Amazon launched new technology this week to share internet among its customers, which the company says will improve the performance of some devices. But it also has some privacy advocates concerned.
If you own certain Alexa-enabled Echo devices or some Ring camera models, Amazon will be able to use part of your home's Wi-Fi to create a new network.
"Amazon Sidewalk is an ad-hoc mesh network that takes advantage of your Amazon smart devices," said CBS News tech reporter Dan Patterson. The new service takes a small sliver of WiFi at homes with certain Amazon products and uses it to create a shared network within neighborhoods. The so-called Sidewalk Bridge allows devices with spotty Wi-Fi to stay connected.
The wireless network also works with Tile trackers, which can be used to locate lost items like keys or pets.
Amazon maintains that the network is privacy-protective.
"Preserving customer privacy and security is foundational to how we've built Amazon Sidewalk. Sidewalk is designed with multiple layers of privacy and security to secure data traveling on the network and to keep customers safe and in control," the company said. It noted that Sidewalk Bridge owners "do not receive any information about devices owned by others connected to Sidewalk and Amazon is not able to see the contents of messages sent over Sidewalk."
Jon Callas from the Electronic Frontier Foundation believes the network won't affect Wi-Fi speeds. "The amount of network that they say that they're going to be using is both very low bandwidth and relatively small," he said. But Callas has concerns because users are automatically enrolled.
Ashkan Soltani, former chief technologist at the Federal Trade Commission, has the same concerns.
"This should very much be an opt-in feature," he said. "People pay a service fee to their cable provider for these services, right? So for Amazon to help themselves to that bandwidth is pretty questionable, I think."
Amazon's Echo and Ring devices are set up to connect to Sidewalk bridge. They include:
- Ring Floodlight Cam (2019)
- Ring Spotlight Cam Wired (2019)
- Ring Spotlight Cam Mount (2019)
- Echo (3rd Gen and newer)
- Echo Dot (3rd Gen and newer)
- Echo Dot (3rd Gen and newer) for Kids
- Echo Dot with Clock (3rd Gen and newer)
- Echo Plus (All generations)
- Echo Show (2nd Gen and newer)
- Echo Spot
- Echo Studio
- Echo Input
- Echo Flex
The network is enabled by default. Amazon customers who want to opt out of Sidewalk Bridge can turn it off by following these steps:
- Open your Alexa app on your iPhone or Android device
- Tap the More menu
- Tap Settings
- Tap Amazon Sidewalk
- Toggle the slider to "off"