Amazon’s new ‘Sidewalk’ – will it overstep your privacy?

Even if you don’t use any of Amazon’s WiFi products or services, the company’s new mesh wireless network will be able to track the location of your smartphone’s location.

At Amazon’s recent new hardware product event last week, two new features were presented: the ‘Sidewalk” and the ‘eero’. The Sidewalk is a new wireless protocol that will link smart devices. The ‘eero’ is a brand of WiFi router that Amazon bought for people to purchase to use in their homes.

The number of Amazon-made routers and devices in businesses and homes will increase across the nation with these two new features. And with this added growth in devices, Sidewalk’s  ‘mesh network’ will allow each device to communicate with each other, transmitting data across the network which can span a broad geographical area. Amazon announced at its event, it found that by placing 700 devices across Los Angeles it was enough to cover the city’s whole metropolitan area.

With Sidewalk, not only will the location of your smartphone be revealed but your personal data will also be shared and because of this the possibility of using this ‘mesh network’ for surveillance of individuals is a concern for privacy watchdogs. 

Liz O’Sullivan, a tech activist, tweeted the alarm regarding the network’s potential for surveillance and privacy breeches because even if you don’t use Amazon wireless networks in your home or join its wireless WiFi networks when you are outside of your home, the ‘Sidewalk’ mesh network will give Amazon the ability to get your data and location of all your devices whether mobile or wearables.

Just as smartphones are able to detect nearby networks without signing on, with Sidewalk, anyone who owns a WiFi network will be able to track all devices that are nearby even if they are not signed on to the network.

If you are within range of an Amazon owned network, your device’s Mac address which is a unique id assigned to your device could be communicated to Amazon. In this situation, if you have ever downloaded an Amazon app or logged into your Amazon account, Amazon could pair your MAC address with your user profile.

Using the technology of using Wifi routers to track nearby tech devices isn’t anything new. However it’s the use of wide-range ‘mesh networks’ surveilling  all devices set up in a users home or private space that’s unusual for companies to be developing and building.

Amazon is known for taking user data and location particularly to build user profiles in order to target advertising specific to them.

Amazon has contracts with 200 law enforcement agencies nationwide that use its network of Ring cameras. For the time being it is uncertain if the data accrued by Sidewalk will be used by law enforcement the company is in partnership with.