Ring violated customer privacy and develops fake AI tools with Ukrainian R&D team, claim US media

Ring, the much-hyped US startup which develops outdoor home-security solutions and was acquired by Amazon in 2018, is known for having opened an R&D office in Ukraine in 2016.

Located in Kiev (Kyiv), this facility integrates computer vision, artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies into the company’s products, as reported a few months ago by Ukraine Digital News.

According to US media The Information, followed by The Intercept, Ring made customer video feeds accessible to the Kiev team without encrypting them in a bid to simplify the team’s work.

“This would amount to an enormous list of highly sensitive files that could be easily browsed and viewed. Downloading and sharing these customer video files would have required little more than a click,” writes The Intercept.

“At that time, the video files were left unencrypted,” according to The Intercept’s source, due to financial considerations, i.e. “the expense of implementing encryption and lost revenue opportunities due to restricted access.”

Making things worse, the images from security cameras pointed at home entrances around the world that the Ukrainian team, which was also provided with the corresponding database, could trace back to individual customers.


Fake artificial intelligence?

The Intercept also asserts that Ring used its Ukrainian so-called ‘data operators’ for “manually tagging and labelling objects in a given video as part of a ‘training’ process,” hoping that the software “might be able to detect such things on its own in the near future.”

Years later, this process is still apparently underway, according to the US publication.

Thus, “behind all the computer sophistication was a team of people drawing boxes around strangers, day in and day out, as they struggled to grant some semblance of human judgment to an algorithm.”


Update Jan 17, 2019 – An investigation from Ukrainian tech blog AIN attributes the accusations against Ring to disgruntled employees. According to other former employees who worked at Ring between April 2017 and August 2018, Ring operators viewing the videos could neither determine the origin of the videos nor save or share them. However, whether or not these secure procedures were applied from the very beginning remains unclear. Besides, a technical expert interviewed by AIN did not endorse the claim that Ring’s system was based on manual operations rather than true AI technology. “It takes time to train a neural network on video streams, regardless of the purpose. Plus, if there are different goals and different data, there is always a need to educate, retrain, optimize the network, transfer it to the device. This may take 2 years,” the expert said.

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Topics: AI & Big Data, International, IT services, Kyiv, News, R&D, Regions, Software
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