Gadgets for humans

Amazon wants to deliver crime news and fear to Ring doorbell owners

Amazon is in the process of a curious hire – a Managing Editor, News – to help bring “breaking crime news alerts” to owners of Ring’s home security gadgets.

It’s odd because it’s arguably the first time a security firm has required someone to fill this position within its ranks. But as Nieman Lab director Joshua Benton infers, there’s probably something more insidious at play.


Ring's Neighbors app brings you alerts about suscpicious characters in your area
Ring’s Neighbors app brings you alerts about suspicious characters in your area

While the Amazon-owned company hasn’t explained exactly how this layer of news will fit into its services, it’s likely that Ring will surface local crime alerts in its Neighbors mobile app, which is already available and allows people to post updates about suspicious activity around them.

The trouble with a security company getting into the crime news business is that it could exacerbate the problem of people growing fearful and paranoid about threats in their area.

To illustrate that, Benton points to charts that show how crime has dropped significantly across the US over the past quarter century, as well as how few people in the country believe that to be true. The numbers tell us that local media continues to to follow the classic “if it bleeds, it leads” ploy to build and retain its audience – even when crime isn’t as big a problem as people think. For more on this, the BBC has a great podcast episode about how fear works in the human mind on its show, The Inquiry.

It’s all too obvious that if Ring can convince people their neighborhoods aren’t safe, they’ll buy more of the company’s products and stick to its ecosystem of services. As Benton explains:

Is it possible that real journalists can make the product better and less paranoid? Sure, it’s possible. But the reality is that “breaking crime news alerts” are not something the vast majority of people need — especially if “two Greenpeace volunteers stood on my porch for 30 seconds” is the bar we’re talking about. It’s not actionable intelligence — it’s puffing a little more air into an atmosphere of fear.

Ultimately, one can only hope that Ring plays this carefully and cautiously, so as to serve its customers better, and not frighten them into staying indoors and watching feeds from their front door cameras.

Find Benton’s article, and more data that illustrates why this is a bad idea, over at Nieman Lab.

TNW Conference 2019 is coming! Check out our glorious new location, inspiring line-up of speakers and activities, and how to be a part of this annual tech extravaganza by clicking here.

Did you know we have a newsletter all about consumer tech? It’s called Plugged In – and you can subscribe to it right here.

Published April 30, 2019 — 07:41 UTC