Should you keep it turned on or opt out?
If you use Alexa, Echo or other Amazon devices, you may have unknowingly been opted into an experiment that leaves your privacy and security at risk.
On June 8th, Amazon automatically enrolled their enabled devices in Amazon Sidewalk - a wireless mesh service that shares a small part of your Internet bandwidth with neighboring Sidewalk-capable devices. This way, other Sidewalk users are able to utilize these "slivers" from you and your neighbors when they don't have a connection.
Here are all of the devices that will be linked to Sidewalk:
Ring Camera Doorbells
Ring Floodlight Cam
Ring Spotlight Cam Wired
Ring Spotlight Cam Mount
Echo (3rd generation and newer)
Echo Dot (3rd generation and newer)
Echo Dot for Kids (3rd generation and newer)
Echo Dot with Clock (3rd generation and newer)
Echo Plus (all generations)
Echo Show (all generations)
One of the advantages of Sidewalk is that if your Echo device loses WiFi, Sidewalk can help make sure you continue to receive motion alerts from your Ring Security Cams, help expand bandwidth in weak areas, and enable you to stay in touch with Amazon to troubleshoot your issues.
Why you may want to disable Sidewalk
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technologies have a history of being insecure. Remember the stories of strangers being able to talk to children through their camera monitors? While new technology is more robust, it is difficult to believe that a broadly untested proprietary wireless scheme like Sidewalk is that much safer.
Consider the wealth of information these devices. that will be sharing a common bandwidth, have. They see who comes to your door, know when you are driving out of your driveway, and hear conversations you are having with family and friends. They also control locks, lights, thermostats, and other security systems in your home.
The fact that it is Amazon providing this new "share and share alike" platform is something to factor in. The world's largest retailer has your shopping history and internet activity (as AWS is one of the world's largest web hosting services) in their databases. That's a lot of valuable information that may be vulnerable with this "flip of a switch" ISP that utilizes third party fiber networks.
Making all of this information potentially available (even though encrypted) to people on your Sidewalk network requires a trust level that to many has not yet been earned. Until there has been widespread testing, it may be smarter to turn Sidewalk off.
How To Turn It Off
To turn off Sidewalk (and your neighborhood may not have it yet, so check back once a month just in case), do the following:
Open your Alexa app
Open More and select Settings
Select Account Settings
Select Amazon Sidewalk (if it is not there, your neighborhood has not been activated yet)
Turn Amazon Sidewalk Off
The benefits of Sidewalk may outweigh the risks for some, but for many, there's little upside. In time, the service may prove safe, but until it has proven itself, opting out is recommended by many experts for the near term.
To learn more on Amazon's reasons for creating this network, click here.
Sources: Amazon, arstechnica