Amazon’s wireless mesh networking experiment turns users into lab rats.
You only have 10 days to opt out of an experiment that puts your personal privacy and security at jeopardy if you use Alexa, Echo, or any other Amazon device.
On June 8, the merchant, Web host, and entertainment giant will enroll the devices in Amazon Sidewalk automatically. The new wireless mesh service will share a small portion of your Internet bandwidth with nearby neighbors who do not have connectivity and will assist you in accessing their bandwidth when you do not.
Amazon devices such as Alexa, Echo, Ring, security cameras, outdoor lights, motion sensors, and Tile trackers will automatically enroll in the system. And, because only a small percentage of people take the time to change default settings, millions of people will be co-opted into the program whether they are aware of it or not. According to the Amazon page linked above, Sidewalk “is currently only available in the US.”
The webpage adds:
What is Amazon Sidewalk?
Amazon Sidewalk is a shared network that helps devices work better. Operated by Amazon at no charge to customers, 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. 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.
How will Amazon Sidewalk impact my personal wireless bandwidth and data usage?
The maximum bandwidth of a Sidewalk Bridge to the Sidewalk server 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.
Why should I participate in Amazon Sidewalk?
Amazon Sidewalk helps your devices get connected and stay connected. For example, if your Echo device loses its wifi connection, Sidewalk can simplify reconnecting to your router. For select Ring devices, you can continue to receive motion alerts from your Ring Security Cams and customer support can still troubleshoot problems even if your devices lose their wifi connection. Sidewalk can also extend the working range for your Sidewalk-enabled devices, such as Ring smart lights, pet locators or smart locks, so they can stay connected and continue to work over longer distances. Amazon does not charge any fees to join Sidewalk.
Amazon has released a white paper outlining the technical underpinnings and terms of service that it claims would guarantee the privacy and security of this ambitious project. To be fair, the report is fairly extensive, and no one has yet pointed out particular vulnerabilities in the encryption or other precautions that have been implemented. However, there are enough possible dangers to make users think twice.
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are examples of wireless technologies that have a history of being unsafe. Remember WEP, the encryption system that prevented neighboring parties from monitoring Wi-Fi traffic? It was widely used for four years until researchers discovered weaknesses that allowed attackers to decode data very easily. WPA, which superseded WEP, is significantly more resilient, but it also has a shaky history.
Bluetooth has had its fair share of security flaws over the years, either in the Bluetooth standard or in how it’s implemented in various products.
Fortunately, turning off Sidewalk is a simple process. It includes:
- Opening the Alexa app
- Opening More and selecting Settings
- Selecting Account Settings
- Selecting Amazon Sidewalk
- Turning Amazon Sidewalk Off
Without a question, the benefits of Sidewalk will outweigh the hazards for some people. However, there is little advantage and plenty of downside for many, if not the great majority, of consumers.