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Amazon devices to share WiFi automatically unless users opt out

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Owners of Amazon.com Inc. devices in the U.S. will automatically share their WiFi as of June 8 as part of a program called Amazon Sidewalk.

Pitched by Amazon as a shared network that helps devices such as Amazon Echo devices, Ring Security Cams, outdoor lights, motion sensors and Tile trackers “work better at home and beyond the front door,” Sidewalk is claimed to unlock unique benefits for devices.

Sidewalk creates a low-bandwidth mesh network with the help of Sidewalk Bridge devices, including select Echo and Ring devices. These Bridge devices are said to share a small portion of users’ internet bandwidth, which is pooled together to provide these services to other users and their neighbors.

Amazon Sidewalk was announced in September 2019 and was mentioned again with the launch of new devices in September 2020. Last September it was described as “a solution that makes it easy to set up mesh networks in the house with other Amazon devices such as Ring Smart Lighting that may be beyond the range of home WiFi.” What wasn’t perhaps made clear is that it involved using WiFi provided by neighbors who also have Amazon devices.

The idea of mesh networks isn’t new but where Amazon Sidewalk becomes interesting is that the new internet sharing feature is opt-out only, raising potential privacy concerns.

Amazon claims otherwise, saying in a white paper that “Sidewalk protects customer privacy by limiting the amount and type of metadata that Amazon needs to receive from Sidewalk endpoints to manage the network.” But ultimately, unless users opt out, they are forced to share their WiFi connections.

“While the security guarantees of the undertaking are without a doubt a step in the right direction, it’s been established repeatedly that wireless technologies like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are prone to critical flaws that leave devices vulnerable to a variety of attacks and a proprietary communication protocol like Sidewalk could be no exception,” The Hacker News noted.

Opting out of Sidewalk isn’t tricky, but the concern still remains that this new feature is opt-out versus opt-in.

Those who own Amazon devices can opt out through the Alexa app via the open more option: Select settings, account settings, Amazon Sidewalk and toggle it on/off. In the Ring App, users should tap the three-lined menu and then go to the control center, then Sidewalk and tap the slider button.

Photo: Amazon

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