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Ring Has A 'Head Of Face Recognition Tech,' Says It's Not Using Facial Recognition Tech. Yet.

Published: September 10, 2019
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Amazon has developed facial recognition tech it's inordinately proud of. Known as "Rekognition," it's not nearly as accurate as its deliberately misspelled moniker suggests it is. It drew Congressional heat last year when it misidentified a number of Congress members as criminals.

There has been no interplay between Amazon's Rekognition software and the Ring doorbell cameras its subsidiary is pushing to cops (who then push them to citizens). Yet. Maybe there will never be. But it's pretty much an inevitability that Ring cameras will, at some point, employ facial recognition tech.

There's probably no hurry at the moment. The doorbell camera company doesn't seem all that concerned about optics -- not after partnering with 400 law enforcement agencies en route to securing 97% of the doorbell camera market. When not writing press releases and social media posts for cop shops, Ring is waging a low-effort charm offensive with vapid blog posts meant to boost its reputation as a crime-fighting device while burying all the questionable aspects of its efforts -- like encouraging "sharing" of footage with law enforcement so they don't have to go through the hassle of obtaining a warrant.

Ring is toughening up a bit in the face of all this bad press. It's engaging directly with critics on Twitter to rebut points they haven't made and answer questions they didn't actually ask. It responded to the ACLU's post that theorized about Amazon's forays into surveillance tech, positing that the company's Rekognition software and Ring doorbell cameras make for a dynamic surveillance duo -- one that faces outwards from millions of private homes around the nation.

Ring says it does not use facial recognition tech in its doorbells. It has made this statement multiple times in the past couple of weeks. That's good news. But it's not the end of the story. Nicole Nguyen and Ryan Mac of BuzzFeed are countering Ring's PR push by pointing out that it's a little weird for a company that says it does not use facial recognition tech to employ someone directly tasked with exploring facial recognition opportunities. (via Boing Boing)

While Ring devices don’t currently use facial recognition technology, the company’s Ukraine arm appears to be working on it. “We develop semi-automated crime prevention and monitoring systems which are based on, but not limited to, face recognition,” reads Ring Ukraine’s website. BuzzFeed News also found a 2018 presentation from Ring Ukraine's "head of face recognition research" online and direct references to the technology on its website.

Maybe the stateside version isn't ready to mix in the tech, but its Ukraine arm seems poised to explore this option. The presentation BuzzFeed located was created by Oleksandr Obiednikov, who listed himself as Ring's "Head of Face Recognition Tech" in his presentation about "alignment-free face recognition."

Ring's US operations also indicate Ring is looking into this, even if it hasn't added the tech yet.

In November 2018, Ring filed two patent applications that describe technology with the ability to identify “suspicious people” and create a “database of suspicious persons.”

So, the company's assertions about facial recognition tech appear to be true, but only because it has added the qualifier "currently" to its statements. The pairing of doorbell cameras to unproven, often-inaccurate facial recognition tech is all but assured. Ring's denials would be a whole lot more palatable if it wasn't exploring this option elsewhere in the world.

We may only be on the outskirts of a corporation-enabled dystopia at the moment, but a future full of unblinking eyes containing biometric scanning capabilities is swiftly approaching. And this surveillance state won't be the product of the show of force by the government but the result of private companies using law enforcement to expand their user base with a series of "would you kindly?" requests.

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