So how can ‘Sidewalk’ make its way into your house? In the very same way as BT’s ‘hot spots’ – through your BT router, or in Amazon’s case, through your Amazon devices such as your friendly Alexa.
Back in 2013 I posted about how it was that BT was able offer wifi connectivity no matter where you might be – although they do not actually explain how they do this on their Hot Spot page.
‘What BT do not tell you on their ‘hot spot’ page, is that the majority of their hotspots live in the BT hubs installed in their private customers’ (yours and my) living rooms, halls and studies. Given that the hot spot takes minimal band width (too small for you to notice or to affect your costs) and that the hubs are extremely widely spread even in relatively low population density areas, it is an extremely efficient, low-cost, low-energy way to provide on-line access to huge areas and huge numbers of people.’
At the time I had, and still have, several issues with this – and would have exactly the same issues with Amazon SideWalk if/when it arrives in the UK.
- I cannot see why BT or Amazon should piggy back on my system in order to extend their reach. No matter that the band width that they take up is tiny and the cost negliglible, I have not been asked for my permission. It is an opt out system and if you do not know about it, how can you opt out? And why, in Amazon’s case, should this massive multinational benefit, free of cost, from my infrastructure to which they have not contributed a cent?
- Whatever they may say about security, and both assert that their networks are entirely secure and that no private information will be shared anywhere, wifi and bluetooth are notoriously insecure and I put little faith in multinationals’ promises where the data gathering potential is so huge.
- Although this may not be of concern to everyone, I do not want my living space bathed in wifi 24/7. If you are using an Amazon device such as Alexa, you are obviously using wifi 24/7 anyhow so this is not an issue. But as far as the BT hub is concerned, you could turn off your internal wifi and not realise that the public/hot spot wifi was still operational and needed to be turned off separately.
In the USA – Sidewalk is in action right now….
In the USA this question is relevant right now. As of June 8th Amazon has automatically enrolled all Amazon devices, including Alexa, Echo, Ring, security cams, outdoor lights, motion sensors, and Tile trackers, in Amazon Sidewalk. And since only a tiny fraction of people know this or know how to change their default settings, millions of people will be co-opted into the program whether they know anything about it or not.
What exactly is Amazon Sidewalk?
To quote from an interesting article by Dan Goodin in Ars Technica:
Amazon Sidewalk is a shared network that helps devices work better. Operated by Amazon at no charge to customers, 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 wifi. 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.
When you share your connection with Sidewalk, the total monthly data used by Sidewalk, per account, is capped at 500MB, which is equivalent to streaming about 10 minutes of high definition video.
Amazon has published a comprehensive white paper detailing the technical underpinnings and service terms that it says will protect the privacy and security of its users…… But wireless technologies like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth have a history of being insecure. If industry-standard wireless technologies have such a poor track record, why are we to believe a proprietary wireless scheme will have one that’s any better?
Dan helpfully also tells you how to turn off Sidewalk, pointing out that:
Amazon’s decision to make Sidewalk an opt-out service rather than an opt-in one is telling. The company knows the only chance of the service gaining critical mass is to turn it on by default, so that’s what it’s doing. Fortunately, turning Sidewalk off is relatively painless. It involves:
1. Opening the Alexa app
2. Opening More and selecting Settings
3. Selecting Account Settings
4. Selecting Amazon Sidewalk
5. Turning Amazon Sidewalk Off
However, according to another interesting article in cnet.com there’s another feature of Sidewalk called Community Finding (see below the Sidewalk slider) that allows people outside of your home to connect with Amazon’s servers by way of your Echo and Ring devices. That is an additional feature and needs to be turned off separately.
For now, then, if you live outside the US, the Sidewalk roll out, whether you welcome it or are horrified by it, will not affect you. However, if it is successful in the US, I cannot believe that Amazon will not look to extend it in due course. Watch that space.
With thanks to one of our readers for alerting me to this development.