Amazon Sidewalk is a shared network that allows enabled Amazon devices, including Echo, Ring doorbells/cameras and Tile trackers, to connect to the internet when out of range of your network. It shares a small amount of your bandwidth (up to 80 Kbps) with nearby devices. It could be useful if you have a device on the edge of your wifi range, if your wifi goes down, or if you lose your Tile-clipped keys outside of your home. Amazon is launching the service June 8.
It’s essentially a mesh network, which allows connections between devices without going through a central routing hub. Mesh networks got some media attention after Hurricane Sandy, when neighborhoods were able to communicate through them even though most network services were down.
So on the one hand, it’s pretty cool and expands the functionality of some devices, especially the Tile. It might enable you to unlock your Ring door even if your network is down. It’s neighbors looking out for each other!
On the other hand, what are the privacy concerns? We’re so conditioned to being told to protect our network lest it get hacked, that something like this just immediately sounds wrong. Amazon didn’t do themselves any favors by making it opt-out, meaning it’s turned on by default unless you explicitly turn it off. But of course, it would fail out of the gate if they made it opt-in, because no one would bother to turn it on.
So where do people stand? I started in the camp of disabling it immediately. But I’m slowly moving toward the other side as I get a better sense of just what privacy concerns there are. I don’t see a viable path to network hacking through this. And if the concern is with Amazon doing shady things with data, then as one of the linked articles below says, why have one of these devices in the first place? You’re already opening up a much bigger can of worms with the device than you are with Sidewalk.
Links for more reading…Ars Technica (not a fan): Amazon devices will soon automatically share your Internet with neighbors | Ars Technica
Slate (actually pretty cool): The Amazon Sidewalk mesh network experiment is pretty cool. (slate.com)
Popular Science (there are risks, but not what you think): The privacy concerns with Amazon Sidewalk, explained | Popular Science (popsci.com)
Finally, it’s inevitable that a thread like this will have comments about fools who trust any of their data to Amazon/Google/Apple/etc. Which is valid and all, but I’m hoping to keep this focused on Sidewalk.