Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

I have some problems with the smart world.

Or do I mean the word smart?

It's splendidly intimidating how tech companies want to slap the word smart on all their new products, so that you can believe you'll never be as clever as these products are.

Amazon likes to think it's in the forefront of smarts.

Why, it managed to launch some of the ugliest smart speakers in the world, before more established hardware companies had got their smarts together.

Some parts of its business, though, make areas of the skin react in unhappy ways.

Smart speakers that may, oh, accidentally listen to your conversations all the time, for example.

And then there's Ring.

Amazon's exceptionally smart doorbell and home security company seems to have some twisted predilections.

We last encountered Ring posting a job ad for a Managing Editor News, who "will work on an exciting new opportunity within Ring to manage a team of news editors who deliver breaking crime news alerts to our neighbors."

Because that's what smart doorbell companies should do, right? Deliver breaking crime news alerts.

It looked, for all the world, like an attempt to stoke fear in neighborhoods so that people would rush to protect themselves. By buying a Ring smart doorbell, for example.

Now, there's another wheeze. 

It's Not An Ad. Really, It's Not.

Posted by famed Twitterer Jon Hendren, here was an ad from Ring that showed footage of a woman who had allegedly broken into a vehicle.

Oddly, the oeuvre seemed to dispense with the allegedly and merely said she'd done it.

I do understand that the police can sometimes post such items.

It's a little more frisson-inciting when it comes from a doorbell company, however smart.

Please, though, don't think these are ads for Ring. No, no. They're Community Alerts.

These alerts come from customer footage and are then posted to Facebook.

Naturally, I asked Ring for its thoughts. A spokesperson told me: 

Ring's Community Alerts help keep neighborhoods safe by encouraging the community to work directly with local police on active cases. Alerts are created using publicly posted content from the Neighbors app that has a verified police report case number. We get the explicit consent of the Ring customer before the content is posted, and utilize sponsored, geotargeted posts to limit the content to relevant communities. Community members can then directly share or post tips to help local police contact persons of interest or investigate crimes.

Yes, but doesn't it still look like an ad for Ring?

Doesn't it, in fact, stoke a little fear in the hope that you, too, will share the footage of your alleged porch pirates and other suspicious individuals? 

Amazon delivery drivers, for example.

Moreover, as BuzzFeed News reports, the ads may have a police case number, but they aren't being posted at the request of the police. Nor does the police even see them in advance.

And then there's that promise that Ring secures "explicit consent" from customers. I understand that what the company does is contact the person who posted the video and ask for permission to share it in their area. 

It's unclear, however, whether anything is put in writing.

The customer isn't required to share the footage -- which appears first on the Neighbors app -- even if the police ask them to. 

However, CNET last week reported that Ring doorbells are being used by police to create a greater spectrum of surveillance.

Why, some police departments are even offering discounted Ring doorbells, sometimes funding those discounts with taxpayer money.

And, it seems, some police departments are insisting that Ring owners who get those discounts turn over footage. (Ring told CNET it will rectify this.)

Sometimes, the police even turn up at people's doors and, well, ring the doorbell. Then they ask pretty please, can we have your footage? 

That would constitute a little sales pressure, wouldn't it?

Consenting To What?

And there's that explicit consent thing upon which Ring bases its non-advertising Community Alerts.

BuzzFeed deftly pointed out some painful details lurking within the concept.

Once you choose to share your footage, the terms of service allow Ring, oh, please read this: 

You hereby grant Ring and its licensees an unlimited, irrevocable, fully paid and royalty-free, perpetual, worldwide right to re-use, distribute, store, delete, translate, copy, modify, display, sell, create derivative works from and otherwise exploit such Shared Content for any purpose and in any media formats in any media channels without compensation to you.

That really is quite some explicit consent. 

Amazon has managed more than once to create discomfort with its forays into the visual arts.

Its facial recognition system, deftly called Rekognition, is thought by many to be not entirely garlanded by accuracy.

And now there's this seeming attempt to make Ring represent quasi-official surveillance.

Given Amazon's previous squeak with its Echo smart speaker, who'd be surprised if Ring employees were viewing customer footage and, well, wondering who might benefit from it?

The sad reality, however, is that tech companies have lured lulled humans into the habitual sharing of anything and everything. 

Many might find this latest Ring pursuit a noble attempt to catch criminals. Alleged ones, that is.

Ultimately, though, it's entwining Ring with the practice of law enforcement in order to make people believe the company is selling a police-approved, safety-inducing product. (And some police departments are playing along with this.)

If you're a perfectly innocent human being who suddenly features as an alleged criminal in Ring ad, wouldn't that be a touch upsetting?

Oh, but many tech companies are only interested in creating systems which they then try to persuade people are completely indispensable.

That's their shtick.

Please believe me, you can live happily without Facebook and its play on Fear of Missing Out, just as you can live happily without a smart doorbell and its play on Fearmongering and Surveillance.

Published on: Jun 9, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.