The costs of market domination
In 2021, Ring sold 1.7 million devices, roughly the same number as its next four competitors combined, according to business intelligence firm Strategy Analytics. In other words, it has successfully dominated the market that it created—even while the results regarding safety have been questionable. Previous MIT Technology Review reporting shows that evidence on whether Ring cameras actually reduce crime in a neighborhood is flimsy.
Its market domination came, in no small part, as a result of Ring’s efforts, starting in 2016, to partner with law enforcement agencies.
At various points, the company offered free cameras to individual officers, as well as entire departments, often in exchange for promoting Ring cameras in the officers’ jurisdictions. For a time, they also offered police partners a special portal to access community videos—stopping only after multiple media outlets reported on the process, which was followed by public outcry. And yet, that didn’t stop Ring’s policing problem; earlier this summer—in a response to a 2019 request for information from Senator Ed Markey, the company admitted to handing over video content to law enforcement without the video owner’s consent at least 11 times this year.
“Everything Amazon does prioritizes growth, expansion, and reach,” says Chris Gilliard, a visiting scholar at Harvard Kennedy School Shorenstein Center and vocal critic of surveillance technologies. In that sense, “Ring Nation is best located along a continuum…this new initiative looks like an attempt to cement societal acceptance of Ring,” he adds.
So now, Gilliard explains, it’s not surprising that the company is turning to a new strategy to further normalize surveillance.
All in good “fun”
But these darker sides of surveillance technology will not form part of Ring Nation’s narrative. After all, they don’t exactly fit in with the show’s mission to give “friends and family a fun new way to enjoy time with one another,” as Ring founder, Jamie Siminoff, described in a press statement.
Instead, in a self-enforcing cycle, the show will significantly expand the audience for Ring videos, the pool of potential Ring video creators, and then (and most importantly) the number of Ring cameras out in the wild. And many of these new customers likely won’t think twice about what their new Ring camera is really doing.
“Ring prides itself on being incredibly accessible, [but] it’s still kind of a techie thing,” explains Guariglia of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “But if you park your very non-techie relatives in front of the television all day, and they see the Funniest Home Videos from Ring Cameras, Ring might spread to an audience that perhaps Amazon has had a slower time getting on board.”
In other words, if the company has its way, Ring Nation, the television show, will bring us one step closer to a Ring nation, IRL.