Amazon’s surveillance cameras can identify you by Skin and Scent

A little too close for comfort.

words by: Sahar Khraibani
Feb 3, 2022

Ring is a company that sells internet-connected doorbells with built-in cameras. Although Amazon does not offer face recognition, it has just been given 17 patents for doorbell camera technologies that use the phrase “facial recognition.” And according to certain examinations, all but one of these filings mention a variety of additional biometric-recognition technology.


The patents depict a world in which all Ring cameras in a neighborhood collaborate to create composite images of “suspicious” people. All doors on a house lock if those suspicious people appear on camera, and property owners receive alerts when someone other than them moves a package left on the doorstep.


Patents do not always get realized, but a sequence of similar filings might reveal a company’s goals and ambition. As early as 2016, Ring had a research and development unit in Ukraine that was researching facial recognition, and its computer-vision research has continued under Amazon. Amazon stated it would cease selling facial recognition software to cops in 2020, but that doesn’t apply to consumer products.


Ring has positioned itself as a watchful eye that keeps an eye on neighborhoods. The startup offers Neighbors, an app that allows customers to share security camera footage with their neighbors. Theft of packages is frequently seen in these recordings. Users may sometimes submit video recordings of people and label them as “suspect.”


Ring has worked with 1,963 police departments and 383 fire departments, sharing footage with them on a regular basis. If Amazon added biometric capabilities to Ring cameras, even if it was merely facial or voice recognition, it would have unprecedented access to identifying information about not only its own customers, but also others in public. At least one of Amazon’s recent patents discusses employing this new technology for “criminal prosecution” in the future.


One of Ring’s patent, which was issued on October 26, 2021, proposes a “Neighborhood Warning Mode” that allows individuals to send an app alert to their neighbors in which they share a photo or video of someone they find suspicious. Even if the visitor doesn’t come up to the front door, the alarm causes other Ring doorbell cameras to start recording.


According to the patent, biometric identification can be used to identify someone who is either a “suspect” or “allowed to do particular acts” on the property. It gives instances of facial recognition, palm, finger, retina, iris, skin texture, typing, stride, voice, and even “odor identification.”


Another patent, issued in late 2019, addresses the use of facial recognition to determine whether a pattern of “suspicious conduct” is being generated by a person, such as a serial burglar. Images of persons with guns, one aimed at the viewer, are included in the file to demonstrate this. A person with a rifle near homes is depicted in a drawing from an Amazon patent file.


While this added layer of security could make some feel safe, we can’t help but speculate on the intentions behind this technology and whether they are ultimately benign.


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Photo via The Sun