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Advocacy Groups Demand Amazon, MGM Cancel ‘Ring Nation’

Image for article titled Advocacy Groups Demand Amazon, MGM Cancel Creepy 'Ring Nation' Surveillance Reality Show

Photo: Chip Somodevilla (Getty Images)

40 privacy and racial justice groups signed an open letter demanding MGM Studios cancel Ring Nation, a dystopian reality television show based on security footage captured from Ring home cameras. The groups warned airing the show risks “normalizing and promoting Amazon Ring’s dangerous network of surveillance cameras,” and could put vulnerable communities at heightened privacy risks.

For those who missed it, Amazon announced the show earlier this year, which reportedly revolves around comedian Wanda Sykes commenting on viral video clips shared from user’s Ring home security cameras. Ring Nation, set to premiere on September 26, will reportedly feature a “mix of eye-catching videos from the smart devices around our homes,” according to a press release. The half-hour show is being developed by MGM Television, which now belongs to Amazon thanks to the company’s 2021 acquisition of MGM proper, and Big Fish Entertainment.

Though the show’s creators say they want to focus on “heartwarming and hilarious” video clips, Fight for the Future, Main Street Alliance, Athena, and dozens of other groups included in the open letter describe Ring Nation as more akin to a horror show.

“MGM and others affiliated with the show are hiding behind the concept of consent in order to rationalize airing Ring Nation,” the groups wrote. “The individuals appearing on the show consenting to video surveillance in no way protects against the harms stemming from Ring’s surveilling communities at large, especially marginalized communities targeted by police.”

The letter cites examples where Ring’s surveillance footage was used to surveil activists protesting George Floyd’s murder as examples illustrating the product’s potentially harmful impact on communities of color. In general, Ring maintains partnerships with more than 2,000 police departments across the country and has reportedly provided law enforcement with users’ doorbell footage without their permission on at least 11 occasions this year.

Historically, Ring and user consent mix worse than oil and water.

“Racial profiling and racist policing are core components of Ring’s business model, which profits off fear,” the groups wrote. “If aired, this show jeopardizes the rights and lives of viewers and their families.”

Amazon and Ring did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.

In addition to fears of explicit surveillance, Ring critics like the Electronic Frontier Foundation argue the company’s cameras, and its associated Neighbors community watch app, perpetuate police harassment and racial stereotypes and inflame residents’ worst instincts about their fellow neighbors. If you live in densely populated areas with Ring cameras you probably already understand this experience all too well.

“Ring Nation attempts to put a happy face on a dangerous product,” the letter continues. “Not only will MGM’s Ring Nation further normalize harmful neighborhood surveillance, it will deepen the pockets of a corporation that profits from the criminalization of communities of color and surveilling the whereabouts and actions of millions.”

MGM announced its tone-deaf, home surveillance version of America’s Funniest Home Videos around a year after Ring owner Amazon announced its intention to acquire the studio for $8.45 billion. The deal brings coveted film franchises like James Bond, The Addams Family, and The Pink Panther, under Amazon’s corporate wing. It also laid the groundwork for the remarkably on-the-nose example of corporate synergy that is an Amazon Ring-based television show. The deal’s already managed to draw the attention of Federal Trade Commission regulators. Months after Amazon announced its acquisition the agency reportedly launched an investigation focused on, “the larger implications of the deal for Amazon’s market power.”

Activist groups, including several who signed the Tuesday letter calling for Ring Nation’s cancellation, want to see the FTC launch similar probes into Amazon’s other pending acquisitions. More than two dozen groups signed a letter earlier this month calling on the agency to block Amazon’s more recent $1.7 billion acquisition of iRobot. They warned that the deal would “endanger fair competition,” and jeopardize consumer privacy. New reports this week based on iRobot securities filings suggest the agency’s moving closer toward a formal investigation.

An FTC intervention into the iRobot deal would also presumably prevent Amazon from launching a Ring Nation spinoff series using captured data from roaming Roomba bots. To be clear, Amazon absolutely hasn’t suggested that’s a possibility, likely because it’s both creepy and incredibly stupid, but then again so is Ring Nation, so who knows?

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