Users of Amazon’s Ring and Echo devices have only a week to opt out of Sidewalk, the company’s shady new IoT service. On June 8th, the functionality will go live, promising to share an encrypted sliver of your home network with the networks of other nearby Amazon IoT device users to “enhance services.” Unless you tell it otherwise, Amazon will automatically enroll you in Sidewalk, which, as you might expect, might lead to some unwelcome privacy and security concerns down the road.
What Is Amazon Sidewalk, Exactly?
Sidewalk works by combining a limited, encrypted section of a user’s personal network with that of other Amazon product customers in the area. It’s simply a bandwidth-sharing agreement that, in certain circumstances, guarantees better service for devices. Amazon provides examples of a smart lighting device installed at the perimeter of a user’s property or a garage door lock installed in an area with limited coverage. In both cases, the product may use Sidewalk to get “connectivity support from a participating neighbor’s gateway,” allowing it to keep running even if “the device remains offline for a period of time,” as the company puts it. Similarly, Amazon claims that Sidewalk may be used to improve the connectivity of pet-tracking devices, allowing for the continuous tracking of a missing dog or cat that has ventured outside of a pet owner’s personal network.
Despite its pledges to protect your data, Amazon has a poor track record in this area; it’s very bad at it. Consider the case of Ring. Since the tech giant bought it for $1 billion in 2018, the Amazon subsidiary, which offers a neighborhood watch app and smart home security system (and thus operates as a quasi-surveillance network for the country’s police agencies), has had a series of privacy issues. According to Gizmodo’s investigation, the company’s Neighbors app had mistakenly disclosed the geo-coordinates of certain Ring users, which was only one of multiple privacy lapses discovered. A class-action lawsuit has been filed against Ring as a result of the cameras’ hackability.
Amazon maintains that Sidewalk has “well-built privacy rules” that regulate how it “collects, stores, and uses metadata.” Sidewalk has even released a short “white paper” outlining the program’s privacy and security features, which include Sidewalk’s three-layered encryption. This may sound remarkable, but it’s a cold consolation when you consider that there are hackers who sit around all day and idle away the hours attempting to come up with ingenious ways to exploit scenarios similar to the one presented by Sidewalk.
Astronomers Want to Save the Night Sky From Satellite Light Pollution
It looks like the unprecedented amount of new satellites being launched every year causes light pollution that can threaten the night sky view as we know it, especially for professional astronomers. To study and mitigate the damage to astronomy and beyond caused by satellite light pollution, industry representatives and scientists met for SATCON2 in July 2021. Now, astronomers have released their official reports, and their conclusions show a number of alarming issues.
The Satellite Megaconstellations Era Is Just at Its Infancy
The main problem with satellite megaconstellations and the increasing number of satellites in Earth’s orbit is the light pollution they cause and the way this affects amateur and professional night sky observations. The issue became more prevalent when in 2019, a large number of bright, low-flying satellite swarms called megaconstellations started to go up. Today, their numbers account for almost half of all active satellites, with estimates showing that there could be over 100,000 orbiting Earth by the end of this decade.
Satellite Megaconstellations Can Have a Very Negative Effect on Professional Astronomy
Because the satellite megaconstellations comprise massive, large, bright, and reflective satellites, this transforms the night sky fundamentally. The impacts will largely be felt by people who use the night sky as a resource, like professional astronomers. It has already been quite a nuisance for some professional and amateur astrophotographers and astronomers, and it can also affect many other groups of people, including policymakers, satellite operators, environmentalists, geoengineers, and even stargazers. The issue could even affect people with a cultural heritage linked to the night sky. Failed satellites also pose a series of dangers, and currently, there is no way to remove them from orbit en masse.
Although some steps have been made to mitigate the risk, the report states that significant regulation and assistance are needed by the community, or the sky view as it is now could be lost forever. It seems there’s also good news in that acting now can greatly minimize the impacts of the next generation of satellite swarms. According to the scientists, with some measures, the night sky and the environment around the Earth could be preserved for generations to come.