Amazon’s ‘Ring’ Doorbells Creating A Massive Police Surveillance Network

“Police departments are piggybacking on Ring’s network to build out their surveillance networks…” reports CNET, adding that Ring “helps police avoid roadblocks for surveillance technology, whether a lack of funding or the public’s concerns about privacy.”

While residential neighborhoods aren’t usually lined with security cameras, the smart doorbell’s popularity has essentially created private surveillance networks powered by Amazon and promoted by police departments. Police departments across the country, from major cities like Houston to towns with fewer than 30,000 people, have offered free or discounted Ring doorbells to citizens, sometimes using taxpayer funds to pay for Amazon’s products.

While Ring owners are supposed to have a choice on providing police footage, in some giveaways, police require recipients to turn over footage when requested. Ring said Tuesday that it would start cracking down on those strings attached…

While more surveillance footage in neighborhoods could help police investigate crimes, the sheer number of cameras run by Amazon’s Ring business raises questions about privacy involving both law enforcement and tech giants… More than 50 local police departments across the US have partnered with Ring over the last two years, lauding how the Amazon-owned product allows them to access security footage in areas that typically don’t have cameras — on suburban doorsteps. But privacy advocates argue this partnership gives law enforcement an unprecedented amount of surveillance. “What we have here is a perfect marriage between law enforcement and one of the world’s biggest companies creating conditions for a society that few people would want to be a part of,” said Mohammad Tajsar, staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California…

Despite its benefits, the relationship between police departments and Ring raises concerns about surveillance and privacy, as Amazon is working with law enforcement to blanket communities with cameras…. “Essentially, we’re creating a culture where everybody is the nosy neighbor looking out the window with their binoculars,” said Dave Maass, a senior investigative researcher at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “It is creating this giant pool of data that allows the government to analyze our every move, whether or not a crime is being committed.” On a heat map of Bloomfield, there are hardly any spots in the New Jersey township out of sight of a Ring camera.

Tajsar says in some scenarios “they’re basically commandeering people’s homes as surveillance outposts for law enforcement,” and the articles notes that when police departments partner with Ring, “they have access to a law enforcement dashboard, where they can geofence areas and request footage filmed at specific times.”

While law enforcement “can only get footage from the app if residents choose to send it,” if the residents refuse, police can still try to obtain the footage with a subpoena to Amazon’s Ring.

How Much Do Amazon Deliveries Contribute To Global Warming?

It’s no coincidence that the number of trucks on the road has doubled since Amazon launched in 1994. That’s a huge deal for the climate, as Vox reported last year in an article on the environmental impact of online shopping: “In 2016, transportation overtook power plants as the top producer of carbon dioxide emissions in the US for the first time since 1979. Nearly a quarter of the transportation footprint comes from medium- and heavy-duty trucks. And increasingly the impact is coming in what people in the world of supply-chain logistics call ‘the last mile,’ meaning the final stretch from a distribution center to a package’s destination. (The ‘last mile’ can in truth be a dozen miles or more.)”

The good news is that e-commerce has the potential to be less carbon-intensive than brick-and-mortar retail. As Anne Goodchild, director of the University of Washington’s Supply Chain Transportation and Logistics Center, told BuzzFeed News, delivery trucks emit “between 20% and 75% less carbon dioxide per customer on average than passenger vehicles driving to [stores].” But that’s only if online stores choose the delivery times themselves. That way, they can pack trucks full of goods and optimize their routes. “When customers choose,” Goodchild noted, “the carbon savings are significantly smaller.”

Thus, Amazon could significantly cut its carbon footprint by prioritizing shipping optimization over consumer convenience…. Americans will have to begin thinking of Amazon.com and other e-commerce sites not as on-demand delivery services for every little thing, but stores that require just as much forethought as a trip to the mall did twenty years ago. And that might be too much to ask of the average consumer in the digital age. In which case, the government might have to step in.

Amazon’s biggest carbon impact comes from its AWS cloud servers, though by the end of 2018 they’d already converted 50% of that to renewable energy, according to the article. And more green efforts may be coming. “For the past eight years, Bezos has ignored requests from the nonprofit Carbon Disclosure Project, which collects the carbon footprint data of large corporations. But last month, he agreed to eventually make the company’s emissions data public. It’s expected later this year.”

The article also raises the possibility of a future with delivery drones powered by renewable energy. But it adds tht until that day comes, expecting deliveries within 48 hours “is incompatible with solving global warming.”

Amazon and Google Fight Bill That Prohibits Secretly Recording You

On Wednesday, the Illinois State Senate passed the Keep Internet Devices Safe Act, a bill that would ban manufacturers of devices that can record audio from doing so remotely without disclosing it to the customer. But after lobbying from trade associations that represent the interests of Google, Amazon — makers of the microphone-enabled Google Home and Alexa smart speakers, respectively — and Microsoft, among other companies, the interests of big tech won out… In its current, neutered form, the bill provides exclusive authority to the Attorney General to enforce the Act, which means regular citizens won’t be able to bring forward a case regarding tech giants recording them in their homes.

Ars Technica notes the move comes after Amazon admitted thousands of their employees listen to Alexa recordings — “something not mentioned in Echo’s terms of service or FAQ pages.”

Vice points out that sometimes those recordings are shared “even after users opt out of having their data used in the program.”

Americans Are Lining Up To Work For Amazon For $15 an Hour

Analysts had worried Amazon’s wage increase would cut into its profits. So far that doesn’t seem to be the case. Amazon reported $3 billion in profit for the fourth quarter.

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

Amazon error allowed Alexa user to eavesdrop on another home

A user of Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant in Germany got access to more than a thousand recordings from another user because of “a human error” by the company.

The customer had asked to listen back to recordings of his own activities made by Alexa but he was also able to access 1,700 audio files from a stranger when Amazon sent him a link, German trade publication c’t reported.

On the recordings, a man and a female companion could be overheard in his home and the magazine was able to identify and contact him through the recorded information, according to the report.

Amazon worker demands company stop selling facial recognition tech to law enforcement

An Amazon employee is seeking to put new pressure on the company to stop selling its facial recognition technology to law enforcement. An anonymous worker, whose employment at Amazon was verified by Medium, published an op-ed on that platform on Tuesday criticizing the company’s facial recognition work and urging the company to respond to an open letter delivered by a group of employees. The employee wrote that the government has used surveillance tools in a way that disproportionately hurts “communities of color, immigrants, and people exercising their First Amendment rights.”

“Ignoring these urgent concerns while deploying powerful technologies to government and law enforcement agencies is dangerous and irresponsible,” the person wrote. “That’s why we were disappointed when Teresa Carlson, vice president of the worldwide public sector of Amazon Web Services, recently said that Amazon ‘unwaveringly supports’ law enforcement, defense, and intelligence customers, even if we don’t ‘know everything they’re actually utilizing the tool for.'” The op-ed comes one day after Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos defended technology companies working with the federal government on matters of defense during Wired’s ongoing summit in San Francisco. “If big tech companies are going to turn their back on the U.S. Department of Defense, this country is going to be in trouble,” Bezos said on Monday.

India’s Biometric Database Is Creating A Perfect Surveillance State — And U.S. Tech Companies Are On Board

Big U.S. technology companies are involved in the construction of one of the most intrusive citizen surveillance programs in history. For the past nine years, India has been building the world’s biggest biometric database by collecting the fingerprints, iris scans and photos of nearly 1.3 billion people. For U.S. tech companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, the project, called Aadhaar (which means “proof” or “basis” in Hindi), could be a gold mine. The CEO of Microsoft has repeatedly praised the project, and local media have carried frequent reports on consultations between the Indian government and senior executives from companies like Apple and Google (in addition to South Korean-based Samsung) on how to make tech products Aadhaar-enabled. But when reporters of HuffPost and HuffPost India asked these companies in the past weeks to confirm they were integrating Aadhaar into their products, only one company — Google — gave a definitive response.

That’s because Aadhaar has become deeply controversial, and the subject of a major Supreme Court of India case that will decide the future of the program as early as this month. Launched nine years ago as a simple and revolutionary way to streamline access to welfare programs for India’s poor, the database has become Indians’ gateway to nearly any type of service — from food stamps to a passport or a cell phone connection. Practical errors in the system have caused millions of poor Indians to lose out on aid. And the exponential growth of the project has sparked concerns among security researchers and academics that India is the first step toward setting up a surveillance society to rival China.

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The Hidden Environmental Cost of Amazon Prime’s Free, Fast Shipping

Amazon has changed the way Americans shop. This year, the e-commerce giant said its annual Prime Day sale was “the biggest shopping event in Amazon history.” During the 36-hour event, people bought over 100 million products, crashed the website, and signed up for more Prime memberships than ever before. The behavior is indicative of the buying culture Amazon created. The company’s ease, speed, and savings — underscored by killer perks like free, expedited shipping and simple returns — has encouraged more people to shop online, more often.

But these free benefits come with a hidden environmental cost that doesn’t show up on the checkout page, experts say. Expedited shipping means your packages may not be as consolidated as they could be, leading to more cars and trucks required to deliver them, and an increase in packaging waste, which researchers have found is adding more congestion to our cities, pollutants to our air, and cardboard to our landfills.

“People are consuming more. There’s more demand created by the availability of these cheap products and cheap delivery options.”