Ring Wanted to Trade Promotional Products for Vigilante Justice
The old adage dictates that snitches get stitches. Ring, the home security company recently purchased by Amazon, was reportedly trying to change that saying to “snitches get swag.”
The incentive program, which was laid out two years ago in a company presentation, would give users the chance to earn branded merchandise in exchange for reporting suspicious activity in their neighborhoods to the police.
During the 2017 presentation titled “Digital Neighborhood Watch,” the company told users that if they set up these eponymous groups and reported “suspicious activity” to the police and posted endorsements for their Ring products, they would receive discounts for Ring products and unspecified promotional items, Motherboard reported.
This all happened before Ring was purchased by Amazon.
“This particular idea was not rolled out widely and was discontinued in 2017,” a Ring spokesperson told Motherboard. “We will continue to invent, iterate and innovate on behalf of our neighbors while aligning with our three pillars of customer privacy, security and user control.”
— Gizmodo (@Gizmodo) August 10, 2019
The problem with this program is that “suspicious activity” is a remarkably vague term, and it’s wholly subjective what qualifies as “suspicious.”
A slide in the presentation listed “a strange person loitering around homes while your neighbors are away,” “strange vans or cars driving around your neighborhood with no apparent business,” “people posing as utility workers,” or “any person walking down the street repeatedly staring into car windows.”
These all certainly qualify as suspicious, but it raised concern that it opens the door for people to become overly sensitive for the sake of receiving discounted items or promotional goods. If someone is constantly looking for something that qualifies as suspicious activity, and calling the police whenever they think they see it, it occupies the police during a time when they could be handling a legitimate crime. It all has the potential for a very "Boy Who Cried Wolf" situation.
The outline of the incentive program could be seen as directly influencing people to resort to vigilante justice, followed by providing free advertising.
Here's the full rundown, per Motherboard:
Month 1: Organize a Digital Neighborhood Watch event and post video from the event on social media. Ring claims that all attendees will receive promo codes for Ring device purchases.
Month 2: “Convert 10 new users by downloading Ring app and receive free swag for all users.” The document doesn’t specify what this swag is.
Month 3: “Solve a crime with the help of our local police officer and receive 50% off any product.”
Month 4: “Blog about Ring app in a positive way on personal Facebook and/or promote Ring devices in Neighborhood Watch Facebook page.” People who did this received unspecified free swag upon providing a screenshot of the posts to Ring.
“It is troubling because of all of the recent incidents in which police have been called on people of color who are not engaged in crime but who appeared to white residents to be ‘out of place,’” Delores Jones-Brown, a professor of criminal justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told Motherboard.
It’s also disturbing because Ring has formed partnerships with not only local police departments, but homeowners associations and community groups, all of which would gain access to surveillance footage and data.
The idea behind this isn’t sinister, or even new by any stretch of the imagination: Promote user engagement and incentivize regular usage. It becomes muddy, though, when the price for promotional items is potentially putting innocent people through the hassle of dealing with police who think they’re up to something shady, or involuntarily giving up private surveillance footage to organizations they didn’t want to give them to.
So, it's probably best that this promotional campaign didn't make it too far past the drawing board.