Echo, Left and Echo Plus were among Amazon’s new products announced in 2017. On Tuesday, June 8, 2021, Amazon launched a program that forces users of many smart Echo speakers and Ring security cameras to automatically share a small portion of their wireless bandwidth with neighbors. The only way to stop it is to turn it off yourself. (Elaine Thompson, Associated Press)
NEW YORK (AP) – Do you own an Amazon smart device? If so, chances are good that the company is already sharing your internet connection with your neighbors, unless you specifically say not to do so.
On Tuesday, the company launched a program that forces users of many smart Echo speakers and Ring security cameras to automatically share a small portion of their home wireless bandwidth with neighbors. The only way to stop it is to turn it off yourself.
Amazon says the program, called Amazon Sidewalk, is a way to make sure lights, smart locks and other gadgets outside the home and out of range of a Wi-Fi connection stay working.
But some experts warn that the technology is so new that the risks to privacy and security remain unclear. And almost no one seems happy that Amazon has forced users to join the Amazon Sidewalk ̵
Did Amazon tell customers this was happening?
Amazon says it sent emails to customers last month and in November that Sidewalk was coming. The company says you’ll also be notified when you set up gadgets that work with Sidewalk.
How can I stop this?
Once you find out, it’s relatively easy, if not quite simple, to give up the Sidewalk. Echo users can log in to the Alexa app, tap “More” in the lower right corner, then tap “Settings”, then “Account Settings”, where they’ll find a section for Amazon’s sidewalk and a button to disable it. In the Ring app, call the Control Center, and then tap Sidewalk.
Why is Amazon doing this?
The idea of Sidewalk is to integrate residential wireless connections into a “network network” that can extend coverage to areas that home Wi-Fi cannot reach. The Amazon Echo and Ring devices combine to create this network by taking part of the bandwidth from each cooperative home network. This can extend the range of devices designed to work with Sidewalk so that they stay connected even when they are away from your home network.
One example of such a device is the Tile, a tracking device that can be placed on keys or a dog collar. If your dog disappears in a neighborhood where the sidewalk works, it can reappear quickly through Tile.
Other products that work with Sidewalk include smart locks that can be controlled by a phone and wearable devices that can track people with dementia who can wander. Amazon expects additional devices, including exterior lights and motion detectors, to work with Sidewalk soon.
How it works?
Amazon takes advantage of a variety of radio technologies, including one called LoRa – for its long range – and better known for industrial and business applications, such as tracking cattle roaming through pastures.
“The goal here is not to create a home cover,” said Mark Pegulu of chipmaker Semtech, which has partnered with Amazon on the technology. “It’s kind of like a shared network, a shared community network.”
Among other things, devices connected to the shared network can search for the best signal in a way that saves their battery life.
Thomas Clausen, a professor of computer science at France’s École Polytechnique, says the network Amazon is building could be a good thing, provided it’s open and accessible, as it will make it easier and cheaper to use devices connected to internet and sensors and trigger new innovations.
“But, of course, when a giant like Amazon, or Apple, or Google or Microsoft creates a platform, they can also ultimately control the platform, and that can stifle innovation,” he said.
What are the risks?
Hackers could potentially break into home networks through the sidewalk, said Eric Zero, policy manager for the Access Now digital rights group. If that happens, Null said hackers can monitor everything you do, seize your devices, or access your files to steal information.
“It’s only a matter of time before someone’s network is hacked and the data is breached,” Zero said.
William Tong, a Connecticut prosecutor, warned users this week that the program was “unexplored territory” and that people should give up the Sidewalk unless they were sure their privacy and security would be protected.
“Wireless networks are already known to be vulnerable to hacks and breaches,” Tong said in a statement. “Families need better information and more time before transmitting part of the bandwidth to this new system.”
What does Amazon say?
Asked about privacy and security concerns, an Amazon spokesman said he could not respond to “hypothetical situations”. The company did not respond to a request to make the CEO available for an interview, but said the data flowing through its network has three levels of encryption, which aims to prevent hackers from seeing it.
Samir Jain, director of policy at the Center for Democracy and Technology, said Amazon’s efforts to encrypt data were a good step. But Jane said it was difficult to identify security vulnerabilities until new technology was introduced into the real world.
Which devices want to share my internet?
Echo devices that share a network bandwidth via Sidewalk include third-generation and newer versions of Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Dot for kids, and Echo Dot with a clock. The echo show 5, 8, 10; the second generation of the Echo Show; Echo Spot; Echo Plus; Echo Studio; Echo input; Echo Flex.
Sidewalk ring devices include the Ring Floodlight Cam; Ring Spotlight Cam Wired; and the Spotlight Cam Mount ring.
Does Amazon have bigger ambitions?
Amazon explained Sidewalk in the context of consumer devices such as cameras and speakers. But it may one day integrate technology into its core business: supplying goods.
For example, the company could incorporate small Internet-connected devices into cartons to help them track them, said Clausen of École Polytechnique.
“Integrating alarm systems, detecting the presence of people or not, will potentially allow Amazon to create more efficient delivery schedules and fewer re-deliveries,” he said. This could be an app that Amazon is thinking about, he added.
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