Amazon will soon share your internet with neighbors (US only)
If you use Alexa or Echo devices, Amazon's newest experiment gives you a week to opt-out before the e-commerce giant hands a slice of your network bandwidth to your neighborhood. Amazon's Sidewalk project would help devices "get connected and stay connected" (using an unknown neighbor's internet) even when they are outside host Wi-Fi network's reach. Similarly, your neighbors' out-of-range devices will use your network.
On June 8, Amazon will automatically enroll its customers in the US who own Amazon devices in the new experiment. ArsTechnica observed that by default, devices including Alexa, Echo, Ring security cameras, outdoor lights, motion sensors, and Tile trackers will be automatically enrolled in Amazon Sidewalk. Since Amazon Sidewalk isn't opt-in as it should have been, many Amazon customers would unknowingly enroll into it.
Amazon promises to allocate only 80kbps of your internet bandwidth for the Sidewalk project. Maximum monthly data usage per account would also be capped at 500MB. Seemingly in an attempt to prevent customers from opting out the instant that they hear of the idea, Amazon emphasizes that it doesn't charge any fees to join Sidewalk. Well, why would it? It has little to lose.
Amazon Sidewalk essentially allows your neighbors to access your internet connection—a proposition fraught with risks. For instance, your neighbor's malicious internet activity could be billed on your connection, making you liable for it. Additionally, even established Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technologies have been fraught with inherent security vulnerabilities that have been highlighted by researchers over the years. This doesn't inspire confidence in Amazon's proprietary systems.
Amazon published a descriptive white paper explaining the terms of service for the experiment and how it would uphold user privacy. Despite the comprehensive safeguards in place, Amazon is still a single corporate entity that could gain back door access to your internet activities or be subpoenaed to do so. Not to mention, a decision to monetize Amazon Sidewalk could jeopardize your personal data.
Thankfully, opting out is simple. Open your Alexa app and navigate to More > Settings > Account Settings > Amazon Sidewalk. There, an option should let you turn Sidewalk off. Nevertheless, that doesn't change the fact that Amazon's practices come across as deceptive, and articles explaining the risks have limited reach. We believe Amazon should have notified people and used an opt-in approach instead.
Speaking of monetization, we believe Amazon could be redeploying the strategy it used to triumph over brick-and-mortar retail. In this case, it's promising a free service that would make it a pseudo-ISP (internet service provider) at the expense of millions of its customers. Now that we have clarified the potential hazards of participating in Amazon Sidewalk, you probably want to opt out right away.