I was hoping to publish this content in print for the general public in my community, but the timing of things did no work out. I am hoping I can get the word out to everyone who has an Amazon Alexa enabled device. Amazon has silently announce the roll-out of Amazon Sidewalk network. It’s not that I have a real problem with the general idea behind their technology, but the way in which they are executing the plan.
First I will talk a little about Amazon Sidewalk, the technology behind it, and how Amazon plans to use it. At the very basic level they want to insure that all Amazon Alexa enabled devices have constant access to the internet. The benefits it brings to you as a user of the technology is the ability to constantly access your device and all the things it controls. This makes it possible to do things like locate you yours that are tag with Alexa tags, even if you left them in a neighbor’s house because the Sidewalk mesh network allows your key tag to communicate to your Alexa home station regardless of where it is located. They are claiming that you can find lost items with Alexa tags from anywhere in the world.
How are they providing this level of service? It is actually very simple in concept and already being done across cellular and wireless networks all over the world. Each Alexa enabled device has a Bluetooth network adapter, even the tiny key tag tracking devices. In the initial design the key tags were only able to communicate with registered Bluetooth devices. The sidewalk network opens all Alexa enabled devices to communicate with all other devices over a secure low bandwidth channel. This allows your key tags and other Bluetooth Alexa devices to utilize any network connected Alexa device to communicate back to you. These mesh networks are one of the hot topics in the Internet of Things, which is just a way of saying things like your keys (a thing) can communicate across the internet.
I will be the first to agree that this technology is an amazing advancement, if Amazon can actually keep the private traffic on the low bandwidth network truly secure. This is something I find to be very unlikely considering the low processing power of the Alexa devices like key tags. It would be extremely difficult to encrypt the private information coming from such devices. However, as important as data security is, the question of data security is not my main complaint about the role out of the technology.
Now lets get to my “evil” statement. It all boils down to one thing. I like to keep my private data private and would want to make the choice to enable Amazon Sidewalk on my devices. However, Amazon made the decision for all their customers, rather that allowing customer to opt in to the new service, they announced on June 1, 2021 through an obscure message on their home page announce the June 8, 2021 launch of Sidewalk. Buried somewhere fairly deep in the article that most people owning a device never bothered to read is the fact that you must chose to “opt out” of the Sidewalk network before June 8. It is unclear to me if it is even possible to opt out following June 8.
There is a bit of good news in that the process to opt out is simple. You only have to opt out once on your Alexa account for it to take effect on all your devices. I highly recommend you taking the time to opt out today. Otherwise your Alexa connected devices will begin to share your Internet connections with everyone in your neighborhood. This means that if you neighbor fails to pay their Internet bill, their Alexa will still function by high-jacking your Internet connection. They won’t be able to stream music, movies or TV shows, through your connection but can still receive search results, make Amazon purchases, and locate their Alexa enabled devices without the expense of Internet service. To me it seems plan “evil” to enable a mesh network that shares my Internet connection with my neighbors and even people passing through the neighborhood essentially without my consent, since I have to opt out instead of opt in.