The tens of millions of Americans that own Amazon smart devices like Alexa, Echo and Ring only have a few days left to opt out of a company experiment that will severely compromise their personal privacy and security.
On June 8, Amazon will launch the Amazon Sidewalk, a new shared mesh network that will help its devices work better and remain connected to the internet. It will do this by automatically connecting to other Amazon smart devices, or what it calls “Sidewalk Bridge devices.”
Sidewalk will use these Bridge devices to siphon off a “small amount” of bandwidth from the owner’s internet and broadcast the Sidewalk network to nearby neighbors and their Amazon devices. This process then repeats until all Amazon devices in a certain area are connected to each other.
“Sidewalk can help simplify new device setup, extend the low-bandwidth working range of devices to help find pets or valuables with Tile trackers and help devices stay online even if they are outside the range of their home wifi,” wrote Amazon on Sidewalk’s website. “In the future, Sidewalk will support a range of experiences from using Sidewalk-enabled devices, such as smart security and lighting and diagnostics for appliances and tools.”
According to Amazon, the more devices there are that are connected, the stronger the Sidewalk network becomes. Here are the devices that will automatically connect to the Sidewalk network:
- Echo Dot (third generation and newer)
- Echo Dot for Kids (third generation and newer)
- Echo Dot with Clock (third generation and newer)
- Echo Flex
- Echo Input
- Echo Plus (all generations)
- Echo Show (all generations and models)
- Echo Spot
- Echo Studio
- Ring Floodlight Camera (2019)
- Ring Spotlight Camera Mounted (2019), Wired (2019) and Echo (third generation and newer)
Fortunately for the people who own these devices, it is easy to opt out of the shared network. They simply have to open the Alexa app, hit the “More” button in the lower right corner, go to “Settings” and then to “Account Settings.” From there, people should be able to see the “Amazon Sidewalk” option where they can turn off their participation with the Sidewalk network.
Sidewalk will open people up to their data being passed around through the devices of their neighbors
Wireless technologies and networks like the Amazon Sidewalk have a long history of being vulnerable to attack. Even established technologies like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth can make people vulnerable to data theft if they are not careful.
This situation is made worse by the Amazon Sidewalk, a technology that operates as a shared network where all data can be passed around through different Amazon smart devices. (Related: Amazon and Ring under fire after revealing authorities can keep homeowner videos forever, endangering user privacy.)
People who are considering joining the Sidewalk network must also be reminded of Amazon’s own poor track record when it comes to privacy. Amazon devices are already intimately connected to people’s homes. Amazon’s smart devices can already control locks, see who knocks on people’s doors and take charge over other security systems in people’s homes. The company’s devices can even peer into living rooms and hear and record private conversations people are having with their friends and family.
All of this data is stored in a person’s device and mostly stays put within the confines of a person’s home. Connecting these smart devices to the neighborhood- or city-wide Sidewalk network – a network that has never even seen widespread testing – will allow this encrypted data to potentially be transferred to other devices within the network.
“In addition to capturing everyone’s shopping habits (from amazon.com) and their internet activity (as AWS is one of the most dominant web hosting services) … now they are also effectively becoming a global ISP with a flick of a switch, all without even having to lay a single foot of fiber,” wrote independent privacy researcher Ashkan Soltani.
Amazon has published a white paper going into detail regarding the technical underpinnings and service terms that the company claims will protect the privacy and security of the people whose devices join the network. Despite these supposed checks and balances, there are still far too many risks to joining the Sidewalk network, and people should strongly consider opting out of it before it goes online.
Learn more about how Amazon’s smart devices steal data and compromise people’s privacy by reading the latest articles at PrivacyWatch.news.