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Jeff Bezos’ Ring doorbell company registered 17 new patents to use biometric technology to identify and report ‘suspicious’ people – here’s what we know so far

At this point, it’s not shocking to hear that tech billionaires have pioneered the next dystopian surveillance product. Just last week, Tesla’s Elon Musk announced that his microchips will be ready for human brain implantation in 2022, and in October, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed his ploy to expand into the digital metaverse, where users can exist virtually in an interactive environment.

In case that wasn’t enough, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos’ has announced his own nightmarish endeavour: a doorbell which can identify you by your scent, skin texture, fingerprints, eyes, voice, walk, and more.

While Amazon acquired the doorbell camera company Ring in 2018 – which originally functioned as a standard doorbell and security camera – it has recently registered 17 new patents for the service. Based on the patents, the service may soon be able to identify “suspicious” people by recognising numerous details about them using biometric-recognition softwares – which is mentioned in all but one of the filings.

Otherwise, the patents depict a system where every Ring product in a neighbourhood is synced together, so that they can work together to create composite images of “suspicious” people and can lock all neighbourhood doors if one is spotted.

One patent in particular mentions a “neighbourhood alert system”, where users can send photos and videos to other neighbours when something annoying or nerve wracking occurs – prompting surrounding doorbell cameras to start recording. From this, the app will piece together “a series of ‘storyboard’ images for activity taking place across the fields of view of multiple cameras”.

A different feature, registered in 2019, suggests the systems will use facial recognition to track patterns of “suspicious activity”, although Amazon has denied any usage of the technology. “Ring does not have facial recognition technology nor biometrics in any of its devices or services,” a company spokesperson said in a statement. “Patents filed or granted do not necessarily reflect products and services that are in development.”

In 2020, however, Amazon software engineer Max Eliaser wrote a letter to his management. This product is “simply not compatible with a free society”, he said – referring to the omnipresent surveillance network which the products have built.

Earlier this year, the company urged users to “respect their neighbours’ privacy, and comply with any applicable laws when using their Ring device”, after a British court ruled that one user breached data laws.

According to Business Insider, Ring is currently partnered with 1,963 police departments and 383 fire departments across the US. Further, authorities are able to request Ring footage from users without requiring a warrant – meaning any added biometric features could easily be used to gather information about customers and people out in public.

Otherwise, some activists and scholars have shared concerns of racial and gendered biases affecting the technology’s usage. Speaking to The Guardian, Rahim Kurwa, a professor of criminology, law and justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago, argued that “neighbourhood surveillance platforms… perpetuate a much longer history of the policing of race in residential space.”

While Amazon is yet to announce when these patents will commence, digital privacy expert at ProPrivacy Hannah Hart explains that they still could have negative implications on society. “The fact remains that anyone with a Ring Doorbell can turn their area of the neighbourhood into a surveilled space due to its video recording functionality and audio processors, which are able to pick up sound 40ft away,” she told The Guardian.

“This means a small number of residents can effectively transform public spaces into surveillance hotbeds, and even share their recordings with police.”

See Amazon Ring’s mock-up storyboard images below.

Source: Amazon’s dystopian surveillance cameras can identify you by skin and scent | Dazed

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