Users of Alexa, Echo, or any other Amazon device, have only 8 days to opt out of an experiment that leaves their personal privacy and security at risk.
On June 8, Amazon will automatically enroll the devices in Amazon Sidewalk. The new wireless mesh service will share a small amount of your Internet bandwidth with nearby neighbors who do not have connectivity and help users to their bandwidth when they do not have a connection.
Amazon devices including Alexa, Echo, Ring, security cameras, outdoor lights, motion sensors, and Tile trackers will enroll in the system. Since only a small fraction of people take the time to change default settings, millions of people will be co-opted into the program knowingly or unknowingly. The Amazon webpage says Sidewalk is currently only available in the USA.
Information from the website shows that Amazon Sidewalk helps users’ devices get connected and stay connected. For example, if an Echo device loses its Wi-Fi connection, Sidewalk can simplify reconnecting to a user’s router. For select Ring devices, a user can continue to receive motion alerts from their Ring Security Cams and customer support can still troubleshoot problems even if their devices lose their Wi-Fi connection.
Amazon has published a statement detailing the technical underpinnings and service terms that it says will protect the privacy and security of this bold undertaking.
There are, however, enough theoretical risks to give users doubt. These include
- Vulnerabilities in billions of Wi-Fi devices let hackers bypass firewalls.
- Wireless technologies like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth have a history of being insecure.
- Decade-old Bluetooth flaw lets hackers steal data passing between devices.
- Bluetooth has had its share of similar vulnerabilities over the years, too, either in the Bluetooth standard or in the way it is implemented in various products.
Extending the reach of all this encrypted data to the sidewalk and living rooms of neighbors requires a level of confidence that is not warranted for a technology that has never done widespread testing.
Amazon’s decision to make Sidewalk an opt-out service rather than an opt-in one is also telling. Fortunately, turning Sidewalk off is harmless. It involves
- Opening the Alexa app
- Opening More and selecting Settings
- Selecting Account Settings
- Selecting Amazon Sidewalk
- Turning Amazon Sidewalk Off
For some people, the benefits of Sidewalk outweigh the risks. But for the majority, there is little upside and plenty of downside.