Dec 3 - How Ring Went From ‘Shark Tank’ Reject to America’s Scariest Surveillance Company

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Dec 3 - How Ring Went From ‘Shark Tank’ Reject to America’s Scariest Surveillance Company

Amazon's Ring started from humble roots as a smart doorbell company called "DoorBot." Now it's surveilling the suburbs and partnering with police.

This is the first of a three-part series, where we’ll explore how Ring transformed from start-up pitch to the technology powering Amazon's privatized surveillance network throughout the United States.

When Ring came to Baltimore, residents believed they were out of options.

Pastor Troy Randall, who lives in northwest Baltimore, said that his neighborhood has been “held hostage” by drug sales and a*sociated violence. Many people want to move, he said, but don’t have enough money, while older residents can’t move to a new place. People are trapped.

“The police are not doing anything,” he said. “They are not getting out of the cars. They're not walking the beat. They allow the guys to continue to sit around and to sell drugs.”

Many residents don’t trust the Baltimore police at all, and for good reason. A 2016 Department of Justice report found that the Baltimore Police Department systematically targets people of color in the city. Compared to white residents, people of color are disproportionately stopped, searched, arrested, and subject to violent and excessive force. They’re also at a disproportionately high risk of being k*lled by police.

Enter Ring.

Pastor Terrye Moore, a friend of Randall, first learned about Ring, which is owned by Amazon, through a radio ad. The company sells a variety of home security cameras, which can be placed outside or inside the home. One links to a floodlight. Its best seller allows you to see people who ring the doorbell from your smartphone. Ring also makes Neighbors, an app that allows users to upload footage from Ring devices and other security cameras for anyone to see.

The pastors work together in a church coalition called the Northwest Faith-Based Partnership, so Moore contacted Randall right after she heard the ad. To him, Ring sounded like a godsend. As president of his neighborhood a*sociation, he had already asked the city of Baltimore to install street cameras in his neighborhood; the city declined.

Even if Baltimore wouldn’t invest in surveillance, Randall thought, there was no reason why residents couldn’t do it themselves. Moore contacted Ring.

Selling Crime Reduction to the Vulnerable and Scared

Ring, whose stated mission is "to reduce crime in neighborhoods," gives hope to people who feel unsafe, can’t trust the police, or simply want to take surveillance into their own hands and become watchers.

Although there’s no credible evidence that Ring actually deters or reduces crime, claiming that its products achieve these things is essential to its marketing model. These claims have helped Ring cultivate a surveillance network around the country with the help of dozens of taxpayer-funded camera discount programs and more than 600 police partnerships.

When police partner with Ring, they are required to promote its products, and to allow Ring to approve everything they say about the company. In exchange, they get access to Ring’s Law Enforcement Neighborhood Portal, an interactive map that allows police to request camera footage directly from residents without obtaining a warrant.

Ring, has, among other things, helped organize police package theft sting operations, coached police on how to obtain footage without a warrant, and promised people free cameras in exchange for testifying against their neighbors.

In recent months, people have started to mobilize against these partnerships. f*ght for the Future, a digital-rights activist group, launched a campaign in August to help people demand that their local governments and police departments stop partnering with Ring. In October, 36 civil rights groups signed an open letter demanding an end to Ring’s partnerships with police, new regulations, and a congressional investigation into the company.

Ring has a host of competitors. Some, like Google’s Nest, Arlo, and Wyze, focus on consumer-grade products, while others, like ADT, offer professional-level services. But a few things set Ring apart. It offers tools for police, like the Law Enforcement Neighborhood Portal, as well as Neighbors, a free, crime-focused social media app available to anyone. It also has a uniquely large scope of partnerships with law enforcement and a history of troubling privacy practices. At least in the past, footage from its cameras was open and accessible to company researchers in Ukraine in order to test developing facial, object, and voice recognition systems. (Ring denies that this is still the case.)

Most crucially, though, Ring is owned by Amazon. This makes Ring not just a camera company, but a node in Amazon’s network of Alexa-enabled smart home devices.

This amounts to a picture of paralyzing scale: Amazon, one of the three largest publicly-traded companies in the world, owns a company that has been quietly building a privatized surveillance network throughout the United States. This network is only possible because consumers choose to buy the cameras themselves. Why do people make this choice? There are as many answers as there are Ring customers, but there is also one answer that explains everything the company has done: At its core, Ring is a marketing company that realized it could make money by selling fear.

As a Ring blog from 2016 says, “Fear sells.”

Ring’s Founder

Jamie Siminoff, the founder of Ring, never set out to create a private surveillance network. He is fundamentally an entrepreneur—a founder, an inventor, a man infatuated with Silicon Valley disruption and start-up culture.

Siminoff has long been enthralled by the idea of the great entrepreneurs. His personal Tumblr, which he used between 2008 and 2013, is filled with inspiring quotes from the likes of Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Steve Jobs. He frequently referred to WIRED magazine and TechCrunch, journalistic hubs for the tech optimism of the late-aughts and early teens. He posted frequently and anxiously about the recession and the effect that it was having on tech start-ups.

His dream was to become an icon. He wanted to change the world. He was ambitious. He was also afraid of failure.

“I live in fear,” Siminoff wrote in a 2008 post about one of his former businesses. “Maybe it comes from my parents, my father was always planning for ‘what if’ scenarios or maybe I am just scared.”

“There were nights when I woke up at 3 a.m. in tears, bawling,” Siminoff told Inc about his experience with Ring between 2015 and 2017. “How were we going to make it to tomorrow? Luckily, no matter how mentally hard that was, I had one choice, which was, ‘Pick yourself up, Jamie, and get back out there.’ Because stopping would have resulted in the end."

But on a fundamental level, Siminoff also embodies the optimism of the disruptor. Disruptors are optimistic that the machine of modern capitalism will work as designed and either get them rich, make the world better, or maybe both.

Siminoff’s dream of becoming a famous entrepreneur began when he was young. He said in a 2008 interview that in high school, he got a gig as a sales representative for a company selling paramotors, which he described as “these flying machines with a fan in a backpack for an engine and a parachute.” (He claims they cost about $13,000 each, and that he made a $6,000 commission for each one he sold.) At the time, he was attending Morristown Beard, a private, co-ed school in one of New Jersey’s wealthiest counties.

Siminoff got a degree in entrepreneurship from Babson College, a small, business-focused school in suburban Boston. He went on to create four companies in 10 years, two of which he sold.

In 2011, Siminoff founded Edison Jr., a company dedicated to brainstorming constantly and acting on the best ideas, according to his Tumblr. After launching several moderately successful projects, Siminoff’s team came up with something called DoorBot in 2012. It was conceived as a doorbell with a camera that lets people see who’s at the door from their phone—“Caller ID for your door,” according to Siminoff.

DoorBot wasn’t a home security product. It was a little tool selling smart-home convenience.

But Siminoff seemed to know, even in its early days, that DoorBot had more potential than any product he had created before. His second-to-last post on his Tumblr is a picture of him with his young son, picking up the first factory-made models of DoorBot. “It was such a great milestone for us to achieve,” Siminoff wrote in the caption, “and one that I will never forget as I got to share it with my best friend.”

Ring repeatedly declined to make Siminoff available for an interview, and declined to allow us to interview any company representatives. Direct emails to Siminoff were not returned and were forwarded to Ring’s communications team.

Enter DoorBot

Siminoff says that DoorBot was founded in a garage. In 2012, he was leading a team of five at Edison, Jr. People would, he claims, incessantly ring the doorbell, something he found endlessly annoying.

“I was like, how the fu*k can there not be a doorbell that goes to your phone?” Siminoff told Digital Trends. DoorBot was thus posed as an answer to a question perhaps only he had ever asked.

Siminoff has repeated this story in company blogs and in advertisements; a life-size replica of the garage was even displayed at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show. It’s not hard to see why: The “founded in a garage” story is a cliche among tech company origin stories, the crucial accessory in a rags-to-riches narrative where the intelligent, starry-eyed entrepreneur pulls himself up by the bootstraps and eventually upgrades to multi-billion dollar facilities and grandiose mansions.

The main problem with DoorBot was that people thought it was a lousy product. Reviews through August 2014 were not good. MacSource said that although the idea of DoorBot was cool, the video quality was poor, and that the audio cut in and out. CNET gave the product a 5.6/10 grade, echoing reports of bad video quality and a “hold to talk" button that was “inconsistent at best.” 320 Amazon reviews rated the product an average of 2.3 out of 5 stars. One one-star review, titled “Dumber Than My Old Dumb Doorbell,” said "I would give it zero stars if I could. Nothing worked properly."

The reported problems were consistent: bad video, bad audio, bad WiFi connection. Basically, every feature that required the product to work as advertised didn’t function properly.

Edison Jr. was determined to make the DoorBot succeed. By January 2013, the company had raised $173,893 for the idea. It got coverage from a host of tech blogs, including Mashable, New Atlas, and Digital Trends. Soon enough, though, Edison Jr. was “out of money.”

What changed things was Shark Tank.

Shark Tank is a wildly popular TV show where entrepreneurs pitch their businesses to investors called “sharks.” Simonoff landed a spot on it to pitch DoorBot; the episode aired in November 2013, about four and a half years before Ring was acquired by Amazon.

“If it was not for [ Shark Tank] we would not exist as a company,” Siminoff has said. He’s right. DoorBot would not have survived, and it would not have become Ring, if it had not appeared on Shark Tank. Siminoff, a devoted believer in the merits of capitalism, entrepreneurship, and the power of a great idea, could not have been a better fit for the show.

DoorBot, Shark Tank, and Ring’s Early Days

In early marketing materials, DoorBot was awkwardly portrayed as both a disruptive Silicon Valley product and something that could easily be sold in an infomercial.

The two didn’t mix well. When DoorBot was pitched on Shark Tank, the problem was illustrated quite clearly.

“Consumers are currently spending billions of dollars outfitting their homes with products that work with smartphones,” Siminoff said on Shark Tank. “However, one of the most ubiquitous technologies, the doorbell, has not changed since it was invented in 1880. Until now. Introducing the DoorBot, the first ever video doorbell built for the smartphone. With DoorBot, you can see and speak with visitors from anywhere.”

Siminoff showed the sharks how to use DoorBot to see who was at the door, and then tell them to “scram.”

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 2 weeks ago '18        #2
Juliette DaBlok  topics gone triple plat - Number 1 spot x2
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Why do we have all of these Russians posting news on here? Don't yall got a Russian version of Boxden where you can post your bullsh*t articles

 2 weeks ago '17        #3
Johnnytusanmi  topics gone triple plat - Number 1 spot x2
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 Juliette DaBlok said
Why do we have all of these Russians posting news on here? Don't yall got a Russian version of Boxden where you can post your bullsh*t articles
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