Ring, the home security company acquired by Amazon in 2018, will no longer allow police departments to request private user footage through its Neighbors app.

In an announcement on Ring’s website on Jan. 24, Eric Kuhn, general manager of subscriptions and software for Neighbors, revealed that the company was sunsetting its “Request for Assistance (RFA)” tool. 

Introduced in 2021, The “Request for Assistance” feature enabled safety agencies, including fire and police departments, to solicit and obtain videos from users about crime and safety alerts in their communities. Notably, law enforcement could access user-provided footage without a warrant, as reported by The New York Times.

According to the company, the tool was created to provide greater transparency about how local agencies might use Ring to collect information.

Although Kuhn did not specify a reason for eliminating the “Request for Assistance” feature, it was prompted by concerns about its ethical implications. There have been ongoing questions regarding the company’s handling of private data and its relationship with law enforcement.

In May 2023, Amazon agreed to pay more than $30 million in a settlement to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over allegations of “privacy lapses” in its Alexa and Ring divisions, according to CNBC.

As part of the settlement, “Ring is required to delete any customer videos and data collected from an individual’s face, referred to as ‘face embeddings,’ that it obtained prior to 2018. It must also delete any work products it derived from those videos,” the outlet reported.

The removal of the “Request for Assistance” feature aligns with efforts by the company to respond to these claims.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit committed to safeguarding digital privacy, free speech, and innovation, has been a prominent critic of Ring’s practices.

According to the EFF, this intervention from the company is long overdue.

“This is a victory in a long fight, not just against blanket police surveillance, but also against a culture in which private, for-profit companies build special tools to allow law enforcement to more easily access companies’ users and their data. All of which ultimately undermine their customers’ trust,” Matthew Guariglia, a reporter, wrote via the organization’s website.

Although the decision represents some progress, the EFF cautions that the underlying concerns around privacy are pervasive and extend beyond just Ring.

“The mass existence of doorbell cameras, whether subsidized and organized into registries by cities or connected and centralized through technologies like Fusus, will continue to threaten civil liberties and exacerbate racial discrimination,” Guariglia continued.

Despite removing certain features on the app, police and fire departments can continue making public posts to share safety updates and information on community events. However, a noteworthy victory for privacy advocates is the termination of the ability to collect video footage from publicly sourced data.