Skip to content
CityLab
Justice

Who’s Afraid of Amazon’s Video Doorbell?

The tech company’s proposed facial-recognition camera system could be a civil libertarian’s nightmare.
A diagram of the facial recognition doorbell from Amazon's patent application.
A diagram of the facial recognition doorbell from Amazon's patent application.Courtesy ACLU

Remember Jane Jacobs’ famous dictum that to create safe and healthy neighborhoods, “there must be eyes on the street”? Amazon has come up with a rather dystopian twist on that concept.

In a new, publicly available patent application, the tech giant presented a product that would incorporate facial scanning technology (like Amazon’s “Rekognition,” which can capture and identify a large number of people’s faces in real time) into Ring, the video doorbell that Amazon acquired earlier in the year. The goal is to identify not just those who ring the doorbell, as “smart” video doorbells like Google’s Nest currently do. A Rekognition-powered model would allow users to receive detailed information about who is approaching the house in real time, “enabling users to make more educated decisions on whether the person is suspicious or dangerous, and also whether or not to identify law enforcement, family members, neighbors of the like,” the patent reads.