FTC’s Ring Settlement Shows Why Companies Don’t Respect User Privacy

Consumers who wonder why companies don't respect user privacy should look to the FTC's settlement with Ring as Exhibit A....
FTC’s Ring Settlement Shows Why Companies Don’t Respect User Privacy
Written by Staff
  • Consumers who wonder why companies don’t respect user privacy should look to the FTC’s settlement with Ring as Exhibit A.

    For those that don’t remember, Ring made a slew of privacy missteps that involved abysmal security, hacked cameras, and selling identifiable customer data to third-party companies. In some instances, strangers used hacked cameras to talk to children in customers’ homes. What’s more, there have been instances of Ring employees improperly accessing user videos.

    Predictably, the company faced legal action as a result of its negligence, with the FTC announcing a settlement. In a decision that is sure to disappoint many customers, the FTC settled with Ring for a paltry $5.8 million.

    Interestingly, the FTC lays out the scope of Ring’s negligence in a blog post, saying the company “gave its employees and hundreds of Ukraine-based third-party contractors up-close-and-personal video access into customers’ bedrooms, their kids’ bedrooms, and other highly personal spaces – including the ability to download, view, and share those videos at will.”

    The FTC outlined more of the real-world consequences:

    How serious was the invasion of consumers’ privacy? In many cases, bad actors took advantage of the camera’s two-way communication functionality to harass and threaten people whose rooms were monitored by Ring cameras, including kids and older adults. Describing their experiences as terrifying and traumatizing, customers reported numerous instances of menacing behavior emanating from voices invading the sanctity of their homes via Ring:

    • An 87-year old woman in an assisted living facility was sexually propositioned and physically threatened;
    • Several kids were the object of hackers’ racist slurs;
    • A teenager was sexually propositioned;
    • Hackers cursed at women in the privacy of their bedrooms;
    • A hacker threatened a family with physical harm if they didn’t pay a ransom in Bitcoin; and
    • A hacker told a customer they had killed the person’s mother and issued the bone-chilling warning “Tonight you die.”

    One Ring employee put it this way: “Unwittingly, we aid and abet those [hackers] who breached the data by not having any mitigations in place.”

    After outlining the scope of Ring’s misbehavior, it’s no doubt hard for many to fathom how the settlement could come in at a mere $5.8 million, a sum that is less than a drop in the buck for Ring and its parent company, Amazon.

    Until regulators get serious about protecting user privacy by making it too expensive for companies to abuse it, be ready for far more Ring-like scenarios.

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