Should you allow Amazon to use your home network for its Sidewalk project?: Internet Scambusters #981
Four months ago, Amazon launched a neighborhood networking service called Sidewalk.
The name is appropriate: To do its job, Sidewalk needs to use a fragment of your home network to link you in with your neighbors.
The company claims there are big benefits for users, but if you don't want them to use Sidewalk, we'll tell you how to turn it off in this week's issue.
Let's get started…
Amazon Sidewalk -- To Allow or Not, That is the Question
Did you know that someone may have been sharing your home Wi-Fi service for the past few months?
That someone is none other than Amazon. Using a technology they call Sidewalk, the online retailing giant has invited itself into customers' homes, effectively without asking or even telling you, to hook up to your home network.
Of course, you gave them permission in one of those daunting terms and conditions statements you probably never read.
If you use one of Amazon's Alexa devices, like its Echo speakers or certain Ring cameras and Tile trackers, and you didn't switch off the technology, you're out there on the Sidewalk. That means the company can use a tiny bit of your Wi-Fi bandwidth to link up with your neighbors and others within a radius of more than a quarter of a mile.
In technical terms, linking up like this is called a mesh network. It uses the popular and well-known Bluetooth short-range communication technology.
Sidewalk, which is built into these devices, supposedly can "unlock unique benefits" for them, Amazon says. Furthermore, it is "designed with multiple layers of privacy and security." And there's no charge!
That's all right then. Or is it? Maybe you just don't like the idea or the fact that it's active on your devices by default. If so, it's up to you to switch it off.
Sidewalk is indeed supposed to help us. For example, it means that even if your Wi-Fi system goes down, these Amazon devices may still be able to stay online, which is undoubtedly a plus if you use the firm's security cameras.
This is how Amazon puts it: "Sidewalk can 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 Wi-Fi.
"In the future, Sidewalk will support a range of experiences from using Sidewalk-enabled devices, such as smart security and lighting and diagnostics for appliances and tools."
Not So Sure
Others are not so sure the supposed benefits outweigh the risks. Whitney Merrill, a privacy and information security attorney called Sidewalk a "privacy nightmare."
And security software firm Malwarebytes pointed out that the era of wireless technology has been "littered with vulnerabilities."
In other words, it may seem to be safe and helpful today, but what about tomorrow? Even now, it surrenders some user control over certain elements of data and device functionality.
Are you on the Sidewalk? Here's Amazon's initial list of devices using the technology when it launched in June: Ring Floodlight Cam (2019), Ring Spotlight Cam Wired (2019), Ring Spotlight Cam Mount (2019), Echo (3rd gen and newer), Echo Dot (3rd gen and newer), Echo Dot for Kids (3rd gen and newer), Echo Dot with Clock (3rd gen and newer), Echo Plus (all generations), Echo Show (2nd gen), Echo Show 5, 8, 10 (all generations), Echo Spot, Echo Studio, Echo Input, Echo Flex.
More may follow.
How to Disable
Fortunately, it's not difficult to disable Sidewalk.
For Echo devices, in the Alexa app on your phone or tablet, go to Settings/Account Settings/Amazon Sidewalk.
For the Ring cameras, go to the app's Control Center, or use the Ring website.
Use the same methods if you switch off and then change your mind.
To learn more about the technology, you can visit Amazon's own page.
It's too early to say how safe this new technology is. Many commentators, the New York Times for example, say it's not as scary as it looks. Or, as tech magazine Wired said recently, it all depends on how much you trust Amazon.
According to the publication, the company has admitted that, at some stage, it might share third-party data with software developers.
Furthermore, you can be sure that, at some point, someone will try to hack into its tough security.
What is open to question is the way Amazon has gone about implementing Sidewalk, building the technology into its devices without telling consumers and then switching it on after a low-key blanket announcement not long beforehand. They didn't tell individual users.
The company is possibly hoping that this means that most users either don't know about it or simply won't bother turning it off. The choice is yours, but now you know about Sidewalk, which is currently only operating in the US, and what to do if you choose to opt out.
Alert of the Week
Ten firms have been called out by consumer organizations for selling unapproved and misbranded drugs falsely claiming to treat or cure diabetes.
Because of the high costs of some genuine diabetes medications, sufferers have fallen for the ruse and may be putting their health at risk.
Don't be one of them. Always discuss your treatment and medication needs with your healthcare professional.
And don't believe those miracle cure claims. They're always a scam. If they were true, everyone would be using them!
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.