Amazon devices such as Ring cameras and Echo speakers will automatically be enabled for Amazon sidewalk as of Tuesday, raising concerns from some privacy experts and politicians.
Amazon Sidewalk is a shared neighborhood network aimed at expanding and boosting wireless connection for small Internet of Things devices in the home, such as outdoor lights and pet trackers. Amazon lists each device that will be compatible with Sidewalk at your website.
The devices will act as “bridges” of connectivity to the Internet. It works using Bluetooth and the 900 MHz spectrum to take a portion of the bandwidth of nearby devices to create the shared “mesh” network, according to the Amazon website. Sidewalk will support third-party devices from companies such as tile and level.
Amazon Sidewalk is based on the idea of taking a customer’s private wireless infrastructure and Internet connections and allocating a portion for (semi) public use.
Ryan calo, a professor at the University of Washington and an expert on privacy law, said that from a privacy standpoint, the best practice would be to give users the option to opt-in rather than automatically turning it on.
Washington Post technology columnist Geoffrey Fowler wrote: “The sidewalk raises more red flags than a marching band parade: is it safe enough to activate in so many homes? Are we helping Amazon build a vast network that can be used for increased surveillance? And why didn’t Amazon ask us to subscribe it before activating a dormant capacity on our devices?
I also recommend that you opt out of Sidewalk until we get much better answers to these questions. “
Connecticut Attorney General William Tong on Monday advised people to opt out “unless they are completely confident that their privacy and security will be protected.”
I urge families to consider the pros and cons of joining Amazon Sidewalk and to opt out unless they are completely confident that their privacy and security will be protected.https://t.co/miW4803owA
– AG William Tong (@AGWilliamTong) June 7, 2021
Here is how opt out Sidewalk:
- Open your Alexa app.
- Open more and select settings.
- Select “Account Settings”.
- Select “Amazon Sidewalk”.
- Turn Amazon Sidewalk on or off.
From a privacy perspective, Calo said Amazon Sidewalk expands the range of “some pretty invasive home surveillance techniques.”
“[If] you’re concerned about cameras everywhere potentially even being shared in partnership with law enforcement, if you’re concerned about a public / private surveillance state this probably helps enable those things, ”Calo said.
Calo said that Sidewalk would not lower the security that a user already has, and does not introduce new security vulnerabilities.
However, he said that although the program is labeled free, there are costs associated with it.
“There are bandwidth costs and there are privacy costs,” Calo said. “… To say that it is free and totally respectful of privacy is wrong.”
Taking some of the bandwidth can compromise the performance of a wireless network, Calo said. The more people there are on a network, the slower it can run.
Amazon answered questions about data security last year on a white paper describing Sidewalk’s privacy and security protocols. The company offered some details on network sharing at the time: “The maximum bandwidth from a curb bridge to the curb server is 80 Kbps, which is about 1/40 of the bandwidth used to transmit a video. typical high definition. Currently, the total monthly data used by Sidewalk-enabled devices, per customer, is limited to 500MB, which is equivalent to streaming approximately 10 minutes of high definition video. “
The automatic subscription model is similar to what Comcast did with its “XfinitywiFi” offering in 2014, as described by GeekWire contributor Christopher Budd in December. But unlike Comcast, Amazon has set out on its site how to opt out, Budd said.
“While Amazon is following Comcast’s lead with the ‘forced subscription’ model, their handling shows that they clearly recognize that there are significant risks with this approach around clarity of notice, privacy concerns and the ability to, if don’t exclude yourself, at least turn off the feature, ”wrote Budd.
in a blog post published last month, Amazon again addressed data security and privacy.
“With multiple layers of privacy and security, Sidewalk was built to keep your data safe and put you in control of your experience,” Amazon said in its blog post. “Data shared over the Sidewalk network is protected with three layers of encryption, only accessible based on the devices you choose, and is automatically deleted every 24 hours to protect your privacy.”
Manolo Arana, General Manager, Amazon Sidewalk told CNET last month: “In the end, you won’t have any information about your neighbor’s bridge, and your neighbor won’t have any information about your device. So there is always this level of minimizing the information that can get through layers. “
Amazon originally announced Sidewalk in 2019.
“It’s a whole new way of thinking about mid-range wireless technology,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told reporters at the time. “There are many things where Bluetooth has too short a range, WiFi is too high powered, so having something that is still low power, but has a much longer range, is really a gap in the market. … People don’t even realize yet how important that middle rank is going to be. “