Ring rolled out a new feature in its Neighbors app this week that allows police departments to make public "requests for assistance" for Ring users to share video that may relate to investigations.
The new post category marks a change in how police and other public safety agencies request footage from Ring users on the Amazon-owned security company’s platform. Previously, police departments could ask users directly for their Ring footage even without using the app.
To prevent "overly broad requests," Ring requires police to include a specific case number, limit a request to a 12-hour timeframe and limit the request area to between 0.025 and 0.5 miles.
The request posts are totally opt-in, according to Ring. If a user doesn’t choose to respond to the post, nothing will be shared with the agency. If a user does want to share video in response to a request post, they can click through the post to privately share videos or contact the agency outside the app.
"Ring believes transparency and accountability are crucial to safer, better communities," an Amazon spokesperson told FOX Business via email. "Since its founding, Ring has been committed to improving its products and services by listening to and incorporating feedback from all parts of our communities. As part of this effort, Ring has been working with independent third-party experts to identify ways to provide customers with greater insight into how public safety agencies use the Neighbors App."
The change comes amid increased scrutiny into the relationship between law enforcement and Silicon Valley after reports that the Citizen app, which normally sends location-based safety alerts, mistakenly posted a $30,000 cash reward in an arson case for a person who was not the actual suspect sought by authorities.
Critics have also focused on Ring over the past few years as it partnered with an increasing number of police departments – about 1,800 in the U.S. as of last month – alleging issues like a potential invasion of privacy as well as tying their criticism to wider complaints about policing over officer-involved shooting deaths.
Response from privacy advocates and other critics was mixed after Ring announced the change.
Evan Greer, director of the tech-focused advocacy group Fight for the Future, said in a written statement that the change was "clearly in response to the widespread backlash and grassroots activism."
"Amazon Ring is a product that is inherently incompatible with basic human rights," she said. "The company has made it crystal clear that it has aspirations of building a private surveillance empire that is bone-grafted to government institutions in order to solidify its monopoly power."
Matthew Guariglia, a policy analyst at the digital civil liberties advocacy group the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote in a blog post that the Ring network "is predicated on perpetuating irrational fear of neighborhood crime," but also noted that the change could increase transparency into how police use Ring’s system.
"Now, users will be able to see every digital request a police department has made to residents for Ring footage by scrolling through a department’s public page on the app," he wrote.
Another advocacy group, the World Privacy Forum, is already planning to use the public nature of the new police requests to track them, the group’s executive director, Pam Dixon, told Fast Company.
"I’m pretty excited about that, and I can’t hide it," she told the news outlet. "It’s good to have this information."
FOX Business' Audrey Conklin contributed reporting.