December 8, 2020
Amazon is slowly rolling out Amazon Sidewalk, first revealed in 2019 as an effort to create smart neighborhoods via wireless Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and 900MHz radio signals that can expand the connectivity reach to up to half a mile. Using a small amount of the home’s Wi-Fi bandwidth, Amazon Sidewalk can connect the user with any compatible device, such as garage door openers or outdoor lights, without any additional hardware. Amazon has unveiled it first as a free software update to Echo speakers and Ring cameras.
CNET reports that, “anyone with a Ring Spotlight or Floodlight cam, or anyone who gets the new, spherical Echo or the Echo Show 10 will also be able to use those new 900MHz connections to extend the range of their smart home by up to half a mile, at least with Sidewalk-enabled devices … [and] also contribute to that large-scale, out-of-home network that other users can take advantage of.”
Although Amazon has only released limited information about Sidewalk, it did say that it is “designating many of its existing Echo and Ring gadgets (and presumably the majority of its new devices from here on out) as Sidewalk bridges.”
If the user pairs a Tile tracker with his Sidewalk bridge, he would “be able to connect with it so long as it was within half a mile of anyone else’s Echo or Echo Show 10.” Amazon Sidewalk does raise security and privacy concerns since the user will be sharing more information with Amazon.
Forrester analyst Jeff Pollard pointed out that a dog with a Tile-type tracking device could alert the owner when it left the yard. “Those devices could also send data to Amazon like the frequency, duration, destination and path of your dog walks,” he said. “That seems innocuous enough, but what could that data mean for you when combined with other data?”
To allay concerns, Amazon issued a white paper “outlining the steps it’s taking to ensure that Sidewalk transmissions stay private and secure,” comparing its Sidewalk Network Server to the post office, “responsible for processing all of the data your devices send back and forth to their application server and making sure everything gets to the right place” but only reading the outside of the envelope.
With regard to device data, “Amazon says it uses metadata limitations and three layers of encryption to create the digital version of the envelope … [and that] only the intended destinations [the endpoint and application server] possess the keys required to access this information.” Amazon stated its servers will “authenticate your data and route it to the right place, but … won’t read or collect it.” It will also delete “the information used to route each packet of data every 24 hours, and … uses automatically rolling device IDs to ensure that data travelling over the Sidewalk network can’t be tied to specific customers.”