Are your Amazon devices are set to become internet hotspots for all to use?
Most realize that many of our devices around the house are likely spying on us from our Echo Dots to our web-enabled TVs, to our computers, and more. Yet most of us would never think that some of these devices would possibly share our actual internet connection.
Well, think again because Amazon is doing just that!
If you use Alexa, Echo, or any other Amazon device, you have only 10 days to opt-out of an experiment that leaves your personal privacy and security hanging in the balance.
On June 8, the merchant, Web host, and entertainment behemoth will automatically enroll the devices in Amazon Sidewalk. The new wireless mesh service will share a small slice of your Internet bandwidth with nearby neighbors who don’t have connectivity and help you to their bandwidth when you don’t have a connection.
By default, Amazon devices including Alexa, Echo, Ring, security cams, outdoor lights, motion sensors, and Tile trackers will enroll in the system. And since only a tiny fraction of people take the time to change default settings, that means millions of people will be co-opted into the program whether they know anything about it or not. The Amazon webpage linked above says Sidewalk “is currently only available in the US.”
Amazon has published a white paper detailing the technical underpinnings and service terms that it says will protect the privacy and security of this bold undertaking. To be fair, the paper is fairly comprehensive, and so far no one has pointed out specific flaws that undermine the encryption or other safeguards being put in place. But there are enough theoretical risks to give users pause.
Amazon’s decision to make Sidewalk an opt-out service rather than an opt-in one is also telling. The company knows the only chance of the service gaining critical mass is to turn it on by default, so that’s what it’s doing. Fortunately, turning Sidewalk off is relatively painless. It involves:
- Opening the Alexa app
- Opening More and selecting Settings
- Selecting Account Settings
- Selecting Amazon Sidewalk
- Turning Amazon Sidewalk Off
No doubt, the benefits of Sidewalk for some people will outweigh the risks. But for the many, if not the vast majority of users, there’s little upside and plenty of downside. Amazon representatives didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Amazon makes this “Sidewalk” sounds like a user-friendly technology to seamlessly connect all of your devices. It is imperative people understand that this technology is susceptible to major security flaws that could make your data vulnerable to hackers and internet sleuths.
Furthermore, one has to ask — if this technology is safe why would it be automatically turned on without obtaining the consent of the end-user.
CNET also reports:
If you have a newsmart speaker, a or a , you might want to check your Alexa app settings: Amazon is automatically switching on , a new feature that slices off some of your Wi-Fi bandwidth to create a farther-reaching network for Amazon devices using Bluetooth or 900MHz radio signals to communicate.
Amazon Sidewalk has the potential to increase the range of your smart home devices — making them more reliable at greater distances from your router and other gear — but its privacy and security implications remain largely untested.
While Sidewalk is not live yet, some privacy experts have expressed concerns about the automatic opt-in. Users have reported the switch online, and I myself found Sidewalk to be set to “on” in my Alexa app, despite intentionally not activating it during initial setup.
Amazon has sent emails, like the one below, to at least some users about the rollout. It says Sidewalk won’t be available until later in the year.