Do you have a Fire Stick, an Echo, a Dot, a Show, Ring Camera, a Tile device, or any other number of Amazon devices? If so, you have less than a week before you’re involuntarily opted into an experimental mesh networking plan that leaves you exposed to both privacy and security issues. On June 8, Amazon goes live with its new experiment called Amazon Sidewalk. All Amazon customers are automatically enrolled whether you like it or not.
According to Amazon, “Sidewalk is a shared network that helps devices like Amazon Echo devices, Ring Security Cams, outdoor lights, motion sensors, and Tile trackers work better at home and beyond the front door by creating a low-bandwidth network with the help of Sidewalk Bridge devices including select Echo and Ring devices. These Bridge devices share a small portion of your internet bandwidth which is pooled together to provide these services to you and your neighbors. And when more neighbors participate, the network becomes even stronger.”
The amount of bandwidth used, according to Amazon is “80Kbps, 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, total monthly data used by Sidewalk, per account, is capped at 500MB, which is equivalent to streaming about 10 minutes of high definition video.”
While this sounds pretty handy on the surface, the idea of sharing your internet, even a low bandwidth portion, opens users up to a slew of risks. A report in Arstechnica details the theoretical, but well documented risks with such a process.
Wireless technologies like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth have a history of being insecure. Remember WEP, the encryption scheme that protected Wi-Fi traffic from being monitored by nearby parties? It was widely used for four years before researchers exposed 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.
If industry-standard wireless technologies have such a poor track record, why are we to believe a proprietary wireless scheme will have one that’s any better?
On top of the obvious security risks listed above, there are also serious privacy concerns when it comes Sidewalk’s capabilities. Sidewalk opens your network up to traffic you don’t necessarily authorize or want and it gives this massive giant mega-corp access to your data.
While Amazon claims Sidewalk will not see the data involved, they make billions mining data. According to PC Magazine, Amazon will know who’s walking by the house, knocking on the door, or unlocking a door if they happen to use or just have a Sidewalk device on their person.
Plus, there is still plenty of hullabaloo about the privacy surrounding Amazon and its Alexa assistant. Amazon itself owns a controversial facial-recognition platform that it only stopped selling to police last year. Amazon-owned Ring has also partnered with at least 405 police agencies across the US so officials can more easily access video footage captured by the doorbell cameras.
Sounds great doesn’t it? When we couple this new technology with the fact that Amazon is currently facing countless lawsuits for spying on its users, it gets downright Orwellian.
According to the Wall Street Journal, since 2019, lawyers flooded Amazon with more than 75,000 individual arbitration demands on behalf of Echo users who claim their devices are recording them without permission and subsequently storing that data.
Instead of going through their normal arbitration process, Amazon responded to the complaint by telling customers to sue them, hoping the court system bogs down the claims.
What a great company, eh?
It is a rather ominous notion that Amazon is not advertising their new “Sidewalk” service. What’s more, by default, every single user in the network will have it turned on, with the vast majority of folks being completely oblivious that they are part of this experiment. So here is how to turn it off:
In the Alexa mobile app on your smartphone or tablet, go to More > Settings > Account Settings > Amazon Sidewalk. (You can’t get to it on the desktop.) Click the toggle so it reads as “Disabled.” Now you won’t have to worry about Sidewalk at all.