‘Fear for sale’: as the doorbell is turned into a network that monitors all across America

Once the American company Ring was a modest manufacturer of smart doorbell DoorBot. Today it is in homes throughout the U.S., and local authorities are already seriously worried about the security of personal data, because information about leaks and hacks appeared more than once. This writes the MC.today.

'Страх продается': как дверной звонок превратился в сеть, следящую за всей Америкой

Screenshot: YouTube/Ring

It is noteworthy that the main R&D office of the company, which is engaged in development, is in Kiev – it appeared in one of the first scandals.

Baltimore, beginning

Pastor Troy Randall lives in the northwestern part of Baltimore. According to him, the area was captured by the traffickers, and the police did nothing.

Preacher Terry Moore, a friend of Randall, I heard about the company Ring in the radio advertising: a company owned by Amazon, sells surveillance cameras that can be installed both outside and inside the house. Also have an app Neighbors (“Neighbours”) – it allows you to upload videos and share them with other users.

For Randall, the products of Ring was literally a gift from heaven. As President of the Association of homeowners in the area he has asked the mayor of Baltimore to install street cameras and was refused.

Once the municipality is not willing to pay for video surveillance system, residents nothing prevents to ensure safety on their own, he decided.

How to sell a security guarantee and vulnerable and scared

The mission of the company of the Ring – “to reduce crime in residential areas”. And although there is no real evidence that crimes are fewer, one application is enough to successfully trade similar products.

Actually, this helped the company deploy a network of surveillance cameras across the country. This helped her numerous discount programs and more than 600 partnership agreements with the police.

In partnership with Ring the police gets access to the portal Law Enforcement Neighborhood created by the company. This is an interactive map, through which officers can request the footage directly from the residents of the district without an order.

In return for access to the portal, the police undertakes to advertise the products Ring. You need to approve beforehand what they will say about the company.

Recently people began to speak out against such agreements: in August 2019 campaign began Fight for the Future (“fight the future”). In October, 36 groups for civil rights signed the open letter: they wanted to break all the agreements of the police with Ring, to make new laws and to investigate the activities of the company.

So, before the recording of the cameras were in the public domain, the research Department in Ukraine were tested for their developments in the field of recognition of persons, objects and voices. Now the company denies that it has similar designs.

And now the most important point: Ring bought online giant Amazon. Now Ring is not just a manufacturer of cameras. It is an important node in a network of smart devices for the home that is compatible with a virtual assistant Alexa from Amazon.

In fact, Amazon took control of the firm, which slowly built a private video surveillance system throughout the United States. Each buyer will have their own reasons, but one General answer that explains everything: Ring – a marketing company that understood that it is possible to make money by selling fear.

As written in one of the posts in the blog Ring for 2016: “Fear for sale”.

'Страх продается': как дверной звонок превратился в сеть, следящую за всей Америкой

Screenshot: YouTube/Ring

Founder Ring

Jamie Siminoff, the founder of Ring, originally did not intend to create a private network of cameras for observation. It is, above all, inventor, people, passionate about the startup culture of Silicon valley.

Its long been fascinated by the idea of great entrepreneurs. On his personal page on Tumblr, you can find inspiring quotes of bill gates, Elon musk and Steve jobs, references to the magazines WIRED and TechCrunch, a publication of the economic downturn and its impact on the IT start-UPS.

He wanted to be a legend. Wanted to change the world. Was full of ambition. And was scared of failing.

Siminoff started dreaming about the career of an entrepreneur in his youth. In a 2008 interview he told me how in high school was a sales representative and sold motoparaplane. According to him, one was worth about $13 thousand for each unit sold Jamie received $6 thousand in commissions.

Entrepreneurship of Siminoff studied small business school and Babson in the suburbs of Boston, where he received a diploma. For 10 years, he has created four companies, two of which I sold.

In 2011, Siminoff founded the company Edison Jr., which was engaged in the development of new technologies. About this he wrote on his page on Tumblr. Running a few moderately successful projects, the team of Siminoff in 2012 came up with the DoorBot product. Initially it was a doorbell with the camera to the owner of the house could see via smartphone who came.

DoorBot is not positioned as a product for home security. It was just a nice “smart” change for convenience. But Siminoff, it seems, knew from the beginning that the potential DoorBot much more than the rest of its products.

The Emergence Of DoorBot

According to Siminoff, DoorBot created in the garage. In 2012 he led a team of five people in Edison, Jr. He complained that people were constantly calling at the door than it is incredibly annoying.

“And I thought, what the hell, why no one has invented a doorbell with smartphone connection?” – explained Siminoff in an interview with Digital Trends. So there DoorBot.

Siminoff repeated this story in the corporate blogging and commercials; an exact copy of the garage even showed at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2019. It is easy to understand why.

“Garage startup” has become a cliché among the stories of the founding of the IT companies, like an integral element of the model “from rags to riches”, when a businessman-intellectual with a bright dream literally pulls itself out of poverty, earns millions and lives in a huge mansion.

The main issue DoorBot was that people found it poorly realized product. This would confirm the reviews for August 2014. Experts from MacSource said that, despite the cool idea, the video quality was terrible, and the sound that appeared, then disappeared.

At CNET (a website that publishes news, articles and reviews of engineering and technology) the product was estimated at 5.6 on a 10-point scale. On Amazon, one customer wrote: “This thing is dumber than my old stupid phone call. I would put zero if I could. Nothing worked as it should.”

Clients talked about the same problems: bad picture, bad sound, bad connection to WiFi. That is neither a function of those needed for normal operation of the product did not work as expected.

But Edison Jr. were determined to lead DoorBot to success, come what may. By January 2013, the company raised $173 893 for revision of the product. It is advertised in IT-blogs, including Mashable, the New Atlas and Digital Trends. However, very soon Edison Jr. “out of money”.

But then to the rescue came the show Shark Tank (“Shark business”).

Is a popular TV show where entrepreneurs advertise their businesses in front of investors (those same “sharks”). Siminoff managed to get on the show. The episodes with his participation were aired in November 2013.

“If not for the show, our company would not exist”, – said Siminoff. And he’s right. DoorBot would not have survived and would become a Ring if he wasn’t given a chance in the “Sharks”.

Aired on television and the first days of the Ring

“People spend billions of dollars on equipment for the house that can connect to the smartphone – say, Siminoff. – This doorbell, one of the most popular technologies that have not changed since its invention in 1880. To the present day. Introducing DoorBot, the first door video, created for smartphone. You will be able to see guests who call at your door and speak with them, even if you are not at home,” she said, Siminoff on the show.

He showed the sharks how DoorBot works.

“And now, shark join. The next time you hear this [from the speakers came the familiar doorbell rings] would be so [in the Studio heard the sound opened the cash register, and Siminoff tossed into the air a fistful of banknotes like confetti]. So, who was the first to call at my door?” – he addressed to the investors.

Four “sharks” did not want to invest. Kevin O’leary agreed, but Siminoff refused because didn’t want to give him 10 % of the shares of the company.

In the end, he left the program with empty hands, but it didn’t matter. A month after the episode aired, in December 2013, the project is DoorBot managed to raise start-up capital in the amount of $1 million, the Money given to five companies that are engaged in venture investments. In July 2014, two more companies have invested in the project $4.5 million.

In September 2014, DoorBot was restarted under a new name – Ring. DoorBot, which sold part of smart home-connected smartphone, has died. Sprung up in a Ring, a little box to guard vulnerable American homes, which was endlessly subjected to threats from the outside world.

DoorBot appearance was like a cat with a giant protruding camera. Its only difference from a toy robot was a black button with a luminous bezel traditional blue.

However, the camera Ring was simple and elegant. Flat front panel look a little resembled the iPhone. Black camera in the upper part was similar to the phone screen and the call button was located where it normally is a button in the main menu.

With a light hand of the designer of industrial products Chris Loew idiotic design DoorBot turned into Ring – a neat, streamlined and quite formidable looking product for home protection.

Barely DoorBot turned into a Ring tone commercials have changed dramatically. Many of them began with scenes of hacking. In one of the clips, the thieves broke into the house through the window in the middle of the night. They combed the room and rummaged through things.

“That’s how you should imagine a home invasion, – confidently declares Siminoff. – However, 95% of robberies actually committed in broad daylight. And so I created a video Ring”.

'Страх продается': как дверной звонок превратился в сеть, следящую за всей Америкой

Screenshot: YouTube/Ring

Brave new world Ring

In 2015, Ring agreed with Wilshire Park is a small neighborhood of Los Angeles with a population of about 500 people. The company installed free doorbells in 8% of homes. According to police reports, the number of robberies decreased dramatically.

The press were writing about this experiment only in a positive way. Information about Wilshire Park was included in the official promotional materials Ring.

“After the installation of door bells Ring Video Doorbells in 41 home of the Los Angeles neighborhood of Wilshire Park, the number of robberies declined by 55% between June and December 2015 compared to the same period in 2014”, – stated in the advertising flyer Ring.

However, it is unclear whether so it actually. There is no data or methods, which have been calculated this figure (55%), so check the statements Ring and the police Department of Los Angeles is impossible. However, according to a report by Mark Harris in a review for Massachusetts Institute of technology, the number of robberies of homes in the neighborhoods of Wilshire Park from June to December actually increased from year to year.

“Without knowing the exact place of the inspection and areas that the company took for comparison – wrote Harris – it is impossible to see how their statements correspond to the actual data”. He also noted that careful research is necessary to study the effect of a much larger number of new calls in dozens of different areas. And the time period for evaluation should be longer.

However, the company realized that in cooperation with city governments and law enforcement she will be able to reach the growing market of high-tech products and services aimed at ensuring the rule of law.

Why Amazon bought the Ring?

Amazon bought the Ring in 2018 for $839 million It was no surprise – Amazon has two years of actively investing in the operations of the company. The exact amount is unknown, but in 2016 Ring received $61,2 million in venture funding, and in 2017 – $109 million.

“Together with Amazon much faster we will accomplish our mission and connect more “Neighbors” around the world, and make our security systems more affordable for users,” said Siminoff in two press releases on behalf of the Ring, and Amazon.

The price for the products Ring has not decreased since its acquisition by Amazon. For example, call Ring the Doorbell 2 cost $194 in 2017. On Amazon it costs $199.

However, there is evidence that Amazon has purchased a Ring for two reasons: the company wanted to expand its lineup of products for smart home and protect your packages from theft – they are often stolen, you should only leave them at the door of the recipient.

Amazon, of course, openly declares the last, but the Amazon Fulfillment unit, which is responsible for the delivery and protection of products, directly collaborated with Ring and police. Together they conducted a special operation in which used the “bait” – sending allegedly from Amazon branded boxes, sealed with branded tape.

Parcels left on doorsteps of homes with video calling Ring. So did Hayward, California; Aurora, Colorado; Albuquerque, new Mexico; and Jersey city, new Jersey. The Motherboard company received the documents on these operations from the Hayward, Aurora, and Albuquerque. They say that the main purpose of these operations is to capture the thief with a dummy package on the camera Ring and arrest him. But there were less obvious goal is to force the media to talk and write about it as much as possible.

And while none of these operations led to the arrest (at least information about it), all parties involved are struggling trying to pretend like they are actively fighting crime.

Andrew Ferguson, Professor of the law College at the University of the district of Columbia, said that Amazon probably wanted to buy a Ring because last long cooperated with law enforcement. According to him, Amazon is constantly looking for new markets for its profitable products in the field of cloud computing is Amazon Web Services.

“Amazon sees the local authorities as a major purchaser of these services. Law enforcement agencies seem to be an easy way to conclude large contracts with local authorities”.

When Ring comes to town

Siminoff believed that techie, a dreamer who will not accept the word “no” can change the world. Ring really changed the world, but not as imagined by her Creator.

His invention didn’t just put a regular doorbell into a smart device. It was part of a scheme by Amazon, aimed at combating theft of parcels. Hundreds of police stations used it in their daily operations. This device has created a culture in which millions of people watch not only each other, but for themselves, and it has become the norm.

Baltimore pastor Randall said that the Ring in response to his request immediately agreed to help. Residents offered 150 free calls with cameras, which typically cost about $100 apiece. People only need to pay $3 every month for cloud storage of footage. The total amount from all houses was $5 400 per annum.

Randall and Moore asked for a grant from the city authorities, on behalf of the North West partnership of believers. In October 2018, they received $15 thousand for payment of cloud storage and the installation of cameras. But there was one catch: the police Department of Baltimore needs to sign a contract with the Ring and the North West partnership of believers before the company will give them the camera.

The Baltimore police still have not signed it. However, it was signed by more than 600 other law enforcement agencies, and this number grows almost every day.