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Much to fear? Amazon Sidewalk and the loss of privacy

Amazon launches Sidewalk in the U.S. Is this a force for good or an invasion of privacy?

EU court to decide on Amazon tax appeal
Europe's competition chief Margrethe Vestager has accused Luxembourg of an illegal deal with Amazon to pay less tax than other businesses - Copyright AFP/File Patrick T. FALLON
Europe's competition chief Margrethe Vestager has accused Luxembourg of an illegal deal with Amazon to pay less tax than other businesses - Copyright AFP/File Patrick T. FALLON

Amazon’s newest feature, Sidewalk, became active on home devices including the Amazon Echo, Ring security systems, and Tiles. This new system allows neighbors to share pieces of home’s Internet connection with their devices which has led to concerns about privacy and bandwidth among security experts and consumers.

While this sounds useful, a deeper dive into what the new feature entails proves that there are many security and privacy features to protect exposing your personal data through your neighbor’s smart home device.

According to Mozilla, Amazon has begun automatically opting in users of Alexa, Echo, Ring security cams, and Tile devices into Amazon Sidewalk. Amazon Sidewalk is a giant shared wireless network. That means Amazon will seek to take some of a person’s wireless bandwidth and share that into a bigger pool of bandwidth in a type of crowdsourced network.

Looking at the issue, for Digital Journal Brad Ree, CTO, ioXt Alliance.

Ree looks at the basis of the change: “Sidewalk provides a very interesting solution to the common problem of building devices which can reach long distances without the need for large batteries. There are about 25 percent of homes in the U.S. which have a smart speaker. The goal of Sidewalk is to turn those homes into a low power network which can help consumer devices reach the cloud.”

As an example, he notes: “The devices could use low cost radios, which only need a trickle of energy compared to long range cellular solutions. The trade-off of a direct connection to your home network (or a cell tower) is that the device may be routed through your neighbor’s network.”

Naturally this raises concerns, as Ree explains: “There are many security and privacy features added to the protocol to protect against interception of the messages, and protections against access to your home network by your neighbor’s smart home device.”

As examples, he provides: “To start with, Sidewalk devices require secure hardware to store the identity and keys used by the device. In other words, Sidewalk wants to make sure that your device stays your device. Further, the keys used to communicate are stored in such a way that an attacker who has physical access to the device would have a hard time stealing the key. Sidewalk also uses three levels of encryption, which essentially establishes a direct connection from your device to the manufacturer’s cloud. Even Amazon is not able to read the messages passing through the network.”

What has annoyed many is that Amazon has opted user you in, rather than asking the permission of users to opt in, according to Gizmodo.

It is possible to opt out, by following:

  • Open your Alexa app (if you have a Ring, but not an Alexa, go to your Ring Control Center in the app to opt-out).
  • Open More. Open Settings.
  • Select Account Settings.
  • Select Amazon Sidewalk.
  • Turn Amazon Sidewalk to OFF.

Currently Sidewalk is only operational in the U.S.

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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