On November 21, the Ukrainian business publication Vector published a genuine regional success story: An Amazon research lab in Kyiv, affiliated with the company’s Ring home security division, was receiving a “rebrand” makeover and a broader new role within the company. The office was already involved “in many other Amazon projects,” a lab manager told Vector. “We are no longer part of a small startup,” he said in Ukranian, “but a full-fledged R&D center working for one of the world’s largest corporations.”
Ring Ukraine has repeatedly drawn scrutiny and criticism over the past year. In November, five U.S. senators, in a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, released the day before the Vector story, had raised concerns about the Kyiv office’s access to Ring home security footage and other private information and asked whether a foreign government could access the material as well. The letter cited an Intercept report that many employees in the office were provided blanket, inappropriate access to a web server containing customer video files. In response, Ring revealed that it had fired four employees over “access to Ring video data” that “exceeded what was necessary for their job functions.” The company did not say what, if anything, it was doing prevent such incidents in the future.
An August 2019 report in BuzzFeed News found that the Kyiv office employed a “head of face recognition research” despite repeated denials that it uses such technology.
It was intriguing, then, that an R&D lab synonymous with privacy violation had apparently been rewarded with an expanded role within Amazon, whose projects include a special classified cloud with the CIA and facial recognition services for police departments across the country. I asked multiple Amazon representatives and Ring’s head of communications about the Vector article, including specifically what were the “many other Amazon projects” Ring’s Ukrainian staff now worked on.
Although Amazon ignored repeated requests for comment and Ring refused to discuss the subject on the record, it seems that the company did take action: Within hours of my inquiries, the text of the Vector piece was quietly edited to remove references to Amazon. Most notably, the entire quoted sentence about the “many other Amazon projects” the Kyiv office was working on was excised.
The full quote, attributed to Ring Ukraine General Manager Lyubomir Vasiliev, is shown below, as translated by Google, with the deleted portion in brackets:
“It’s about reaching a new level. We are no longer part of a small startup, but a full-fledged R&D center working for one of the world’s largest corporations. [We are involved not only in Ring’s product line but also in many other Amazon projects. That is,] We are a large Ukrainian team of specialists working on the world market,” explained Vasiliev.
The author of the article, Dmitry Koshelnik, said that Ring Ukraine, after providing him the quotes directly through its publicity department, “asked us to remove the word Amazon [from] my article due to possible legal problems.” Koshelnik added that the quotes had been sent to him specifically attributed to Vasiliev, who, according to his LinkedIn page, is a three-year veteran of the company. No note was appended to the article acknowledging any changes or that any post-publication editing had taken place, and even Koshelnik himself said he had been unaware of the changes prior to hearing from me. In an email to The Intercept, Vector editor-in-chief Denis Marakin confirmed that the article had been edited at Amazon’s request, and relayed a response from his recent predecessor, Anton Polieskov, who was running the publication at the time:
We published a news about rebranding, later pr-manager of Ring Ukraine called me and asked to take Amazon mention out from the article. Since I had a good relationship with manager, the article got just several dozens of views and I understood that everyone know that Ring is part of Amazon anyway, I didn’t even asked questions, said ok and took Amazon part out
Contacted by WhatsApp, Polieskov, confirmed that he was asked to remove the quotes during “quick phone chat” with Ring PR: “The goal was to delete Amazon mention, I don’t remember reasoning.”
Vasiliev did not respond to requests for comment sent through LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram. Ring declined to address questions about the alteration of the article on the record or Ring Ukraine’s “rebrand.” The Ring Ukraine home page has been reduced to a message saying “UNDER CONSTRUCTION” laid over a music video of the Kyiv office performing an English rendition of “Let It Snow.”