Ring began as a humble crowdfunded project called Doorbot — a Wi-Fi-enabled video doorbell that enabled two-way communication. In 2013, it was rejected on Shark Tank. This year, the company was acquired by Amazon for over $1 billion.
Nilay sat down with Ring CEO Jamie Siminoff on this week’s Vergecast to talk about joining the Amazon family of brands, the future of security in smart homes, and how Ring product owners may (or may not) work with law enforcement to make neighborhoods safer.
Below is a brief, edited transcript of their discussion about sharing video and other security data with the police:
Nilay Patel: Are you doing anything in the app to sort of provide a check on — here’s a group of neighbors. They see someone. They immediately go to the police and say, “Get this person out of my neighborhood,” right? Like, that could be a problematic result in many cases.
Jamie Siminoff: Yeah. But what’s nice about video, the police are able to see what you’re talking about. And so before it’s someone calling up and saying, “Hey, this X-Y-Z person did this and that. And I need this,” and all they have to go on is that. Whereas with this, it’s like, “Here’s this video. I have this problem.” And the police can say, “Okay. We’ll look into it.” But maybe they see it, and they say, “This is not a problem.” Or they say, “Okay. Maybe this is something we need to follow up on. Let’s follow up on it.”
I think one of the problems the police has, if you look at it from almost a business side, is, they’re in the business of making very big decisions with very limited data. And we’re trying to just give them better data, to have them make better decisions, because I think if you agree that there needs to be police in order to have a safer society, then there needs to be people that help them to make better decisions.
Nilay Patel: So are you actively helping them understand how to watch a Ring video? When you think about that public-private partnership, is Ring in the middle of it?
Jamie Siminoff: Everything starts with the idea that your Ring, your data, is 100 percent yours. And it will never be shared, never auto-shared, never opted in to share. There is no place, there is no time that your data will be shared without you, at the time, saying, “Here, take this, because I think it’ll help you.” And so the whole idea is to build a system where you have all these neighbors that want to live safer, but they also want their privacy protected. You have police that don’t necessarily want your data, unless it’s pertinent to them at the time. And so building a system that allows that to happen is what we’re doing.
So we’re making the ability for, at the time that something happens, for the police to say, “Hey, if we had this, it might help us.” And you say, “Okay, sure. I have this, and I’ll help you with that.” Making it so that everyone is comfortable about what’s happening, because we are a security company. We’re a neighbor security company. We don’t sell to police. We sell to people that live in communities. And as soon as they lose trust with us, that will be the day that we end our business.