A new Amazon feature is set to start sharing people’s internet connections – unless they opt out within the next week.
The tool, named Sidewalk, is intended to create a large “mesh” network that can be called on by other devices. It will mean that millions of devices made by Amazon companies – including Alexa smart speakers and Ring security cameras – as well as others will be able to borrow connections to ensure they stay online.
If a Ring security camera is at the back of someone’s property and therefore closer to a neighbour’s, for instance, the Sidewalk feature will allow the camera to share that house’s connection and stay online.
Amazon describes the tool as a “shared network that helps devices work better”. It says that it can “simplify new device setup, extend the low-bandwidth working range of devices to help find pets or valuables with Tile trackers, and help devices stay online even if they are outside the range of their home wifi”, and that it hopes in the future to roll it out to everything including “smart security and lighting and diagnostics for appliances and tools”.
In its online FAQs, Amazon suggests users should sign up because it “helps your devices get connected and stay connected”. They will be able to stay online when they wouldn’t otherwise, and work at longer distances, it notes.
But critics note that the feature also means that Amazon will have much deeper access to those internet connections, and that it could potentially raise privacy and security concerns for users.
“In addition to capturing everyone’s shopping habits (from amazon.com) and their internet activity (as AWS is one of the most dominant web hosting services)... now they are also effectively becoming a global ISP with a flick of a switch, all without even having to lay a single foot of fiber,” security researcher Ashkan Soltani told Ars Technica, which reported the roll out.
The site said that the feature would be turned on from 8 June for users in the US. Devices will be automatically unrolled unless their owners explicitly opt them out, meaning that those internet connections could be shared without their owner even knowing.
To switch it off, users can open up the Alexa app, click “more” and then “settings”, choose “account settings” and scroll to the Sidewalk option. In there is the option to turn the feature off.