Anyone who watched the first episode of “Ring Nation” this week would have seen short clips of a man discovering his wife was pregnant with triplets, an uninvited iguana showing up at someone’s front door, and an unsuspecting teenager being chased by a tow truck in your driveway.
“Ring Nation,” marketed as a modern take on the classic “America’s Funniest Home Videos” franchise, opened quietly Monday. dozens of cable channels in more than 70 cities in the United States. But despite the light subject matter, it may be among the most controversial productions currently on television.
The show reuses clips captured by Amazon-owned Ring Doorbell cameras, as well as other home video, and is produced by Amazon-owned MGM Studios. Advocacy groups have criticized “Ring Nation” as an example of the e-commerce giant’s far-reaching reach into consumers’ lives and for taking surveillance technology lightly.
Ring devices, which are intended to provide additional home security, have long faced scrutiny from lawmakers over how their footage can be accessed and used by law enforcement. Through July, Ring had provided surveillance footage to law enforcement without a warrant or the consent of ringtone owners 11 times in 2022, according to an Amazon letter sent to Congress that month.
Before the premiere of the program, tens of thousands of people He signed an online petition calling for “Ring Nation” to be cancelled.
“The show pokes fun at the very real damage done by Ring devices by essentially rebranding surveillance as entertainment,” said Myaisha Hayes, an organizer with MediaJustice, one of the petition’s creators. “With ‘Ring Nation,’ they’re trying to make viral videos trendy and entertaining in this way, so more people buy these devices.”
Beyond that, Hayes also said the show highlights “Amazon’s monopoly power.” As she put it: “This is an Amazon-owned studio producing a show about an Amazon surveillance product.”
A Ring spokesperson told CNN in a statement that the show “shows a wide variety of videos such as the goofy ways a father picks up his daughter from school recorded on a smartphone and a man telling jokes to his family through through the video doorbell. The spokesperson added, “We think viewers will be delighted by these memorable moments shared by others.”
The company said privacy is paramount to the show, and “Ring Nation” gets permission to use the video from both the owner and anyone identifiable in the clip.
Still, privacy advocates say these cameras can potentially be used to capture far more sensitive images than interactions with cute animals and dad pranks. The show’s debut also comes at a time when the stakes for digital privacy have arguably never been higher. With the annulment of Roe v. Wade, privacy experts have warned that digital data could be used to punish those seeking abortions.
Evan Greer, director of the digital privacy group Fight for the Future, which is also sponsoring the petition to cancel the program, said much of Amazon’s business depends on collecting data and engaging in forms of surveillance, either through its website, smart speakers or doorbell cameras.
“Surveillance as an ethos of sorts really runs through everything Amazon does,” Greer said. With that in mind, Greer argues that “Ring Nation’s” light-hearted format is an “incredibly insidious attempt” to make this mass surveillance “feel not just normal, but fun.”
Ultimately, Greer sees the growing surveillance network of Ring cameras as “a threat not only to our civil rights, but also to our understanding of the kind of future we want to live in.”
In other words: it can serve to entertain television, but it does not contribute to a better society.