Amazon's Idea For A Mesh Network Is Cool; Its Method Of Rolling It Out Is Not

from the c'mon-guys dept

Over the weekend there was a bit of a reasonable fuss raised after Ars Technica noted that all of the various Amazon connected devices (including Alexa, Echo, Ring, etc.) would become part of a mesh network called Amazon Sidewalk, in which the devices would be sharing a tiny tiny bit of bandwidth across the network of devices. The idea behind the mesh network is kind of cool, and there are some clear benefits to using it.

But, of course, this is Amazon we're talking about -- a giant company, and the method of rolling this out seems to have caught a ton of people by surprise: namely opting everyone into the program with a short timeline to opt-out. That seems less than ideal. Lots of privacy folks are concerned, in general, with two aspects of this: the fact that people may be suddenly sharing data with their neighbors without necessarily realizing it, and the tie-in to Amazon, which is (again) a large company that tends to collect quite a bit of data on people. To its credit, Amazon released a pretty comprehensive whitepaper exploring the privacy and security protections they've built in to Sidewalk, and my guess is that for many consumers the benefits of easier setup and better connectivity via Sidewalk will seem worth it to them.

The real issue, then, is forcing everyone into the network. Obviously, it's no surprise why this was done. A mesh network really only works if you have enough nodes on the network to make it useful. So it makes sense that Amazon would want as many of the devices to be on the network on day one as possible. However, given the company and the public scrutiny it has received of late, it seems like it should have anticipated these concerns a lot more, pushed for an opt-in setup (perhaps with incentives), rather than jumping to the "hey, we're adding this automatically" approach.

While it's possible that Amazon is betting that the concerns over this will blow over, and having so many nodes on the network will make it worthwhile to take the short-term heat, it still surprises me that the big internet companies don't take more steps to alleviate these kinds of concerns up front, including taking a more cautious approach. But, perhaps that's why I don't run a giant internet company.

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Filed Under: alexa, amazon sidewalk, echo, iot, mesh network, opt-in, opt-out, privacy, ring, sharing
Companies: amazon


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  • icon
    Zauberin Paracelsus (profile), 1 Jun 2021 @ 3:39pm

    Don't most internet service providers have terms in their service contract that forbids you from sharing your internet service with neighbors and other people outside your household?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That Anonymous Coward (profile), 1 Jun 2021 @ 3:45pm

      Re:

      I no longer think that is a thing in the US at least.
      I think nowdays its the rules after MaBell was broken up, once its inside your home you can have 500 handsets if you want.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 1 Jun 2021 @ 4:45pm

        Re: Re:

        It's still a thing for comcast at least:

        "use or run programs, devices, or equipment from the Premises that provide network content or any other services to anyone outside of your Premises LAN, except for your personal and non-commercial residential use"

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 1 Jun 2021 @ 4:49pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          sorry, wrong copy/paste

          "resell the Service or otherwise make available to anyone outside the Premises the ability to use the Service "

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            That Anonymous Coward (profile), 1 Jun 2021 @ 4:52pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            They mainly care about you reselling, if you had an open wifi (which hey all of their boxes ship with for comcast customers) they aren't going to care or come looking to make sure.

            Its mostly leagalese to cover ones behind.

            I pay for the service, I can do what I'd like with the service except profit.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 4 Jun 2021 @ 3:01pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              My Service Provider explicitly prohibits open networks in their Terms, despite their provided routers being unsecured by default.

              So, there's that.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 1 Jun 2021 @ 3:48pm

    I look forward to Amazon getting subpoenas from Copyright Trolls to unmask the users who accessed the mesh & the user providing it so they can be threatened with a crime for allowing their internet to be used.

    One also wonders how any consumer protection things might like to fine the hell out of Amazon.
    If you dunno you were opted in & the mesh manages to push you over your bandwidth cap and you incurr fees... who's fault?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      christenson, 1 Jun 2021 @ 5:08pm

      Re: How to achieve separation??

      That is, I want a simple way to set up the wifi so my wife and kid has the password and everyone else goes on the open public channel.

      And, let's see, it's all mesh, so my, now I have 48 neighbors using my exit node to the fiber??? Prenda, here we come again!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      sumgai (profile), 1 Jun 2021 @ 8:55pm

      Re:

      I think it gets even better than that....

      "Your Honor, sir, my wi-fi connection to the internet is locked down the way a bunch of websites tell me I should do it, so it should be secure against intrusion. At least, that's what they tell me on the "techie" sites. But recently Amazon opted me into a mesh network, and I don't know how anyone could've accessed my router, and thus my internet connection, except via that new mesh thingie. That means it could've been any one of my 4 dozen neighbors, and I certainly don't have the knowledge to figure out who it might've been, but I can guarantee that it wasn't me who downloaded that porn!"

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Clandestine (profile), 1 Jun 2021 @ 3:49pm

    Not unlimited

    We do not have an unlimited WiFi account, so in Canada we could sue Amazon for stealing our data. In Canada, opt-in is the only legal option for Amazon. Opt-out is illegal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2021 @ 10:18am

      Re: Not unlimited

      Think there are reasons Sidewalk is rolling out in the US first, doubt they could get away with the "you must take action to opt-out" approach in Europe either.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 1 Jun 2021 @ 4:58pm

    Sleazy

    This thing pissed me off. The fact that you have to opt out and they aren't asking. I hope they get sued and lose.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Extremely shortsighted, 2 Jun 2021 @ 12:48am

    Letting strangers use your bandwidth is all fun and games until someone uses your network to commit a crime and you get raided at midnight.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bloof (profile), 2 Jun 2021 @ 1:02am

    Like Stadia, it's a great idea in theory, but the internet infrastructure is not up to it in the US, a mess of slow connections and capped broadband whose users won't be happy to find themselves exceeding because of a service they never agreed to.

    Outside of the US, opt out is something that probably won't fly for them legally in many major markets so it won't be much use there either.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bobvious, 2 Jun 2021 @ 5:12am

    "Good article! Amazon has long understood that the more loyal the user, the more money he gives you, and the less he looks towards competitors."

    No Spammy McSpammer. The article is about the dumpster fire of privacy breaches in the making.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2021 @ 8:18am

    Limon says...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2021 @ 8:39am

    I might not mind sharing my bandwidth with my neighbors but I certainly would object to giving it away to Amazon.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jun 2021 @ 6:39am

    How it works

    To clarify: It is not a real mesh network that sends data from node to node until it reaches its destination. Instead, it's a WIFI access point that is restricted to Amazon devices and third party devices that Amazon deems fit (i.e. paid the annual fee - to Amazon). All data is encrypted so there is no worry that a neighour can sully your reputation. (That's how it provides 'privacy' for the buyer of your data.) All data is sent to Amazon servers, so if your Ring is connected to it, you can retrieve your doorbell data from Amazon. Expect that Amazon devices, doorbells, pet-trackers, will connect automatically, so setup is hassle-free. Did I mention you have to ask Amazon for your data? Cheers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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