Amazon to enable internet sharing on its devices by default, raising fresh privacy concerns
June 4, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — Online shopping giant Amazon is set to launch a new internet sharing feature on its devices, allowing strangers to access anyone’s Amazon-based home network, regardless of prior permissions to connect to it.
The Amazon Sidewalk feature is called a “wireless mesh service” (WMS) and will be made available to U.S. customers on numerous devices on June 8. The WMS allows a Sidewalk-capable device to sap a small percentage of another’s internet bandwidth in order to stay connected to the internet.
According to Ars Technica, a dedicated technology news agency and blog, the full list of Sidewalk-capable devices is: “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 (all models and generations), Echo Spot, Echo Studio, Echo Input, and Echo Flex.”
All listed devices will automatically implement the update, unless users specifically navigate their private settings and switch-off the function on purpose. Given the wide ownership of Sidewalk-compatible devices across the U.S. — with the Echo smart speaker system alone accounting for 58.3 million units in U.S. homes — and default enrollment in Sidewalk, Amazon is essentially creating a nationwide, distributed internet network with geolocation tracking functionality through private Wi-Fi connections.
Amazon has recently teamed up with Tile — a company making remote trackers to help find lost items and even pets — and with Level, which manufactures “smart-lock” security doors that are controlled via fingerprints, key-cards, and even mobile phones. This could mean that most Sidewalk users will be granted access to the same network to which many individuals technologically anchor their most valuable assets.
To offset privacy and security fears, Amazon is enabling the Sidewalk service free-of-charge and informing customers of the benefits of the system. “Sidewalk can help simplify new device setup, extend the low-bandwidth working range of devices to help find pets or valuables with Tile trackers, and help devices stay online even if they are outside the range of their home wifi,” an explanatory webpage reads.
Continuing, the e-commerce giant justified its new system by explaining that “Amazon Sidewalk helps your devices get connected and stay connected. For example, if your Echo device loses its wifi connection, Sidewalk can simplify reconnecting to your router. For select Ring devices, you can continue to receive motion alerts from your Ring Security Cams and customer support can still troubleshoot problems even if your devices lose their wifi connection.”
“Sidewalk can also extend the working range for your Sidewalk-enabled devices, such as Ring smart lights, pet locators or smart locks, so they can stay connected and continue to work over longer distances.”
Amazon has suffered serious security breaches in the past, supporting concerns about privacy and other issues regarding Sidewalk.
In 2018, Amazon customers’ names and email addresses were “inadvertently disclosed … due to a technical error.” At the time, Amazon told customers not to change any of their login details or passwords, but Richard Walters, chief technical officer of cybersecurity firm CensorNet, urged those affected to ignore Amazon’s cavalier advice.
Walters advised that, even though credit card details were not lost in the leak, “it would be wrong to assume that this makes the breach inconsequential. Cyber-criminals can do a lot of damage with a large database of names and emails.”
“A large majority of people still use predictable passwords, and thanks to previous high-profile breaches many people’s passwords are also readily available on the dark web. For cyber-criminals, it then just becomes an exercise in joining the dots.”
“If you’ve been affected, make sure you change your passwords quickly,” he cautioned.
For those who have a Sidewalk enabled device and don’t want to enroll in the internet-sharing service, Ars Technica provided a handy guide to opting out of the program:
Open the Alexa app
Open More and select Settings
Select Account Settings
Select Amazon Sidewalk
Turn Amazon Sidewalk Off