If You Use Amazon Alexa, You Need to Do This by Monday, Experts Warn
Experts say a security risk is coming soon unless you take action now.
In millions of households across the country, people can shout "Alexa" and complete a number of different tasks without even lifting a finger. A simple voice command can make this virtual assistant play music, search the internet, and even control other devices in the home—which makes day-to-day activities that much easier. This ease does come with some concerns, however. Experts are now warning that people who use Amazon Alexa will soon gain a new feature that could endanger their privacy and safety. Read on to find out what experts say should do to protect yourself and your data.
If you use Amazon Alexa, you may want to opt out of Amazon's new Sidewalk feature.
Amazon Alexa users should be aware of a new feature the company is planning to roll out on June 8, 9to5Mac reports. Amazon will automatically enroll all eligible Alexa devices in Amazon Sidewalk, a low-bandwidth shared network that allows your device to connect to your neighbor's Wi-Fi, and your neighbors' devices to connect to your Wi-Fi, all without exchanging passwords.
According to Amazon, Sidewalk is intended to "help devices work better" for customers opted into the program, as well as offering other benefits. "Operated by Amazon at no charge to customers, Sidewalk can help simplify new device setup, extend the low-bandwidth working range of devices to help find pets or valuables with Tile trackers, and help devices stay online even if they are outside the range of their home Wi-Fi," the company says.
Experts have safety and privacy concerns about this feature.
This kind of shared network has experts worried for your safety and privacy, as millions of customers will automatically have their internet connection shared with neighbors if they do not opt out of the feature first. Ars Technica reports that this kind of feature presents "enough theoretical risks to give users pause," especially given the fact that wireless technologies like Wi-Fi have a history of being insecure. Plus, three former high-level Amazon information security employees told Politico in Feb. 2021 that Amazon's efforts to protect the information it collects from consumers remains inadequate.
"Consider the wealth of intimate details Amazon devices are privy to. They see who knocks on our doors, and in some homes they peer into our living rooms. They hear the conversations we're having with friends and family. They control locks and other security systems in our home," Ars Technica explains. "Extending the reach of all this encrypted data 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."
But Amazon says the feature is designed with multiple layers of encryption.
Despite concern from experts, Amazon insists that Sidewalk has been "designed with multiple layers of encryption" in order to protect your privacy. "Preserving customer privacy and security is foundational to how we've built Amazon Sidewalk. Sidewalk is designed with multiple layers of privacy and security to secure data traveling on the network and to keep customers safe and in control. For example, Sidewalk Bridge owners do not receive any information about devices owned by others connected to Sidewalk," the company says on its website.
You can opt out of the feature before it starts through your Alexa app.
U.S. devices that support Sidewalk—which includes certain Ring devices, Echo devices, and Tile—will be automatically updated with the feature on June 8. To opt out of the service before then, you will need to open your Alexa app, go to settings, and turn off Amazon Sidewalk. If you decide after June 8 that you want to either opt in or opt out of the feature, users with eligible devices can update their Amazon Sidewalk preferences at any point from the settings in their Alexa app, per Amazon. Ring customers can also control their access to the feature in the control center of the Ring app.