Amazon’s Massive New Privacy Invasion

Why Amazon Sidewalk is a bad idea.

Photo by Lazar Gugleta on Unsplash

As a former Amazon employee, I tend to cut the company slack. Not that I think there aren’t severe problems with how it treats its warehouse workers. (And I certainly don’t think Jeff Bezos should ever receive a Child Tax Credit.) But I know a lot of the people who work there are honest and are doing their best to produce innovative solutions.

But some new products and features leave me scratching my head. Or banging it against the wall. Amazon Sidewalk has me doing both.

The new “feature” plans to turn your home into a mobile hotspot. Your Alexa and other Amazon devices will now offer your home Wifi connection to outsiders, who can use it for temporary Internet access.

This isn’t a new idea. Xfinity already does this with its home Internet routers as well. But now Amazon is adding its 40 million Alexa users to Comcast’s approximately 22 million Internet subscribers — a substantial boost of capacity and availability.

The problem is that, like Xfinity’s offering, Sidewalk is opt-in by default. Contrary to privacy trends for the last decade, you must explicitly opt-out of Sidewalk if you don’t like the idea of strangers using a slice of your home network.

There are many reasons this is a terrible idea. First, this tech is bound to be buggy when it first comes out. The potential for security holes is huge.

Second, it sucks up precious available bandwidth during an era where most of us are still working from home. (The network is supposed to be designed to be “low-bandwidth”. I guess we’ll wait to see if that’s actually true.)

Additionally, as one privacy advocate and former FCC chair put it in the Guardian article: “[Amazon is] effectively becoming a global ISP with a flick of a switch, all without even having to lay a single foot of fiber.” It’s like if someone rented out your house as an AirBnB without your permission. In a way, it’s even worse, as we have no idea what Amazon intends to do with this immense networking power once they have it.

But perhaps my largest beef with this tech is that roaming hotspots simply…aren’t that good. I can count on one hand the number of times my phone has connected to an Xfinity hotspot from someone’s house and gotten anything close to a usable signal. Nine times out of 10, the network just usurps my LTE connectivity and bricks my Internet. The last thing I need is yet one more Zombie Network for my phone to connect to automatically.

In the end, schemes such as Amazon Sidewalk are signs that a public company is attempting to address a problem that requires a systematic solution. Countries like the US should be focused on building out comprehensive, nationwide broadband infrastructure. It’s high time that connectivity became ubiquitous and free. Until it does, we’re likely to continue to see companies like Amazon freeride off of consumer Internet as a means of achieving their own objectives.

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Owner, Technical Writer and Trainer specializing in Cloud and DevOps. Tech, programming, technical writing, gadget reviews, and geek humor.

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