Amazon expands tracking capabilities by activating dormant Sidewalk network

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Amazon has flipped a switch that has automatically enrolled millions of its users in a program that will share internet bandwidth between neighbors, giving the company more options to track devices.

The internet-sharing program, called Amazon Sidewalk, connects nearby devices via Bluetooth and radio frequencies, so they can stay connected to the internet through other Sidewalk devices even when disconnected from home Wi-Fi networks.

The program already existed in Echo and Ring security cameras from 2018 and remained inactive until Tuesday.

While users have the option to disable Sidewalk, it has drawn criticism from critics who are concerned about the amount of data passing through devices to and from neighbors connected to it.

There are also concerns that the program will allow Amazon to track more users outside their individual homes.

However, some experts — and Amazon itself — say the program’s benefits outweigh its risks.

Amazon Sidewalk, a mesh network that shares internet bandwidth with neighbors, is already built into most Echo devices and Ring security cameras

Amazon Sidewalk uses devices like Echo to connect overlapping signals from nearby devices up to 800 meters away.

Amazon Sidewalk, a mesh network that shares internet bandwidth with neighbors, is already built into most Echo devices and Ring security cameras

Amazon Sidewalk uses the 900MHz spectrum to create what’s called a mesh network that connects overlapping signals from nearby devices up to half a mile away.

It allows a user’s device to share the bandwidth of the home Internet up to 500 megabytes per month, equivalent to streaming about 10 minutes of high-definition video.

The programs have been in the works for years. In September 2019, 700 Amazon employees were given Sidewalk technology, and the resulting network was large enough to cover an entire metropolitan area of ​​the city.

Reasons to sign up for the “crowdsourced, community benefit,” as Amazon describes it, include the ability to continue receiving motion alerts from Ring security cameras after they lose Wi-Fi, expanding the range of smart bulbs. and soon-to-be features such as a Bluetooth lost property tracker and a smart locksmith.

Amazon is also partnering with CareBand, which makes wearable sensors for people with dementia, and plans to implement a pet and valuables tracking tool and a help button.

HOW TO SIGN OUT FROM THE AMAZON SIDEWALK?

• On Echo devices, go to the Alexa app on your phone and click ‘More’. Then go to ‘Settings’ and click on ‘Account settings’. Then press ‘Amazon Sidewalk’ and set ‘Enabled’ to off

• On Ring doorbell devices, go to the Ring app on your phone and tap the three bars in the top left corner for a menu. Then press ‘Control Center’ and scroll down until you see ‘Amazon Sidewalk’ and uncheck ‘Enabled’

“With community connectivity support, Amazon Sidewalk improves coverage, provides offline functionality and enables troubleshooting to enhance the smart home experience,” reads a white paper that Amazon published with the release of Sidewalk. “By sharing a small portion of their home network bandwidth, neighbors give a little, but get a lot in return.”

However, Amazon is not paying the bill that users are getting from the increase in internet usage. Twitter user Christian tagged @AmazonHelp in a post published today that reads, “If you’re going to share my internet, I expect you to share the bill.”

One of the first warnings about Sidewalk came from a Business Insider article written by Aaron Holmes in September 2019.

He explained that Amazon Sidewalk’s mesh network could allow the tech giant to collect data about the location of your devices, even if you don’t use Amazon wireless networks at home.

“Wi-Fi network owners can track nearby devices even if those devices don’t join the network, just like a smartphone can detect nearby networks without signing in,” he wrote.

Twitter user John Maese wrote that this sets a “dangerous precedent” and a few Twitter users compared the feature to the artificial intelligence network Skynet from the Terminator movies, which eventually became aware and tried to wipe out humanity.

Twitter user John Maese shared a post expressing his concerns about Amazon Sidewalk

Twitter user John Maese shared a post expressing his concerns about Amazon Sidewalk

Twitter user Christian shared his frustration at the rise in internet costs that could result from using Amazon Sidewalk

Twitter user Christian shared his frustration at the rise in internet costs that could result from using Amazon Sidewalk

Mike Henry shared a post on Twitter about his concerns with Amazon Sidewalk

Mike Henry shared a post on Twitter about his concerns with Amazon Sidewalk

Sidewalk can also be used to perpetuate Ring’s influence and his role in aiding law enforcement. According to the Washington Post, “U.S. police forces made more than 20,000 requests last year for footage captured by Ring’s ‘video doorbells’ and other home security cameras.”

This kind of information goes both ways, as law enforcement learned in February when 55-year-old David Lee Huber, a suspect in a child pornography investigation, opened fire on FBI agents when they tried to search his Sunrise Florida home. Huber allegedly used Ring to spot the officers outside his home and opened fire before they could even knock, killing two and injuring three.

Coinciding with the release of Sidewalk, Amazon published an FAQ to allay users’ concerns.

“Preserving customer privacy and security is fundamental to how we built Amazon Sidewalk,” the company said when asked how Amazon will protect consumer information.

It continues to explain that Sidewalk was built with three layers of encryption so that no one could see the raw data going through it, not even Amazon itself.

“Information that customers deem sensitive, such as the contents of a package sent over the Sidewalk network, will not be seen by Sidewalk; only the intended destinations (endpoint and application server) have the necessary keys to access this information.”

In a YouTube segment, Futurum Research technical analysts Daniel Newman and Patrick Moorhead try to allay consumer concerns about the program.

Moorhead explained that he has already signed up for the program. ‘Do I know what risk I’m taking? Absolutely,” he said. “But do I like the benefit of being able to troubleshoot when my Wi-Fi goes sideways or track my dog ​​around someone else? Yes. That value proposition sounds pretty good.’

“This doesn’t mean it will never be hacked,” Newman said. “Government is being hacked, large corporations are being hacked, there is a chance someone will hack your Ring doorbell. But the reality is that I think these are more terrifying stories than reality.’

To unsubscribe from Sidewalk:

• On Echo devices, go to the Alexa app on your phone and click ‘More’. Then go to ‘Settings’ and click on ‘Account settings’. Then press ‘Amazon Sidewalk’ and set ‘Enabled’ to off

• On Ring doorbell devices, go to the Ring app on your phone and tap the three bars in the top left corner for a menu. Then press ‘Control Center’ and scroll down until you see ‘Amazon Sidewalk’ and uncheck ‘Enabled’

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