Amazon’s Sidewalk Alexa update pushed through on June 8th and with it comes potential headaches from security to privacy reasons.
The idea behind this is controversial for a variety of reasons. Through their Echo devices, Amazon will be able to connect a variety of Echoes through a so-called neighborhood wifi. The wifi pools the bandwidth of all connected devices in the range, allowing those on the network to use each other’s wifi. “Amazon says that customers' privacy and security are "foundational" to how it has built Amazon Sidewalk. The network has three layers of encryption and has protections to keep customers from viewing data from others' Sidewalk-enabled devices. Amazon also put together a outlining Sidewalk's privacy and security measures.”
Many people are understandably concerned about this. The biggest concern is the fact that they give you the option to opt out rather than in and concerns Amazon is trying to cut in on another market to dominate and monopolize. The update, if you do not opt out of the service, will go through automatically as an update, not unlike what you do for other technology. But as , privacy and data policy fellow at the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence puts it “"The fact that this thing is opt-out rather than opt-in is always a big red flag…"I feel like the bigger motivation here is to create a private surveillance network. I suspect they're seeing this as a real opportunity for kind of bridging all these different Ring devices in particular."
In addition to the privacy concerns there is the risk that the service despite what the retail giant tells people. Wifi and Bluetooth connected devices are notoriously easy to hack and the recent high-profile breaches of places like the Colonial Pipeline would have some people worried this will allow malicious actors easier access to phishing attempts. Amazon devices are already privy to a lot of information as is. “They see who knocks on our doors, and in some homes, they peer into our living rooms. They hear the conversations we’re having with friends and family. They control locks and other security systems in our home. Extending the reach of all this encrypted data to the sidewalk and living rooms of neighbors requires a level of confidence that is not warranted for a technology that has never seen widespread testing.
As Amazon rolls out this service, people are allowed to opt out or even turn off this device. But this rollout shows the need for everyone to consider how much of their personal information is protected and take steps to secure it.