Ring is starting to add support for end-to-end encryption to its cameras. The feature will keep video streams encrypted from the camera all the way to the device it’s being streamed to, so it won’t be accessible to anyone in between. The feature, which was first announced in September, will start rolling out today as a “technical preview” on eight Ring cameras, including doorbell, indoor, and outdoor models.
“End-to-end encryption is really about user choice, to create that advanced layer of security,” Josh Roth, Ring’s chief technical officer, told The Verge. “Some people like a second or third deadbolt on their house.”
Footage from Ring cameras is currently encrypted when it’s being transmitted to Ring’s servers and then again when it’s sitting around on Ring’s servers. But Ring still has to be able to access that footage in order to enable various features, like sharing videos through its website or streaming clips to any device you’re signed into. Ring says that it does not view customer videos without permission, but the company does have the technical capability to do so (and has been accused of doing so without permission in the past). If law enforcement received a search warrant for your footage, Ring would be able to hand it over, too.
End-to-end encryption removes any visibility that Ring has into your footage, offering more protection for particularly privacy-conscious users. But the feature comes with some drawbacks that add hurdles and limitations to how the cameras can be used. Some devices, like the Echo Show, won’t be able to display Ring video feeds because they can’t (currently, at least) be set up to support the end-to-end encrypted streams. Other features, like sharing videos, become more complicated because you’ll have to download and manually re-upload videos, rather than just changing the sharing settings on Ring’s website.
The feature also adds some friction to Ring’s Neighbors app, which allows Ring users to share video with people nearby and for local law enforcement to request access to footage. With end-to-end encryption enabled, camera owners can still share video to the Neighbors app — which has been criticized for containing racist comments and reports — but they’ll have to manually download and upload the footage, adding some steps before they can post a recording.
At launch, end-to-end encryption will be available on Ring cameras that are plugged into power. Those cameras are able to process computer vision features, like person detection, locally on the device, whereas battery-powered Ring cameras offload those features to the cloud — something that can’t be done with end-to-end encryption turned on. No subscription is required in order to use it, but it’ll only be available in the US initially. End-to-end encrypted videos can be streamed to recent phones and tablets with the Ring app installed.
Over time, Ring plans to expand access to everyone and add in a few additional missing features, like snapshots. End-to-end encryption won’t be enabled by default, but Roth said Ring would notify customers when it becomes available. It can also be turned on and off on a camera-by-camera basis.
“End-to-end is one of those features some users are going to love,” Roth said, “and some will say they don’t need it.”
Correction January 13th, 11:34AM ET: The technical preview will be available on eight Ring cameras, not nine as Ring initially told us.