Amazon Sidewalk’s Meshnets

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Geographical data is one of the Holy Grails of large tech companies; it can be used to understand customer behavior, build people’s profiles, and build smart cities. These companies even use this data to sell targeted advertising. This is hardly a secret. If you wish, you can go to Google History at https://myactivity.google.com/myactivity to find out right now the data that Google has collected from your searches, including the ones made through their voice assistant. You will find that in some of these, your network’s geographical location is included. I have included a couple of screenshots from my own Google History below:

A single log block from my activity using Google Chrome for this blog post.
The result of clicking on the location icon.

Even though one can modify the security settings and even erase these data, security concerns are still being raised, for instance: who has access to these records? How can people be sure that there are no copies of them stored elsewhere? How can the less tech-savvy population manage their data? And, is it even possible to monitor what data is being collected about you across devices and companies?

Introducing the new Amazon Sidewalk mesh network.

Photo by Ömer Faruk Tokluoğlu on Unsplash

Last month, Amazon announced its new wireless protocol called Sidewalk, which is aimed to provide internet over radio waves for devices that use low-power connections such as smart lights, cameras, and other devices. According to Amazon’s Day One Staff, “Customers shouldn’t have to settle for connected devices that lose functionality past the front door, which is why we’re excited to introduce Amazon Sidewalk.” Amazon claims that the range of these devices can be extended with their Sidewalk project by 1.5 miles. So how does Amazon plan to achieve this, and what does this translate to for the end-users?

According to said Carole Theriault, from Smashing Security, Amazon plans to use their new internet routers, (EEROs) for home use to build large interconnected data-transmitting systems called mesh networks or meshnets. “Sidewalk will use this proliferation of EERO devices to build a mesh network, or a wireless network where each device communicates with one another. And the idea is that all the devices will work together to transmit data across networks spanning large, broad geographical areas. So for example according to Amazon’s own announcement, the company found that pacing 700 devices across LA was enough to cover the entire metropolitan area of the city.” You can listen to Carole Theriault’s segment here.

For end-users, Amazon’s meshnets would mean being able to control remote devices with reliable connectivity outside their own wi-fi networks, keep track of their pets using the new Fetch tags, and just extend the internet of things in general beyond what is currently possible. The repercussions of what these data could mean for urban design, planning, and the further integration of technology with city spaces are unforeseeable, especially alongside artificial intelligence. Imagine a city that knows the exact location of every smart divice at all times and can predict the behavior of its inhabitants and even adapt to it.

However, what about all this data? Is it secure? Amazon claims that its Sideway protocol is. There are also privacy concerns regarding access to personal geographical data. The main issue is that it is not possible to know how much the tech companies will be able to find out about individuals once they pair their location data along with other types of data. In other words, a powerful AI system will not only be able to know and predict people’s location at any given time, but it may also be able to accurately predict the reason for it. For instance, based on a person’s search history and internet shopping data, a smart city could tell that you soon will be visiting the hospital and why. Based on this it will also be able to predict which of your relatives and friends will be going to the hospital to visit you and it will suggest to them shopping gifts that other people buy for this type of situation. I could go on, but, dear reader, you get the gist.

Resources

  • If you want to learn more about Amazon Sidewalk, you can visit Amazon’s blog here.
  • For a critical review of Sidewalk, I recommend reading this blog post by CNET.
  • This Wikipedia article is a good introduction to meshnets.
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About damianiji

My name is Damian Romero. I am a Ph.D. candidate in Hispanic Linguistics at the University of Arizona with a strong focus on corpus linguistics and natural language processing. My research interests lay in the fields of computational social sciences and digital humanities. I also build applications that help companies process natural language data. Click on my picture for my full profile where you will find my website, student profile, and my professional FaceBook account.

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