Ring: "We don't use facial recognition"; also Ring: "We have a head of facial recognition research"

One of the most obvious facts I've learned in covering the unfolding scandal of the secret deals between Amazon's Ring surveillance doorbell group and hundreds of US police departments is that Amazon loooooves to play word-games.

For example, I've been repeatedly emailed by company spokespeople to tell me that cops only get access to Ring customers' videos if the customers offer to share it; but what they never said is that if a customer turns down a police request, Amazon instructs the cops to make an "official request" to the company and then they grant warrantless access to the footage.

This kind of deceptive practice really is business-as-usual for the company: last week, the company tweeted at the ACLU to accuse them of posting something "misleading" when they said that Ring uses facial recognition with the footage it captures, and a Ring spokesperson (anonymous, as is inevitably the case with Ring, whose spokespeople have to be cajoled, pushed and wheedled to put their names to their statements to the press) told Buzzfeed that "Ring is not Rekognition and does not work with Rekognition" (Rekognition is Amazon's creepy, low-reliability facial recognition flagship product).

Maybe that's true, but you know what's also true? There's a dude at Ring Ukraine named Oleksandr Obiednikov whose title is "head of face recognition researchm" and who has given conference talks on how facial recognition can integrate with products like Ring. The company's filed multiple facial recognition patents, and its terms of service allow it to use the video from your doorbell to train facial recognition systems.

Oh, and they've recently advertised job openings for engineers with experience in facial recognition.

That seems to belie the work being done at Ring Ukraine, which had a “head of face recognition research” as of the spring of last year. In March 2018, Oleksandr Obiednikov identified himself using that title and published a presentation that showed how cameras could better identify street signs and employ “Alignment-free Face Recognition.”

These March 2018 presentation slides from Ring Ukraine employee Oleksandr Obiednikov identify him as the company's "head of face recognition research."

The following April, Obiednikov spoke at the Open Data Sciences Conference in Kiev, where he was billed as “leading the Face Recognition Department at Ring Ukraine.” According to his LinkedIn profile, Obiednikov is still employed at Ring Ukraine, working on “Computer Vision problems.” His profile makes no mention of the phrase “facial recognition.”

Ring Says It Doesn't Use Facial Recognition, But It Has “A Head Of Face Recognition Research” [Nicole Nguyen and Ryan Mac/Buzzfeed]

(Image: Carsten Frenzl, CC BY, modified)