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(Victor Bizar Gómez/The Markup)

‘Neighborhood Watch’ investigation with The Markup highlights LAPD surveillance tech

This series was made possible through support from the Pulitzer Center’s AI Accountability Network.

“Porch pirates.” “Junkie.” “Suspicious.”

Neighborhood informants aren’t new. But the relationship between police and residents is now being automated, often in a way that people didn’t know they consented to. Experts worry this could further prioritize affluent white residents’ needs above others.

The Markup took an unprecedented look into Neighbors—the social platform linked to Amazon’s Ring doorbell cameras—and how the company is sending users’ posts to police.

“[There’s] a lot of people who are trying to turn every complaint and grievance they have into yet another policing matter.”

—Albert Fox Cahn, Surveillance Technology Oversight Project founder and executive director

Five years ago, Ring pulled out all the stops marketing to law enforcement—from free tech to open bar parties. It worked. More than 2,600 police departments across the country now partner with Ring.

As part of those partnerships, cops get special access to Neighbors posts about crime. We analyzed a random sample of posts sent to LAPD officers—30% didn’t deal with criminal activity. Instead, posts often outline behavior that residents deem merely “suspicious.”

And, that info can be biased. Neighbors has been known as a place where users can amplify paranoia and racism. Research confirms that people living in whiter, more affluent communities post much more, and often include vague assertions about “suspicious” activity.

Moreover, Neighbors users The Markup spoke to didn’t know their posts were subject to police monitoring. As part of the investigation, we've also got news you can use. If you have a security camera or want one, learn how to shop with privacy in mind—and consider the right solution for the issues you may face with our guide.

Read about the data, including 200,000 posts from LAPD, and how this series was reported.

—Maria Puertas/The Markup


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