By Emma Nitzsche
In its hunt to advance smart homes, Amazon has been at the center of many technological and moral dilemmas, leading consumers to question whether convenience is worth the trouble of devices constantly listening and gathering information.
That question of trading privacy for convenience has now reached a new level with Amazon Sidewalk.
A new update for Amazon smart speakers and Ring security cameras gives the devices the ability to share a small portion of your home’s Wi-Fi connection with your neighbors’ devices. The goal is to connect every inch of your property and create a comprehensive Wi-Fi network throughout the entire neighborhood.
Instead of having Amazon devices only connect to a single household’s internet connection, an Echo Speaker (or other Amazon device) would seamlessly convert into a Sidewalk Bridge. The device would then use Bluetooth to connect to your neighbor’s Amazon devices and create an expensive internet network.
In Amazon’s ideal world, multiple devices would join together to create a strong network blanketing an entire street, neighborhood, and town.
“We live in an increasingly connected world where customers want their devices to stay connected. We built Sidewalk to improve customers’ experiences with their devices and benefit their communities,” Manolo Arana, the general manager of Sidewalk, told the Washington Post.
Potential participants in the expanded network are raising concerns over internet privacy. Amazon insists that participants will only be surrendering a small portion of their data and that no two Sidewalk users will be able to access each other’s networks or devices.
In a blog post outlining details about the program, Amazon stated that “customer privacy and security is foundational to Amazon Sidewalk. The network uses three layers of encryption to keep data shared over the network safe, and the same strong encryption standards are required for all applications and devices that use the network.”
By expanding the reach of internet connections, Sidewalk broadens the scope and potential uses of compatible tech devices. For example, the program promotes Bluetooth tools like Tile, a wireless tracker used to help consumers locate frequently misplaced items. An individual who uses the Tile app to track down their runaway dog in a Sidewalk neighborhood might be grateful for the increased range and Bluetooth connection shared by their neighbors.
For Amazon, the prospect of having a sizeable Wi-Fi network has the potential to be profitable as it allows it to track packages or connect delivery trucks.
Still, the announcement left consumers skeptical. Although the amount is small, consumers would still have to share a portion of their home Internet bandwidth –estimated at around 500 megabytes per month. That is nearly the same amount as 150 cellphone photos.
This increase may have been excusable if Amazon had allowed consumers to opt-in to the program, but the company pushed their client base straight into the program without warning. Of course, there are ways to opt-out of Amazon Sidewalk. Still, many believe the tech company should have given their customers the option to share their internet connection instead of enabling it by default.