New Amazon Tech Raises Concerns About Privacy

New Amazon Tech Raises Concerns About Privacy Amazon building (Getty Images)

By Brian Freeman | Wednesday, 09 June 2021 05:32 PM

Amazon on Tuesday switched on its new free service called Sidewalk, a technology that is raising concerns about privacy and security, The New York Times reported.

The most controversial feature of Sidewalk is that it runs by instructing Echo or Ring devices in one’s home to share a slice of internet bandwidth so that other Sidewalk-compatible devices that come in range can connect to the internet.

This means that a little of a user's bandwidth, and a little of his neighbor’s bandwidth becomes available to other Sidewalk devices, and a user will never know who is sharing his signal, or when, and a user's devices will never be able to determine which Sidewalk device a user is connected to when he leaves home.

Exacerbating these concerns about privacy is that Sidewalk is an opt-out service, which means that a user has to proactively turn it off. Many people will probably have have no idea that their device has been linked to Sidewalk and is now part of a national mesh network.

Amazon explained to The Washington Post that Sidewalk is meant to make everyone’s tech work better.

“We live in an increasingly connected world where customers want their devices to stay connected. Sidewalk general manager Manolo Arana said. “We built Sidewalk to improve customers’ experiences with their devices and to benefit their communities.”

He added that “WiFi is constrained mostly to your home; it doesn’t have the range to go into your backyard and into the neighborhood. Cellular offers long-range connectivity, but it is expensive. Sidewalk splits the difference between those two and allows us to put billions of things at the edge of the network.”

Tech industry analyst Patrick Moorhead told the Post that he is impressed by Amazon’s efforts to keep others out, saying “I haven’t seen very many triple-protected, triple-encrypted systems out there.”

However, he admitted that “there’s no infallible system.”

Other security experts emphasize that, for privacy reasons, it is never good to open any kind of portal outside the secured perimeters of a user's home network , no matter what Amazon promises.

Although Amazon stresses Sidewalk’s ability to help the roughly quarter of American homes with smart-home appliances get and stay connected, the Post pointed out that, for example Sidewalk could substantially boost the reach of Amazon’s controversial Ring security business, which police departments tapped for more than 20,000 requests last year. Sidewalk enables people and organizations to put Ring devices in places that were not possible before.

It is also important to note that if one decides to proactively opt out of the system and turn off Sidewalk, a user won’t be sharing his network with the neighbors, but his own devices also will not be able to access its network, the Post reported.