Thumbing through the Neighbors app on my phone, I get the feeling that my quiet New Jersey suburb isn’t so safe.
There are videos of folks appearing to walk up to front doors and stealing packages. Another video shows an alleged vandalism of an outside light, and yet another is of an attempted car break-in. There’s the lighter stuff, too, like kids stealing whole bowls of Halloween candy — yes, including the bowl itself — and a handful of fox sightings.
I’m getting this feed through Neighbors, an app launched by Ring, Amazon’s smart-doorbell company. It’s free to download and use, and lets people share, view and comment on crime and security information in their communities. Most of the posts are video clips shot by Ring video doorbells and security cameras.
Ring CEO Jamie Siminoff said in an interview last month that he sees Neighbors as a major part of his company’s development, using the app to help more people work together to reduce crime in their communities. The app, which launched in the US in May, has over a million active users sharing information on alleged crimes and suspicious behavior, Siminoff said.
“We’re seeing it become a foundation,” Siminoff said. “It enhances everything we do in the company.”
Siminoff and Eric Kuhn, Neighbor’s general manager, spoke to CNET to show off some of Neighbors early results, saying it’s quickly becoming one of the biggest aggregators of crime and safety data in the country.
A gateway to the smart home
Apps like Neighbors have the potential to bring smart-home tech to many more houses by convincing more people to buy video doorbells and connected security cameras, Kozak said. But, he added, Ring needs to continue building up Neighbors’ features to ensure it’s not seen as merely a marketing tool for Ring’s products.
During the interview, Siminoff and Kuhn disclosed for the first time that 23 percent of information shared on Neighbors is suspicious behavior, 20 percent is alleged crimes and 15 percent is safety issues like wild animals and public emergencies. The rest of the posts contain other stuff, like solicitors or strangers on people’s property.
Pointing to the early benefits of Neighbors, Siminoff and Kuhn said there was a spike in activity on the app when the Hill Fire and Woolsey Fire hit Southern California last month. People were able to ask about specific streets and share safety tips. While users typically get two to five alerts per week, post and comment volume surged over 1,000 percent in the affected areas, the company said.
“We had 30,000, if you will, camera reporters in the field able to report how things were where they were,” Siminoff said. “It is hyper, hyper, hyper local.”