Amazon Wants To Build Alexa-Powered ‘Smart’ Neighbourhoods
If total domination of the home wasn’t enough, Amazon is thinking bigger and now wants to smarten-up entire communities with its new update.
Amazon Sidewalk is an upcoming update for people’s Alexa-enabled devices such as Echo Dots and Ring cameras. It plans to harness a small portion of the user’s home network and use it to propel low-strength Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals up to half a mile away.
Using bandwidth from all the Alexa devices in a given neighbourhood, Amazon envisions a local community that can potentially be safer, more efficient and smarter than ever.
Amazon has offered its thoughts on the potential applications of Sidewalk, which include smart mailboxes capable of alerting homeowners when mail has been delivered, or water sensors indicating to the owner that a garden needs some care.
It has also announced a companion technology for Ring, its internet-facing line of doorbells. Amazon said users could clip a tag onto a dog’s collar and set a virtual perimeter within the Ring app that would alert the owner when their dog has strayed too far from home.
Amazon customers who also have Tile devices will be able to enjoy the two technology’s compatibility. With an extended Wi-Fi network, Tile’s location-tracking technology will be able to work over much greater distances and make it easier to find a lost wallet, for example, that may have fallen out of your pocket a few streets away.
Security concerns often mire these types of announcements, and Sidewalk attracted similar criticism following its initial announcement in 2019.
Jeff Pollard, Vice President, Principal Analyst at Forrester, echoed the wider industry’s concerns about Alexa devices becoming too pervasive.
Speaking to CNET, Pollard said:
It’s great to get an alert your dog left the yard, but those devices could also send data to Amazon like the frequency, duration, destination and path of your dog walks.
That seems innocuous enough, but what could that data mean for you when combined with other data? It’s the unintended – and unexpected – consequences of technology and the data it collects that often come back to bite us (pardon the pun).
Alexa devices are already in so many homes around the world, thanks to their low prices and fantastic functionality. They’ve even been used as star witnesses in US murder trials, but Amazon insists the new technology will adhere to industry-standard cyber security protocols.
Amazon wrote in a September 2020 white paper:
Information customers would deem sensitive, like the contents of a packet sent over the Sidewalk network, is not seen by Sidewalk.
Only the intended destinations [the endpoint and application server] possess the keys required to access this information.
This essentially means Amazon will do the job of routing the information you and your devices send it to the right place, but won’t actually ‘see’ the data or use it to make predictions about you.
Amazon also said that while most of its Alexa devices will support the technology, only the newer versions will be able to make the most of it.
Backwards compatibility goes all the way back to the second-generation Amazon Echo from 2017, but other than the latest devices like the Echo Show 10, these will only support long-range Bluetooth signals that can only be used for things like setting up more Alexa devices with less hassle.
The newest devices will support the transmission of both Bluetooth and also low-strength 900MHz Wi-Fi – the technology that will be able to power the likes of Fetch and smart mailboxes, it told CNET.
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