support Black Lives Matter.
But Amazon is facing fresh scrutiny over its rapidly expanding work with police forces through Ring, the Amazon-owned home doorbell and surveillance company, which has worked for years to brand itself as a friend to law enforcement. Civil rights activists say Ring, and its accompanying social network Neighbors, enables the disproportionate surveillance and targeting of Black people. It also allows police to access vast amounts of video footage as long as Ring users give them permission.
According to data published through Ring's "active agency" map, Ring has entered into partnerships with police departments and sheriff's offices in at least 20 states over the past several weeks — including the Crystal Police Department, located several miles away from the spot where Floyd was killed in Minneapolis.
The company also announced a contract with the Las Cruces Police Department in New Mexico, where a police officer is facing charges of involuntary manslaughter after placing a man named Antonio Valenzuela in a neck restraint during a February arrest.
Ring officials did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment. In a letter to Congress last year, Amazon's top lobbyist, Brian Huseman, said Ring's aim is to help people "protect their homes and communities."
"We're seeing a sea change right now in what's possible when it comes to policing and racial justice," said Maurice Weeks, co-executive director of the Action Center on Race and the Economy, which advocates for racial justice and Wall Street accountability. "Amazon, on the other hand, is just taking baby steps."
Ring, which maintains partnerships with more than 1,300 police departments, encourages its users to share "concerning" video footage captured through their doorbells with police departments and through the Neighbors app. Ring has often offered its doorbell surveillance systems free to police departments, encouraging them to disseminate the technology through their local communities. Reports have found many of the incidents that users report as "suspicious" involve people of color, and civil liberties experts have raised alarms about
"A lot of the places where Ring has contracts … are gentrifying areas, places where white folks are coming in, and then they don't feel comfortable because there's people of color," said Brandon Forester, an organizer with digital rights advocacy organization MediaJustice.
Groups including MediaJustice and Athena, an anti-Amazon coalition, say the company should cut ties with law enforcement in order to support the Black Lives Matter movement with action. Meanwhile, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy group, is circulating a petition calling on Amazon Ring to end its partnerships with the police, raising the possibility that Ring cameras could be used to surveil protests across the country.
"In light of Amazon's recent statement condemning police violence, we demand that you follow through on your sentiments and end Ring's troubling and dangerous partnerships with law enforcement," the petition reads. "These partnerships put community members and the general public at risk of racial profiling, overpolicing, and the potential for violence."
Ring so far has not made any public statements responding to the Black Lives Matter protests or to the escalating criticism around its technology.