On June 8, Amazon will roll out its new feature called Sidewalk that shares internet access with your neighbors. Users of devices like Echo, Ring Video Doorbells, Ring Floodlight Cameras, and Ring Spotlight Cameras have the option of opting out if they do not want this.
What Does Sidewalk Do?
The purpose of linking all devices is to create a nationwide mesh network that does not require individual internet access to operate. Sidewalk is essentially a location-tracking system. According to The Hacker News “Originally, announced in September 2019, Sidewalk is part of Amazon’s efforts to build a long-range wireless network that leverages a combination of Bluetooth and 900 MHz spectrum ( FSK ) to help Echo, Ring, Tile trackers, and other Sidewalk-enabled devices communicate over the internet without Wi-Fi.”
The idea is to provide an internet connection to low-bandwidth devices that may fall outside a user’s home Wi-Fi network, by pooling device connections. Experts compare the system to Apple’s Find My feature, where users can locate any device of theirs using an app on iPhone, iPad, or Mac. Unlike Find My, Sidewalk also provides two-way communication between devices. Sidewalk uses both Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and long-range wireless technology known as LoRa to keep devices connected even when they are far apart.
How Private and Secure is Sidewalk?
Privacy and security are buzz words tossed around frequently especially during this time of ransomware, identity theft, and hacking. Therefore, the question on everyone’s mind becomes, how secure and private is Sidewalk?
The Hacker News explains that Amazon is reassuring customers by saying that said that
“packets traversing through the network are secured by three layers of encryption, and that it has safeguards in place to prevent unauthorized devices from joining by using Sidewalk credentials created during device registration process to authenticate their identities.”
In a white paper that talks about Sidewalk, Amazon noted: “Sidewalk protects customer privacy by limiting the amount and type of metadata that Amazon needs to receive from Sidewalk endpoints to manage the network.” The online retailer promises that security and privacy are their top concern, and that no private information can be leaked using this system. They also explained that each transmission of data between devices has its own unique transmission-ID (TX-ID), which changes every 15 minutes so that no specific ID can be linked to a user or device.
However, to work correctly, the system does use device serial numbers. Amazon addresses this by saying, “The routing information that Amazon does receive for operating the network components of Sidewalk is automatically cleared every 24 hours.” Any device that is lost or stolen may be blacklisted within the system as well.
Experts have their doubts. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are inherently flawed, with vulnerabilities that a bad actor could potentially exploit. The threat of surveillance or spying does exist using this system. Due to these reasons, experts are concerned that Sidewalk might cause data breaches or identity theft.
How Users Can Opt-Out of Sidewalk
Users of Amazon devices should understand that as a default, they will be opted-in and must opt-out manually if they do not want their devices to be linked with those around them.
Amazon has created an FAQ page on their website to educate consumers about the new feature. However, Amazon tries to dissuade users from opting out, claiming that by opting out you will be “missing out on Sidewalk’s connectivity and location related benefits,” and “You also will no longer contribute your internet bandwidth to support community extended coverage benefits such as locating pets and valuables with Sidewalk-enabled devices.”
According to The Hacker News, to opt-out using your Echo and Ring devices, follow the steps below: