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.