On June 8, Amazon.com will automatically enroll your Alexa-enabled devices in Sidewalk. This is a free wireless mesh service for Amazon customers that allows you and your neighbors to share Wi-Fi connections. Unfortunately, everyone will be signed up automatically, so you have privacy concerns with this service, you’ll need to opt-out before Sidewalk goes live.
The idea behind Sidewalk is to boost your Wi-Fi or your neighbors when you have a poor connection. As Amazon describes in a publicly-viewable document on the technology and privacy protections,
“Customers with a Sidewalk gateway are able to contribute a small portion of their internet bandwidth, which is pooled together to create a network that benefits all Sidewalk-enabled devices in a community. This can include experiences ranging from finding pets or valuables that may be lost and improving reliability for devices like leak sensors or smart lighting, to diagnostics for appliances and power tools.”
The network has a potential range of up to half a mile, and does come with benefits, as Wired Magazine points out. First, it can help make the installation of new devices easier. Second, if you lose your Internet connection, your Echo or Ring devices can piggyback on your neighbor’s Wi-Fi. And Tile trackers can use the Sidewalk network to help you find the devices when they are away from your home.
But is this a good idea? As Ars Technica notes, Amazon already has a wealth of information about its customers, but extending their reach “to the sidewalk and living rooms of neighbors requires a level of confidence that’s not warranted for a technology that has never seen widespread testing.”
Wired weighs in on the privacy concerns as well, suggesting you might want to consider how much you trust Amazon with your data since the company appears “keen to collect as much data as possible about you, shares Ring camera information with law enforcement agencies, and which hasn’t always protected sensitive user data quite as robustly as it might have done.” And Wired points out that Amazon has already admitted it may share data with third-parties.
What is perhaps most concerning about Sidewalk’s launch is that Amazon is rolling it out as an “opt-out” feature. This means you need to manually turn it off if you don’t want to participate.
Amazon provides instructions for disabling Sidewalk on Alexa devices (e.g. your Echo Dot) and Ring likewise offers steps to turn Sidewalk off on their cameras.
In other news
- Meat supply chain critical infrastructure cyberattack by Russians. We recently featured a blog on why you should take password security seriously and discussed the data breaches on billions of personal, government, and industry accounts. Just this week, Russian ransomware attackers targeted JBS, one of the world’s largest meat producers critical to the U.S. and Australian supply chains. It seems the Russian group got into JBS’s internal network through a Facebook account—by compromising a user’s password. The attack follows another one last month on Colonial Pipeline, the largest fuel pipeline in the United States. That attack delayed fuel supply for several days. It’s a timely reminder that your personal password security just might make the difference to many others—and the price of goods available. If hostile ransomware attacks are to be stopped in their tracks, we all need to do our bit.
- The rise of autonomous machines. Back in the 1940s, computer inventor Alan Turing asked if it was possible for a machine to think. And this week we see two examples where his queries might be coming to fruition. In the first case, Wired reports that Microsoft and Open AI are working on connecting GPT-3, an advanced text generation tool, to a system that would turn natural language into programming code using artificial intelligence. In other words, it could be possible for someone to use regular human-language syntax to prompt a computer to write code on the fly and then run it. While the computer would still need human intervention—for now—it’s not difficult to imagine the future possibilities.
In the second example, Gizmodo describes autonomous killer drones that were used in a civil conflict in Libya in May 2020. The United Nations issued a report that suggests that weaponized drones hunted down and killed opposing forces without the involvement of human handlers. UN experts cited in the report said there were “significant casualties” and that the opposition had no defense against the aerial attack. Such technology obviously has the potential to drastically change the nature of warfare, so it’s all worth keeping an eye on.
- Stargate portals coming to a country near you? As a palate cleanser to follow the previous story, here are a couple of feel-good updates. In the first one, Gizmodo reports on a couple of Stargate-inspired Internet portals in Lithuania and Poland that allow random people to get a glimpse of their counterparts almost 400 miles away using a real-time feed. We think this is a great way to blur national boundaries and demonstrate that people have more in common than we sometimes think, and hope that more of these can be constructed in the future..
- Who doesn’t love a Japanese robot? For another fun story, how about some news of an exciting and innovative collaboration between the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Sony, Doshisha University, and Tomy (a toy company)? With a team like that, it probably comes as no surprise that they are working on a ball-shaped transforming robot to send to the moon. Engadget reports that these robots should be ready to land on Earth’s favorite satellite sometime in 2022, where they will study lunar soil structure. JAXA will use this data in advance of sending a crewed rover to the moon in 2029. And yes, the early prototypes are just as adorable as you might hope.
Tip of the week
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[News] Don’t let Amazon’s Sidewalk take you for a ride .