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Marching Down Amazon's Sidewalk: The Case of the Business Ecosystem

By: Carla Chinski

Twitter: @thelatestbyte

Post Date: 2023-12-04


In a world dominated by omnipresent connectivity and a growing Internet of Things (IoT) landscape, Amazon’s Sidewalk boldly presents itself as a path to seamless connectivity. Yet, as we delve deeper into the labyrinth of this shared network, it becomes increasingly apparent that we’re treading on uncharted ground, riddled with thorny questions of privacy, security, and ethics. There is clearly a stark difference between concerns and company practices. That’s what we’ll talk about here.

This is not a trend article, to be sure, but it can lead us into a way of thinking about Amazon products in the future. There is currently a quite optimistic stance toward open innovation; anyone who has delved even a bit into technology trends knows what that implies: collaboration, transparency and responsible idea sourcing for efficiency and effectiveness. But is that always the case? In 2021, “AWS [was] the fastest growing part of Amazon and generated US$ 62 Bn gross revenue in 2021 (up from US$ 45 Bn in 2020), which is 13% of Amazon’s total revenue of US$ 470 Bn.”

Amazon says it “seek[s] to be Earth’s most customer-centric company.” But customer-centricity is a tricky topic if it ever compromises its customers’ safety, even if unknowingly so. What’s the worst that can happen? The customer turns against you, thus becoming your worst enemy. This is brought on by that same interconnectedness: of service-to-customer, service-to-service, and customer-to-customer. Really, nothing can go wrong.

“The concept of business ecosystem clearly underlines loosely interdependence between partners within the community.” The service provision and value chain analysis shows that building upon knowledge and information is key to providing company resiliency. So, in short: the consumer fantasy of cutting out the middleman is becoming less and less of a reality, especially when and if Amazon is that middleman.

Let’s move on to our case study. At first blush, Sidewalk is a rather elegant solution for improving device reliability. But what lies beneath this seamless connectivity? When it comes to security, Amazon promises robust protection via three-layer encryption1, ensuring data transmitted over the shared network cannot be accessed by other devices or even by Amazon itself. The ethical concerns surrounding Sidewalk are similarly disconcerting. The initial roll-out of Sidewalk as an opt-out service, effectively enrolling all users without obtaining explicit consent, drew criticism from various quarters5.Before we venture further, it's crucial to unpack what we mean by 'shared networks'.

Broadly speaking, a shared network aggregates the resources of various individual devices to extend connectivity, enabling devices with typically limited connectivity to thrive in a communal ecosystem. Amazon's Sidewalk creates a shared network by borrowing a sliver of your internet bandwidth, capping at 500MB per month, to keep low-bandwidth devices like Echo speakers, Ring security cameras, Tile trackers, and various other smart devices connected even when they stray away from their home Wi-Fi routers. The gist of why it might work? Because, from a marketing perspective, the option of “sharing is caring” is not cause for concern for many a user.

However, from a privacy perspective, the concerns are equally legitimate. Amazon assures users that devices connected via Sidewalk cannot access personal data. Yet, a survey by Pew Research Center indicates that 79% of Americans are concerned about how companies use the data collected about them4. With Sidewalk, Amazon is not just a collector but a quasi-guardian of user data.

To add to this perspective: as Paul Rosenzweig, a cybersecurity expert at the R Street Institute, astutely observes, "Encryption is only as strong as its weakest link2." So, while Amazon might have fortified its part of the equation, what happens when a user's device becomes compromised? Suddenly, the shared network's security becomes a maze of uncertainty. Moreover, a survey conducted by the Ponemon Institute reveals that 51% of respondents believe that encryption backdoors invariably lead to breaches3, thus casting doubt on Amazon’s assertion of a completely secure system.

Amazon's Sidewalk doesn't exist in isolation. It's a piece of a much larger ecosystem of Amazon devices and services, interwoven in a strategy of interconnectedness–perhaps, interdependency? From Alexa to Ring doorbells and beyond, the shared network offered by Sidewalk ensures that these devices function with increased reliability, making them more attractive to consumers and helping Amazon maintain a competitive edge. Today, from an outsider’s view, we don’t really know how the different data disseminates and communicates (or spreads) between platforms, services and purchases (forms, contact and payment information, and more.)

We are the gatekeepers of our digital lives, and the onus is on us to understand, question, and critique the technologies presented to us. In the end, we must decide if we're willing to trade these fundamental rights for the sake of convenience. Because as the saying goes, the road to hell is often paved with good intentions.


Amazon Sidewalk Whitepaper ↩

Rosenzweig, P. (2019). Cybersecurity: Shared Risks, Shared Responsibilities. Carolina Academic Press. ↩

Ponemon Institute. (2017). The impact of encryption backdoors on privacy and security. [Online] Available at: ↩

Auxier, B., Rainie, L., Anderson, M., Perrin, A., Kumar, M., & Turner, E. (2019). Americans and Privacy: Concerned, Confused and Feeling Lack of Control Over Their Personal Information. Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. ↩

Amazon Sidewalk rollout shows the future of 'forced opt-in', taking lessons from Xfinity Wifi ↩

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