Posted: June 7, 2021 by David Ruiz
Amazon smart device owners only have until June 8 to opt out of a new program that will group their Echo speakers and Ring doorbells into a shared wireless network with their neighbors, a new feature that the shopping giant claims will provide better stability for smart devices during initial setup and through possible Internet connectivity problems.
The program is the latest example of yet another multibillion-dollar company rolling out significant changes without meaningfully notifying users beforehand, making it increasingly difficult for users to choose how their data is used, or how their products function. In March, Google changed how Google Chrome users would be tracked across the web, and in May, WhatsApp threatened to remove basic messaging functions from the apps of users who refused to share some of their data with parent company, Facebook.
With all these company decisions, user choice has diminished.
This week, Amazon announced that many of its smart devices would be incorporated into what it is calling “Amazon Sidewalk,” a shared network of devices within neighborhoods that will, according to the company, “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.”
Amazon Sidewalk will create a mesh network between smart devices that are located near one another in a neighborhood. Through the network, if, for instance, a home WiFi network shuts down, the Amazon smart devices connected to that home network will still be able to function, as they will be borrowing internet connectivity from neighboring products. Data transfer between homes will be capped, and the data communicated through Amazon Sidewalk will be encrypted.
Amazon smart device owners will automatically be enrolled into Amazon Sidewalk, but they can opt out before a June 8 deadline. That deadline has irked many cybersecurity and digital rights experts, as Amazon Sidewalk itself was not unveiled until June 1—just one week before a mass rollout.
Jon Callas, director of technology projects at Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the news outlet ThreatPost that he did not even know about Amazon’s white paper on the privacy and security protocols of Sidewalk until a reporter emailed him about it.
“They dropped this on us,” Callas said in speaking to ThreatPost. “They gave us seven days to opt out.”
Other experts have warned about the security and privacy implications of Amazon’s project, as Sidewalk will rely on an untested WiFi protocol to link together selected devices. Whitney Merrill, a privacy and information security attorney with Asana, said on Twitter: “Hello privacy nightmare.”