In February, a homeowner in Little Havana captured video of a black stranger moving a garbage can in their front yard. The fisheye footage came from a "smart" doorbell made by Ring, a tech company now owned by Amazon. In a post shared with other locals, the homeowner labeled the man an "intruder" and warned neighbors to be on the lookout.
But some neighbors saw the warning as something else. "I think your garbage can was in the way and he placed it back," someone suggested. "Nice guy!"
The exchange is commonplace on Ring's new app, Neighbors, which allows residents to anonymously post videos and alerts of "real-time crime" and suspicious activity in their area. While the platform has been praised for its ability to help solve crimes and alert residents to possible thieves or scammers, critics say it encourages racial profiling and raises privacy concerns.
Despite those concerns, the City of Miami yesterday announced a partnership with Ring. Miami Police will monitor the app and, in cases where an arrest is warranted, use the video footage to prosecute cases.
"Eyewitness testimony oftentimes is inherently flawed, and so having video evidence of what happened is incredibly important for prosecutors, for law enforcement," Mayor Francis Suarez said.
But criticism of the app has been widespread on social media:
most recently on @ring’s app, i saw a young black child ringing what appeared to be the wrong doorbell. he was barefoot. and in the comments was a bunch of ADULTS suggesting the police be called. y’all disgust me.— finegodmother (@finegodmother) June 10, 2018
When software is a trojan horse for software. Amazon/Ring's Neighbors App brings your community together to help create safer neighborhoods, ensures safe deliveries of your packages, and creates a privatized police state all in one. https://t.co/nv4yCPpW9X— Dash (@dshl_) May 11, 2018
In Miami, a quick scan of Neighbors turns up more than a few posts that appear to show racial stereotyping. In one post, a resident uploaded a video of a black man ringing the doorbell and added the caption, "Unfamiliar Man. Wanted?" The post continued: "Has anyone seen this guy? I'm not sure if this is the one who's wanted for sexual assault because I don't see his face very well."
Underneath a video of an alleged car burglary by a man whose race is unclear, another user commented, "They should be ready for deportation."
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Spokespeople for the Miami Police Department and the mayor's office did not return New Times' requests for comment Wednesday. Ring CEO Jaimie Siminoff told WLRN that the company has moderators to flag inappropriate posts.
"As a focused app around neighborhood safety and the way we've built the app, I believe so far we've seen that it works in a way that [profiling] does not happen," Siminoff said.
But as a New Times story from earlier this year illustrates, local crime-prevention groups can easily turn vigilante. The Facebook group Miami Beach Crime Prevention & Awareness was blasted by the ACLU after several posts warned of "suspicious" activity by black people and the homeless.
One thing is clear after skimming through Neighbors: The act of ringing someone's doorbell is now rare enough that many people are ready to call the cops after a simple ding-dong.