On his Reality Blurred site, Andy Dehnart writes about Ring, the doorbell-video device that first got national attention on Shark Tank. Despite not getting a deal on the show, founder Jamie Siminoff later sold the company to Amazon for hundreds of millions of dollars. Since then, Siminoff has returned to Shark Tank — not to make a pitch, but as a potential investor, alongside Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner, etc.
We don’t have a Ring installed on our door because we get very little foot traffic in our neighborhood. Even before the pandemic, if our doorbell rang, I knew it was probably the UPS guy dropping off a package, an uninvited interloper trying to sell something, or our handyman ready to work on some minor fix-it jobs I can’t do. That’s the extent of our front-step visitors, and I saw no need to have constant video surveillance of what is essentially just open space.
But, as Andy points out, Ring promotes itself as more than just a “who’s there?” device, and that’s where things go bad:
Ring has a feature called Neighbors, which is both part of its main app and also available separately, and is advertised with a photo of a happy white family on a page that says, “When communities work together, safer neighborhoods become a reality. Connect with your neighbors and stay up-to-date with what’s going on in your neighborhood.”
That sounds really nice—although if you’ve ever looked at NextDoor, you know that connecting with your neighbors on an app usually means wading into a toxic cesspool that will make you terrified of the insane and paranoid people who live nearby. (Best of NextDoor collects some of the more comical posts, though they are often quite disturbing.)
Ring’s Neighbors allows people to share video that their doorbell recorded, and report “suspicious activity.”
You can probably guess how well that goes, with people turning themselves into investigators and doing things like calling the police because they saw someone drive down their street.
Someone on Reddit said, “People in my neighborhood are posting Ring videos of neighbors walking dogs at their curb (poop wars) and kids innocently overstepping the boundaries of their front lawns. They rant, rave, and threaten to track down the offender to ‘teach’ them how to be good neighbors.”
Is that how “communities work together”? How many people have reported me when their cameras alert them that I am walking down the sidewalk at night? I am white, and walking while white is not as much of a “suspicious activity” as walking while black.
While the anecdotes are disturbing, there’s data, too. Vice analyzed two months worth of Neighbors reports and found “posts on Neighbors disproportionately depict people of color, and descriptions often use racist language or make racist assumptions about the people shown.”
If I had ever thought of installing Ring at our house, this would be a deal-killer.