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Amazon service shares neighbors’ internet connections, is your privacy compromised?

Published: Jun. 8, 2021 at 6:23 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 10, 2021 at 9:55 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Tuesday, Amazon launched a new network that shares neighbors’ internet connections to help power some Echo and Ring devices. Customers with qualified devices were automatically opted into the service, stirring security and privacy concerns.

Amazon Sidewalk forms a bridge between most Echo and Ring devices. If a device has spotty Wi-Fi signal, Sidewalk will use a sliver of a participating neighbor’s Wi-Fi to keep it connected.

“Amazon Sidewalk is a shared network designed to help customer devices work better, both at home and beyond the front door,” the company explains on their website. “Operated by Amazon, with no charge to customers, Sidewalk helps simplify new device setup, extends the working range of low-bandwidth devices, and helps devices stay online, even if they are outside the range of the user’s home Wi-Fi.”

Some tech experts argue the benefit to Amazon far outweighs that of the consumer. While Amazon had only been collecting data inside the home, Sidewalk opens the door to collect valuable data about customer habits and travel patterns.

“Now, because Amazon is monitoring this across the whole neighborhood, it can reveal things like the route we take when we take our dog to a for a walk,” explained Ragib Hasan, Ph.D., UAB Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science. “This kind of information can reveal our personal habits, our daily routine and that’s a major privacy issue.”

Some argue Sidewalk creates surveillance concerns with the addition of Ring cameras, a network that works directly with many local police departments across the country. If Amazon stores the data long term, it’s hard to know who will ultimately have access.

“We must realize that in these days it’s impossible to stop being tracked,” Hasan added. “Whenever we are walking outside or going to the store, at every moment we’re getting tracked by different sensors. The thing that we really need is some kind of regulation. It can be self-regulation by the industry, or it can be some government regulations that will provide protections for our personal data.”

Dr. Hasan says Amazon’s three layers of encryption should be secure if implemented properly. Despite the infrastructure, these networks are ripe for hackers.

“Anytime you open up a doorway to your home or neighborhood, that allows hackers and criminals from even out across the world to get inside our homes, neighborhoods, hack into these devices and then gather more data about us. Once a criminal gets access to even one part of your network, they can basically take over other devices connected to that network.”

Amazon assures customers that the internet bandwidth used for other devices is low, capping data at 500MB per month, which equates to a few minutes of streaming video. Customers will never know which Sidewalk device is connected to their Wi-Fi.

“Information transferred over Sidewalk Gateway devices is encrypted and Gateway customers are not able to see that Sidewalk endpoint are connected to their gateway. Customers who own Sidewalk endpoints will know their device is connected to Sidewalk but will not be able to identify which Gateway they are connected to,” Amazon states.

How to opt out of Amazon Sidewalk

Amazon users: Go to Amazon settings, click Amazon Sidewalk and then slide the bar to “opt out.”

Ring users: On the home page of the Ring app, click the three lines in the top right corner, open Control Center, click on Sidewalk, then disable.

Sidewalk devices include: Ring Floodlight Cam (2019), Ring Spotlight Cam Wired (2019), Ring Spotlight Cam Mount (2019), Echo (3rd gen and newer), Echo Dot (3rd gen and newer), Echo Dot for Kids (3rd gen and newer), Echo Dot with Clock (3rd gen and newer), Echo Plus (all generations), Echo Show (2nd gen), Echo Show 5, 8, 10 (all generations), Echo Spot, Echo Studio, Echo Input, and Echo Flex

You can read more about Amazon’s Sidewalk here.

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