On June 8, Amazon will introduce its new Amazon Sidewalk program that allows some small smart devices — Ring Floodlight and Spotlight cameras, for example, and Echo Dot smart speakers and Echo Show smart displays — to share low-bandwidth home Wi-Fi networks among neighboring Amazon customers. On June 14, the network will expand to include third-party product Tile, connected to keys. All devices will become part of Amazon Sidewalk by default. The idea is that if one network drops out, the device can move to another nearby signal.
Adweek reports Amazon added that network sharing will also help keep device software updated. In a white paper, it tried to assuage concerns about the privacy and data security of a shared network and how it plans to safeguard personal information. Gartner research analyst Bernard Woo stated that, “the new program from Amazon highlights the importance of the privacy user experience (UX) in managing relationships with customers and users.”
Adweek notes that, “Comcast Xfinity launched a similar automatic opt-in program in 2014 that allows any of the cable giant’s customers to log into a public network in certain areas, which consists of dedicated portions of other customers’ connections.”
Although Amazon gave a heads-up to customers late last year, “it still decided to make Sidewalk opt-out-only, choosing not to obtain explicit consent from all participating customers.” Woo said that, “even if consent has been obtained, [organizations need to] commit to the principle of data minimization to process and retain only the minimum amount of data needed to satisfy the intended use or uses of data outlined in the privacy UX.”
Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos had previously stated that this is “a completely new way of thinking about intermediate-range wireless.” “There are a lot of things where Bluetooth is way too short-range, Wi-Fi is way too high-power, and so to have something that’s still low-power, but that has much longer range is really a gap in the marketplace,” he said.
The company also hopes that, “more third-party developers will follow Tile’s lead in creating products compatible with the Sidewalk network in order to foster a larger ecosystem around it.” Constellation Research analyst Ray Wang predicted that, “as tech giants double down on neighborhood and micro-mesh connectivity, expect more partnerships and innovations … this latest battle for the last inch will result in only a handful of players, creating the next opportunity for connected services.”
The Guardian reports that, “Sidewalk has come under fire for the apparent lack of transparency with which Amazon has rolled out the feature, as well as the limited time available for users to complete the tricky process required to opt out.” Some “have expressed concerns that failing to turn the setting off could leave customers in breach of their Internet service provider’s terms and conditions.”
Former Federal Trade Commission chief technology officer Ashkan Soltani noted that, “In addition to capturing everyone’s shopping habits (from Amazon) and their Internet activity (as AWS is one of the most dominant web hosting services) … now they are also effectively becoming a global ISP with a flick of a switch, all without even having to lay a single foot of fiber.”
For more information, check out the Amazon Sidewalk Privacy and Security Whitepaper.
What Is Amazon Sidewalk and How Do You Disable It?, PC Magazine, 6/2/21
Amazon Wants to Connect Your Smart Speaker and Doorbell with Your Neighbor’s. It’s Actually Pretty Cool!, Slate, 6/3/21