If you have Amazon’s Ring camera or Echo smart devices connected, the company started sharing your WiFi network with your neighbors. Without asking you. Without telling you (unless you happened to notice an obscure announcement made last September.) And without paying you for the share of your Internet service it will be using.
The good news is, you can turn off Amazon’s hack. Instructions are below.
What exactly did Amazon do? It turned on a network function it calls Sidewalk. This function uses low-power Bluetooth and a new, untested WiFi protocol called “LoRa” (I hadn’t heard of it either) to enable devices carried by anyone near your home to use your network to transmit and receive data. While Amazon says the network is secure (triple-encrypted, separate from your own data streams), nobody outside of Amazon has really had a chance to vet it before millions of customers were unwittingly sucked into Amazon’s massive experiment.
Sidewalk is supposed to make your life even greater by keeping your security camera working if your Internet goes down (as long as your Amazon-equipped neighbor’s WiFi is still working), support devices like Tile that help you find a lost item (if you’d attached a Tile to it), activate a CareBand tracker attached to someone with dementia, operate a Level smart lock, increase the range of these devices so they can be farther from your Internet router, and more.
Internet security advocates were caught off-guard. “They dropped this on us,” Jon Callas, director of technology projects for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), told Threatpost. EFF hadn’t even seen Amazon’s white paper on Sidewalk’s privacy and security functions until a day before Sidewalk was switched on.
While Amazon says the triple-encrypted content transmitted by Sidewalk is safe from snooping, even by Amazon itself, there is much Amazon can learn from Sidewalk transmissions. Amazon can discover who's walking by your house, knocking on the door, or unlocking a door if they happen to use a Sidewalk device, or just be carrying one, PC Magazine notes. (PC’s article lists the specific Amazon devices that broadcast the Sidewalk network.)
PC, c|net.com, the Washington Post, and Forbes.com have all raised various potential security concerns regarding Sidewalk and have provided instructions for turning off the system. I strongly recommend doing so, at least for several months, until we know more about how secure the system is in the real world versus Amazon’s untested imagination. I also find it deeply offensive that Amazon made millions of its customers into guinea pigs for an untried technology without asking them. Such a system absolutely should be opt-in rather than opt-out (i.e., you should have to proactively give consent).
To turn off Amazon Sidewalk in your devices, you need to use the Alexa mobile app; it cannot be done from a computer. (You can't get to it on the desktop.) In the Alexa app, go to More (lower right corner) → Settings → Account Settings → Amazon Sidewalk. Click the toggle so it says “disabled.” PC shows these steps in an image.
For more information about Sidewalk, click the links in this post. And as always, please post your questions and comments below (click "# Comments" below the Like button ↓).
Photo illustration credits: Amazon Sidewalk image by Steve Freedkin, Your Attention, Please! communications. You’re free to use it for non-commercial purposes if you don’t remove or hide the text in the upper-right corner. Woman with red numerals projected on face by cottonbro via Pexels.