If you use Alexa, Echo, or many other Amazon devices, you only have 10 days to sign up for an experiment where your personal privacy and security are at stake.
On June 8, the merchant, web host and entertainment giant will automatically enroll the devices with Amazon Sidewalk. The new wireless mesh service shares a small portion of your Internet bandwidth with neighboring Sidewalk-compatible devices that are not connected. Sidewalk also helps your Amazon devices get a slice of bandwidth from other Sidewalk users when you’re not connected.
By default, several Amazon devices will be included in the system from June 8. And since only a small fraction of people take the time to change the default settings, that means millions of people will be co-opted into the program regardless of whether or not they know anything. about it or not. The Amazon webpage linked above states that Sidewalk is “currently only available in the US”. The full list of devices that can act as curb bridges is Ring Floodlight Cam (2019), Ring Spotlight Cam Wired (2019), Ring Spotlight Cam Mount (2019), Echo (3rd Gen and newer), Echo Dot (3rd Gen and newer ) ), Echo Dot for Kids (3rd generation and newer), Echo Dot with clock (3rd generation and newer), Echo Plus (all generations), Echo Show (all models and generations), Echo Spot, Echo Studio, Echo Input and echoflex.
The web page also states:
What is Amazon Sidewalk?
Amazon Sidewalk is a shared network that makes devices work better. Operated at no cost to customers by Amazon, Sidewalk can help simplify the setup of new devices, extend the reach of low-bandwidth devices to find pets or valuables with Tile trackers, and help devices stay online even when they’re on the go. out of range of their home wifi. Going forward, Sidewalk will support a range of experiences using Sidewalk-compatible devices, such as smart security and lighting and diagnostics for devices and tools.
How does Amazon Sidewalk affect my personal wireless bandwidth and data usage?
The maximum bandwidth from a Sidewalk Bridge to the Sidewalk server is 80 Kbps, which is about 1/40th of the bandwidth used to stream a typical high-definition video. Today, when you share your Bridge’s connection with Sidewalk, Sidewalk’s total monthly data usage, per account, is limited to 500MB, which is equivalent to streaming approximately 10 minutes of high-definition video.
Why should I join Amazon Sidewalk?
Amazon Sidewalk helps your devices stay connected and stay connected. For example, if your Echo device loses its Wi-Fi connection, Sidewalk can make it easier to reconnect to your router. For certain Ring devices, you can continue to receive motion notifications from your Ring Security Cams and customer support can still resolve issues even if your devices lose their Wi-Fi connection. Sidewalk can also extend the working range for your Sidewalk-compatible devices, such as Ring smart lights, pet finders, or smart locks, so they can stay connected and work over longer distances. Amazon does not charge a fee to join Sidewalk.
Amazon has released a white paper detailing the technical underpinnings and terms of service that will protect the privacy and security of this daring venture. To be fair, the document is quite comprehensive and so far no one has revealed any specific flaws that undermine the encryption or other safeguards being put in place. But there are enough theoretical risks to make users pause for a moment.
Wireless technologies like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth have a history of being insecure. Remember WEP, the encryption scheme that kept Wi-Fi traffic from being monitored by nearby parties? It was widely used for four years before researchers uncovered flaws that made decrypting data relatively easy for attackers. WPA, the technology that replaced WEP, is much more robust, but it also has a checkered history. Bluetooth has also had similar vulnerabilities over the years, either in the Bluetooth standard or in the way it’s implemented in various products.
If industry-standard wireless technologies have such a poor track record, why should we believe that a proprietary wireless system will have one that’s better?
The almighty juggernaut
Next, consider the wealth of intimate detail Amazon devices are familiar with. They see who is knocking on our door and in some houses they peer into our living rooms. They hear the conversations we have with friends and family. They check locks and other security systems in our house.
Extending the reach of all this encrypted data to neighbors’ sidewalks and living rooms requires a level of trust unwarranted for a technology that has never been widely tested.
Finally, let’s not forget who provides this new way for everyone to share and share. As independent privacy researcher Ashkan Soltani puts it: “In addition to recording everyone’s shopping habits (from amazon.com) and their internet activity (since AWS is one of the most dominant web hosting services)… they are now effectively becoming a global ISP with a on the button, and all without having to lay a single meter of fiberglass.”
Amazon’s decision to make Sidewalk an opt-out service rather than an opt-in service is also significant. The company knows that the only chance the service will gain critical mass is to turn it on by default, so that’s what it does. Fortunately, disabling Sidewalk is relatively painless. It involves:
- Open the Alexa app
- Open More and select Settings
- Select Account Settings
- Select Amazon Sidewalk
- Disable Amazon Sidewalk
No doubt the benefits of Sidewalk will outweigh the risks for some people. But for the many, if not the vast majority of users, there is little advantage and much disadvantage. Amazon representatives did not respond to a request for comment.
Updated post to remove tile trackers and motion sensors from the list of affected devices.