Ring's 'AI' reportedly involved people in Ukraine watching customer videos
Oh, great.
Oh, great.
Image: amazon

You’re finally ready to build a smart home and purchase a Ring security camera. But maybe slow your roll, because according to a new report, at least in the past, it may not have been that smart or secure. 

So reports The Intercept, which notes that in 2016 Ring allowed a Ukrainian team of engineers "virtually unfettered access" to all Ring customers' unencrypted video streams. And yes, that means the streams both outside, and inside, their homes. 

This access was reportedly granted because the AI needed help distinguishing between things like cars and people. 

And so, to help train the AI, The Intercept reports that Ring Labs hired "Data Operators" to watch and tag objects in customer video feeds. A similar job posting, below, is still live as of the time of this writing. 

"We are looking for a Data Operator who will be responsible for labeling the objects on the videos," reads the listing. "You must be able to recognize and tag all moving objects in the video correctly with high accuracy."

Fancy some work?

Image: screenshot / ring

We reached out to Ring with a host of questions regarding claims that the Ukraine team practically had unlimited access to all Ring customer videos in an unencrypted format, and that some customers' videos are still being shown to workers for purposes of AI training, but received no response as of press time. 

This wouldn't, however, be the first time a company used human workers to accomplish what a customer might reasonably assume to be an automated task. In late 2017, it was revealed that expense management software company Expensify had been employing so-called mechanical turks to label and tag some submitted customer receipts. 

For example, say you submitted a ride-share receipt to your job for reimbursement via Expensify and selected the "SmartScan" option. This feature would input all the receipt details for you, but unbeknownst to you, what often happened was your receipt — and if it was an Uber of Lyft receipt, this likely included your name as well as your pickup and drop-off location — was shown to a person on the Mechanical Turk jobs platform. In other words, a real human paid minute amounts of money saw that receipt. 

The Mechanical Turk platform is owned by Amazon. Amazon purchased Ring in 2018. 

And what does Ring have to say about all of this? While we didn't hear back from the company, a Ring spokesperson told The Intercept that the videos currently being reviewed by humans are "sourced exclusively from publicly shared Ring videos from the Neighbors app (in accordance with our terms of service), and from a small fraction of Ring users who have provided their explicit written consent to allow us to access and utilize their videos for such purposes." 

So, if you already own a Ring, maybe it's time you go on a deep dive into your settings to determine exactly what you've allowed the company to see. 

UPDATE: Jan. 15, 2019, 9:07 a.m. PST: A Ring spokesperson provided the following statement:

We take the privacy and security of our customers’ personal information extremely seriously. In order to improve our service, we view and annotate certain Ring video recordings. These recordings are sourced exclusively from publicly shared Ring videos from the Neighbors app (in accordance with our terms of service), and from a small fraction of Ring users who have provided their explicit written consent to allow us to access and utilize their videos for such purposes. Ring employees do not have access to livestreams from Ring products.

We have strict policies in place for all our team members. We implement systems to restrict and audit access to information. We hold our team members to a high ethical standard and anyone in violation of our policies faces discipline, including termination and potential legal and criminal penalties. In addition, we have zero tolerance for abuse of our systems and if we find bad actors who have engaged in this behavior, we will take swift action against them.

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