Amazon Joins Your Alexa Devices Together with Your Neighbors in a ‘Shared Network’ HIvemind

Jeff Bezos arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party on Sunday, March 4, 2018, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

E-commerce giant Amazon is facing a privacy backlash over its new “Sidewalk” feature which joins together Alexa-powered smart devices within your home with those belonging to neighbors. The company claims the “shared network” will help “devices work better.” One cybersecurity expert called Amazon’s new service “deeply problematic from a privacy perspective,” noting that “No one rides on my WiFi for free, especially a giant corporation with billions of dollars.”

MSN reports that e-commerce giant Amazon is facing backlash for its new Sidewalk feature which automatically turns Alexa-powered smart devices into shared networks. Amazon customers are automatically entered into the Sidewalk program which will connect Alex devices to other nearby devices, even those owned by someone else. Users can disable the feature from their Alexa app.

The Sidewalk program uses Alexa devices including Echo and Ring video doorbells to create a “shared network” aimed at helping “devices work better.” Amazon told users in a recent email that the program allows nearby devices to use a portion of a neighbor’s WiFi bandwidth so devices can have more range.

On a launch page, Amazon stated: “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.”

Amazon also published a research paper detailing the technology behind Sidewalk in anticipation of privacy concerns. The paper includes the steps taken by Amazon to keep users’ data private and concluded that privacy was one of the “foundational principles” of Sidewalk’s design.

The report’s authors stated: “By sharing a small portion of their home network bandwidth, neighbors give a little – but get a lot in return.” However, many are skeptical as to whether a network system such as Sidewalk could realistically keep user data private.

Alan Woodward, a professor at the University of Surrey specializing in cybersecurity, told BBC News in an interview that Sidewalk should be an opt-in feature rather than an opt-out feature as it currently is, adding, “It feels wrong not knowing what your device is connected to.”

The chief information security officer at Cyjax, Ian Thornton-Trump, told Forbes that the launch was “deeply problematic from a privacy perspective.” He added: “The ‘on by default’ approach is not consumer-friendly. No one rides on my WiFi for free, especially a giant corporation with billions of dollars.”

An Amazon representative confirmed in a statement that the program was automatically enabled for existing customers, stating: “But well before Sidewalk launches, we will notify existing customers with eligible Bridge devices so they can consider the benefits of Sidewalk before deciding if they want to change their preferences. After all existing customers are notified, all customers setting up a Sidewalk Bridge for the first time will have the opportunity to enable Sidewalk during device setup. All customers will have the option to change their Sidewalk preferences anytime in their Alexa app or Ring Control Center settings.”

Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan or contact via secure email at the address lucasnolan@protonmail.com

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