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Amazon's Ring gave employees "unfettered" access to customer videos, FTC alleges

Amazon's Ring camera is marketed as a safety device, but a new government lawsuit claims the company gave its employees and contractors "unfettered" access to personal videos and failed to protect customer security, leading to hackers threatening or sexually propositioning Ring owners.

In one case, a Ring employee "viewed thousands of video recordings belonging to at least 81 unique female users," according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday by the Federal Trade Commission. That same worker searched for cameras located in "intimate" spaces, such as "Master Bedroom," and spied for months, the FTC claims. 

Amazon settled with the FTC for $5.8 million, according to a separate filing Wednesday with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. That money will be used for consumer refunds, the FTC said. 

The agency claims Ring prioritized fast product growth while disregarding consumer privacy and security. Aside from employees' access to customer videos, Ring allegedly also failed to provide adequate security measures to protect its users from hackers, the FTC alleged.

The latter issue led to hackers gaining access to Ring customers' cameras, with some of them using the device's two-way communication feature to "harass, threaten and insult individuals," the lawsuit claims. Those cases involved hackers swearing at women, hurling racist insults at children and sexually propositioning an 87-year-old woman in an assisted living facility, the FTC said.

"Ring's disregard for privacy and security exposed consumers to spying and harassment," Samuel Levine, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement.

In a statement to CBS News, Amazon said its Ring division "promptly addressed these issues on its own years ago, well before the FTC began its inquiry." 

"While we disagree with the FTC's allegations and deny violating the law, this settlement resolves this matter so we can focus on innovating on behalf of our customers," the ecommerce company said. 

Spying on "pretty girls"

Some of the allegations outlined by the lawsuit occurred prior to Amazon's acquisition of Ring in 2018. For instance, the alleged incident with the employee who viewed videos belonging to 81 women occurred in 2017. 

His actions were discovered by a female co-worker, who reported him to her supervisor, according to the FTC's complaint. The supervisor initially discounted her report, saying it was "normal" for an engineer to look at many accounts, but later the supervisor noticed the male engineer was only looking at videos of "pretty girls," the FTC alleges. 

"Only at that point did Ring review a portion of the employee's activity and, ultimately, terminate his employment," the lawsuit claims.

Other privacy issues were also "disturbing," the FTC said in a blog post. For instance, a male worker in January 2018 used a female co-worker's email address to look up her videos, then watched her stored video recordings without her permission, the agency's suit claims. 

Ring discovered such incidents through "the good fortune of employee reporting, despite having given employees zero security training and no responsibility to engage in such reporting," the lawsuit alleges. "It is highly likely that numerous other incidents of spying, prurient behavior, and other inappropriate access occurred entirely undetected."

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