Digital Panopticons: The Carceral Logics of Surveillance in Neighborhood Safety Apps

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As technology continues to evolve and become more accessible, home security systems have become increasingly common. These systems offer homeowners a sense of safety and peace of mind, as they provide real-time monitoring and the ability to respond to potential threats. With the advent of smart home technology, homeowners can control their security systems remotely, receiving alerts and even controlling access to their homes through their mobile devices. In recent years, one notable evolution in home security is the rise in popularity of neighborhood social networking sites that promise to help make the user feel safer. The most notable apps in this category include Nextdoor, Neighbors by Ring, and Citizen. These social networking apps allow users to share videos, photos, and text posts with other camera owners that live nearby. 
In this thesis, I will be exploring how this genre of consumer surveillance fits into a broader history of surveillance being used as a tool for the control and classification of marginalized communities. Specifically, my research seeks to highlight the carceral logic underlying these technologies and the assumptions they create about what is needed to ensure true public safety. The purpose is to analyze how surveillance practices in the US have become necessitated through inflated fears of crime and what implications this offers as we consider how technology industries continue to innovate and develop new apparatuses for surveillance.

My research analyzes marketing videos by Ring used to promote its reveals three key findings. First, Neighbors seeks to amplify fear of crime, regardless of actual crime rates in a neighborhood and causes hyper-vigilance. Second, the marketing of Ring’s Neighbors app encourages an incarceration mindset in the domestic spheres of the home and neighborhood that is accompanied by unnecessary policing and criminal punishment. Finally, Amazon’s marketing of Ring frames surveillance as a public service.


Type of resource text
Publication date June 2, 2023; May 2023


Author Alex, Sommer
Thesis advisor King, Jennifer
Degree granting institution Stanford University


Subject Consumer surveillance
Subject Carceral
Genre Text
Genre Thesis

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User agrees that, where applicable, content will not be used to identify or to otherwise infringe the privacy or confidentiality rights of individuals. Content distributed via the Stanford Digital Repository may be subject to additional license and use restrictions applied by the depositor.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license (CC BY).

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Alex, S. (2023). Digital Panopticons: The Carceral Logics of Surveillance in Neighborhood Safety Apps. Stanford Digital Repository. Available at


Stanford University, Program in Science, Technology and Society, Honors Theses

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