Amazon Sidewalk is a privacy nightmare waiting to happen

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Amazon's Sidewalk platform is a privacy scandal in the making.
Image: Amazon

It’s clear that Amazon is the leader in e-commerce. There is a good chance that no company will ever be able to match it. However, Amazon isn’t content with selling consumers anything they can imagine with two-day shipping.

The company has expanded its operations to include everything from drones to autonomous cars and pharmaceuticals to space travel. On Monday, Amazon unveiled its latest ventureAmazon Sidewalk.

It appears to be an Amazon-branded Wi-Fi network that would let the company’s hardware function away from the customer’s home. Of course, it will rely on several outside variables.

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Connected Everything

Amazon originally pitched the idea of Sidewalk last year. It uses the recently-opened 900 MHz band along with Bluetooth low energy signals to extend the reach of home Wi-Fi networks.

The company’s recent announcement says, “With Sidewalk, you can continue to receive motion alerts from your security cameras even when your Wi-Fi goes down. Or if your Wi-Fi does not reach your smart lights at the edge of your driveway, Sidewalk will help them stay connected.”

In other words, Sidewalk boosts the Wi-Fi signal to reach connected devices that would otherwise be out of range. Amazon says that devices like Ring doorbells and Echo speakers will serve as “Sidewalk Bridges.”

Signals will pass through these gadgets when users decide to chip in a bit of their internet bandwidth. The cumulative signal pooled together by several devices will create Sidewalk’s “shared network” and will help people keep their Amazon gadgets connected.

At the time of this writing, there isn’t a list of all the devices that will work with Sidewalk. Amazon expects to release that information “later this year.” We do know that Tile trackers are on the list, alongside Echo devices.

Questions Remain

Obviously, Sidewalk sounds like a privacy nightmare waiting to happen. Smart gadgets already carry a reputation for having poor cybersecurity. That’s before they are used as a booster to extend Wi-Fi signals to strangers.

Sidewalk requires that consumers not only buy-in to Amazon’s product ecosystem, but that they’ll also trust the company. That’s a tough ask from a business that most people don’t speak highly of—even if they compulsively buy from it.

Amazon certainly claims that Sidewalk is safe. It says that the network itself has three layers of encryption and that all devices using it must have “strong encryption standards.”

However, that doesn’t exactly mean much. Today’s world is ruled by who writes the best code and a hacker could, in time, find a way to circumvent Sidewalk’s security.

In fact, some of the devices that will be part of the Sidewalk network—Ring doorbells and cameras—were the center of a hacking outbreak just months ago. Along with Amazon’s history of turning Ring data over to local law enforcement agencies, Sidewalk seems like a powder keg of the company’s own creation.

Although plenty of people will opt-in to Amazon’s new Wi-Fi extending platform, there are many reasons to avoid it. Honestly, it’s probably better to just update your network password and ignore Sidewalk altogether. Everything about it screams privacy disaster.

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