Blink and you’ve missed it.
Amazon, the powerhouse behind the Ring security camera network, is coming for your community. On Monday, the surveillance juggernaut announced a major expansion to its smart neighborhood effort dubbed Sidewalk. Notably, Amazon failed to highlight one crucial detailed specified in the accompanying white paper: If you already own one of 20 existing Amazon products, you’ll automatically be participating unless you actively opt out.
Launching later this year (if all goes according to plan), Sidewalk “[extends] the low-bandwidth working range of [Amazon] devices, and help[s] devices stay online and up-to-date even if they are outside the range of home Wi-Fi.”
In other words, Amazon’s line of surveillance tech (think Ring Floodlight Cams and Ring Spotlight Cams) will help connect itself — well past the reaches of a typical home’s WiFi.
“Customers with a Sidewalk gateway are able to contribute a small portion of their internet bandwidth,” explains the Sidewalk privacy and security white paper, “which is pooled together to create a network that benefits all Sidewalk-enabled devices in a community.”
Contained within the white paper is that important fact: Many existing Amazon devices will automatically provide bandwidth for Amazon’s private network unless owners actively prevent them from doing so.
“When customers first turn on a new Sidewalk gateway device, they will be asked whether they want to join the network,” explains the white paper. “For customers with existing devices that are Sidewalk capable, an over-the-air (OTA) update will connect them to the network—no action is needed.”
To disable the service, customers will need to locate the option — “available later this year” — in the Ring control center or Echo settings.
And just what devices, exactly, are Sidewalk capable? According to Amazon, it’s quite a few:
Ring Floodlight Cam (2019), Ring Spotlight Cam Wired (2019), Ring Spotlight Cam Mount (2019), Echo (2nd Generation, 2017), Echo (3rd Generation, 2019), Echo Dot with Clock (3rd Generation, 2019), Echo (4th Generation, 2020), Echo Dot (1st Generation, 2016), Echo Dot (2nd Generation, 2016), Echo Dot (3rd Generation, 2018), Echo Dot (3rd Generation, 2019), Echo Plus (1st Generation, 2017), Echo Plus (2nd Generation, 2018), Echo Show (1st Generation, 2017), Echo Show (2nd Generation, 2018), Echo Show 5 (2019), Echo Show 8 (2019), Echo Show 10 2020), Echo Spot (2017), Echo Studio (2018).
This matters, especially if you don’t own an Amazon device. By automatically connecting all these Echos and Rings into Sidewalk, Amazon will in effect extend the effective range of a host of privately owned surveillance devices. The real-world limit previously placed on many of these WiFi-powered devices — an owner needed to provide them with internet service for them to work — was a small, but meaningful, cap on their spread.
With Sidewalk, that limit has been thrown out the window.
Combined with a slate of products revealed Thursday — including an in-home drone — the forthcoming launch of Sidewalk positions Amazon to remake cities and towns around the world in its own connected image.
With Amazon’s assistance, entire neighborhood can become mini surveillance states — happily turning video over to police — without so much as needing to actively opt in.
Amazon is all about convenience, after all.