Ring, a home security camera company owned by Amazon, said that it would stop letting police departments request users’ footage in its app amid longstanding concerns from privacy advocates about the company’s relationship with law enforcement.
Eric Kuhn, the general manager of subscriptions and software for the Ring app Neighbors, announced on Wednesday that the company was shutting down a feature that allowed the police to request and receive videos from users of the app, a social platform similar to Nextdoor and Citizen where people can share alerts about crime near their home.
Mr. Kuhn did not say why Ring was eliminating the app feature, which allowed the police to ask the public for help with active investigations under a special category of posts called “Request for Assistance.”
People could respond to the posts by sending the police videos that may be relevant to an investigation without the police needing to seek a warrant.
The “Request for Assistance” feature was introduced in June 2021 to provide users with more information about how local law enforcement was using Ring to collect information.
People could also opt out of receiving those types of posts on the app. Before, the police were able to send private email requests for footage to Ring users in an area of interest, not just people who used the Neighbors app.
Police and fire departments will still be able to make public posts on Neighbors to share safety tips, updates and community events, Mr. Kuhn said. People do not need a Ring device to use the app.
Privacy supporters have criticized Ring for its partnerships with the police and said that easy-to-install home security cameras exacerbate racial discrimination.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group, celebrated the change at Ring in a statement but said that the mass proliferation of doorbell cameras still threatened people’s rights.
“This is a victory in a long fight, not just against blanket police surveillance, but also against a culture in which private, for-profit companies build special tools to allow law enforcement to more easily access companies’ users and their data — all of which ultimately undermine their customers’ trust,” the statement said.
On the Ring website, the company said that law enforcement agencies cannot use the Neighbors app to access or control people’s Ring cameras or to view recordings that have not been posted to the app.
The website includes a map of fire departments and police departments that use the app. These agencies have used Neighbors to provide updates on road closures and police activity, as well as to share safety tips, such as reminders to lock car doors at night, and information about upcoming events, such as virtual town halls.
Amazon acquired Ring in 2018. In a letter made public by Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts in 2022, Amazon said that more than 2,100 law enforcement agencies participated in the Neighbors app.
In the letter, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, Brian Huseman, also said that Amazon had shared Ring footage with law enforcement 11 times in 2022 using a process that does not require the user’s consent.
“In each instance, Ring made a good-faith determination that there was an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to a person requiring disclosure of information without delay,” Mr. Huseman said.
Last year, Amazon agreed to pay $5.8 million after the Federal Trade Commission said that Ring had allowed its employees and contractors to access private videos and had failed to implement security measures to protect customers from online threats, such as hackers breaching the cameras. Ring disputed those claims in a May 2023 statement announcing the settlement.