Expert Comment: Amazon And Apple Wide-area Mesh Networking

BACKGROUND:

On June 8, all Amazon devices will automatically be enrolled in Amazon Sidewalk. According to Ars Technica, the new wireless mesh service will share a small slice of your Internet bandwidth with nearby neighbours who don’t have connectivity and hook you to their bandwidth when you don’t have a connection. By default, Amazon devices including Alexa, Echo, Ring, security cams, outdoor lights, motion sensors, and Tile trackers will enrol in the system. And since only a tiny fraction of people take the time to change default settings, that means millions of people will be co-opted into the program whether they know anything about it or not.

Experts Comments

June 02, 2021
Bob Rudis
Chief Data Scientist
Rapid7

Both Amazon and Apple are making huge forays into the wide-area mesh networking space, with Amazon's Sidewalk service being the more ambitious of the two (so far). The ostensible goal is to help you and your devices stay connected and be located provided you're within radio frequency range of one of a plethora of devices. For the moment, the inherent usability of this grass roots network will be limited as each device has varying bandwidth capabilities and maximum bandwidth utilisation will be

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Both Amazon and Apple are making huge forays into the wide-area mesh networking space, with Amazon's Sidewalk service being the more ambitious of the two (so far). The ostensible goal is to help you and your devices stay connected and be located provided you're within radio frequency range of one of a plethora of devices. For the moment, the inherent usability of this grass roots network will be limited as each device has varying bandwidth capabilities and maximum bandwidth utilisation will be 80Kbps with a data cap of 0.5 GB per-Amazon user account (sorry torrent pirates).

 

In large or dense cities or similar environments, Sidewalk will make it possible for any portable Alexa (et al) device to remain minimally connected. As of December 2020, around 2.9 million Ring devices have been sold since 2017 (Amazon Ring sales nearly tripled in December despite hacks), which may help extend Sidewalk's reach into suburbia as well.

 

Amazon has an entire developer programme — Sidewalk Developer Service — supporting the creation of Sidewalk apps and devices and has plans for deep integration with their AWS IoT offering, so you know they're likely going to heavily incentive users to stay opted in.

 

Despite Amazon's assurance of security and privacy, organisations with any Sidewalk-enabled device should proactively opt out of being part of the network and individuals or households should consider doing the same until researchers and policymakers have had a chance to fully evaluate the offering, including any liability one might incur if it is, indeed, possible someone could perform legally questionable network actions via your home or work network connection. As with all things digital in our modern era, you should also regularly check to make sure you haven't accidentally opted back in to Sidewalk via an innocuous terms of service acceptance, default setting on some checkbox when checking your cart out, or missing a voice memo due to an Alexa hiccup.

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