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How Amazon's Sidewalk Network Puts Your Privacy at Risk

How Amazon's Sidewalk Network Puts Your Privacy at Risk

It is undeniable how much Amazon has changed the world. The tech giant has evolved well beyond the online shopping portal it started out as to become integrated in most American lives through its streaming services, Alexa-powered SMART devices, and more. Along the way the company has become as synonymous with privacy concerns as it is with technology.

Amazon recently introduced its latest innovation, the Amazon Sidewalk network.  It is already facing strong backlash as, once again, concerns over the tech company’s invasions of privacy have surfaced.

Amazon Sidewalk’s Intent

In an email issued to device owners, Amazon said that Sidewalk is designed to create a "shared network" that will help "devices work better." It allows nearby Echo and Ring devices to use a portion of a neighbor's WiFi bandwidth to provide their devices with greater range. In other words, every Echo and Ring device will act as a bridge to help extend the network throughout the community.

On the Sidewalk launch page Amazon states, "These Bridge devices share a small portion of your internet bandwidth which is pooled together to provide these services to you and your neighbors. And when more neighbors participate, the network becomes even stronger."

While many people are comfortable having Amazon in their homes, not everyone has confidence that Amazon Sidewalk won’t present dangers. Many experts are skeptical of whether Amazon’s Sidewalk network will truly keep user data private. For example, Alan Woodward, a professor at the University of Surrey who specializes in cybersecurity told BBC News that "Sidewalk should be an opt-in feature," adding, "It feels wrong not knowing what your device is connected to."

What are the Dangers of Using Amazon Sidewalk?

One of the biggest controversies surrounding Amazon’s Sidewalk network is that it doesn’t give consumers the ability to choose whether they want to be included in it. When customers purchase an Amazon Alexa-driven device, like an Echo or Ring product, their home network is automatically added to Sidewalk. 

Amazon states that user data will be encrypted on its network, thus ensuring there will be no invasion of privacy or spying. However, most experts agree that it is simply too early to tell whether the company’s privacy claims are true or not. 

Opting Out of Sidewalk

Although Amazon automatically adds all of your supported devices to their Sidewalk network, there is a way you can manually opt out of the network. Here are the steps to opt out of Amazon Sidewalk to protect your privacy:

  1. Open the Alexa app on your iPhone or Android
  2. Tap “More”
  3. Tap “Settings”
  4. Tap “Account Settings”
  5. Tap “Amazon Sidewalk”
  6. Toggle the switch to “Off” to disable your participation

You can always toggle the switch back to “On” to rejoin Sidewalk if you choose to do so at any time.

This is just one example of how smart devices are increasingly putting your privacy at risk.  Read more about how you can prevent your connected devices from sharing too much information about you and your family.