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Amazon’s Sidewalk Isn’t as Bad as Some Say It Is..


hey everybody it’s lot inside then it’s time once again for your weekly wrap-up and this week we’re going to take a look at amazon sidewalk which is amazon’s new mesh network that’s going to involve its echo and ring devices and in addition to looking at sidewalk we’re going to look at what other companies have been doing to turn our everyday devices into a wider mesh let’s get to it [Music] now i do want to let you know in the interest of full disclosure that i do upload videos to amazon and live stream over there and i earn revenue through their affiliate program doing those activities however they are not reviewing or approving what you’re about to see before it was uploaded nor are they paying for what you’re about to see either and all the opinions you’re about to hear are my own now i went down this rabbit hole thanks to a viewer anthony biako who sent me this tweet the other day asking me to look into this and i did and what’s funny is that i haven’t been following this all that closely but apparently about six months ago i got an email from amazon telling me that one of my gazillion echo devices that i use here around the studio is going to be getting this feature enabled shortly and as it says here when enabled it’s going to use a small portion of my internet bandwidth to provide services to me and my neighbors and that might have people feeling a little bit uneasy because it is an opt out and not an opt-in now in fairness to amazon they did provide instructions way back when they first sent this email out as to how to

disable that feature on your device but again this is opt out although when you install a new device apparently it’s going to ask you if you want that device to be included in the sidewalk network now what is sidewalk well there’s a good amount of information that amazon has put together on their website there’s a general consumer page that you can see linked here on screen and then they also have a white paper that dives into the security model that they’re using here as well and in many ways this is going to work similar to how the apple find my network works with their air tags so what it consists of is an endpoint a gateway a network server and an application server now the endpoint and the gateway are consumer products so for example in this image they have the end point being a smart light that’s out in your yard and then perhaps the gateway that that smart light is communicating with might be a ring flood light and they have some more information here in the white paper about what frequencies it uses to communicate so this is not going to be a wi-fi extender it’s going to use something called low raw which runs here in the us on the 900 megahertz frequency and it’s either going to use that low raw or bluetooth low energy the 900 megahertz spectrum is going to provide a lot more range than bluetooth will but both are fairly low bandwidth now which devices are going to be gateways well apparently this list of devices is what currently has the hardware installed to act as a gateway so if you have one of these devices when amazon throws the switch on this unless you opt it out it’s going to enable those sidewalk features and what they envision with this is a mesh notification and messaging network very similar to what the air tags do in that it can detect lost pets and valuables that might be walking or moving by transmitting data from a leak sensor for example and it’s doing

that through the data packets that are encrypted on the device and then sent through the internet to the application server and some of the things they say that these packets will provide are commands like turn on the light or turn it off for a notification alert or something like that it does not appear as though they’re doing any kind of video streaming or transmission things that would use a lot more bandwidth and they actually are capping the sidewalk server at 80k bits per second which is a fraction of a megabit and they’re going to cap the overall data consumption at 500 megabytes monthly per customer not per device and given what they’re saying here i can’t see it using all that much bandwidth even if there are a lot of frequent messages these are really short little bursts like the light is on the light is off not again something like a video stream although it’s conceivable that you might be able to pass some low resolution images now if you’re connecting to watch your camera or something that’s a whole different protocol that’s going to use a lot more bandwidth but your neighbor across the street is going to be on the sidewalk protocol and they can’t watch their camera through your wi-fi so this is not a real internet sharing kind of thing so much as it is a way to communicate between devices and the devices themselves are limited by the technology that they chose for the communication called low raw 900 megahertz again for the spectrum and it looks as though the maximum data rate and that’s the raw maximum data rate is between 27 k bits per second and 50k bits per second depending on the mode that they choose and of course you could stream something at that bit rate but it

won’t be very useful that way the real advantage of low raw is its range if you just have a couple of these access points the echoes or the flood lights in a neighborhood you could really cover a wide area and if you have a remote portion of your yard that you want to put a sensor on there’s a good chance that it will work over this sidewalk network if there’s enough endpoints in the neighborhood versus having to connect to your wi-fi where it may not reach so i think that’s where the real value of this comes into play now the other thing you opt into though when you’re agreeing to share this data for your neighbors is that the bridge your echo or your flood light are going to also be reporting their location to amazon now of course amazon already knows that if you’re using one of these products but it will be part of this sidewalk network so if somebody has a pet and they’ve got one of those tags on them that says the pet is lost people will be able to track the location of that pet if it happens to walk by your home because they know the location of the bridge that you have on the side of your house but they will only see according to amazon an approximate location and they refer to an image on their website that i could not find so i don’t know what image they’re going to be putting up there but at the moment it’s not there at all but they are saying here they’re going to provide an approximate location now if any of this stuff doesn’t feel right with you opt out because when you opt out on your amazon account it opts out all of the devices that are on that account so you can do one click and get everything off if you

don’t want to do this but if you do it will begin working by default without your intervention so just be aware of how they’re rolling this out there’s a really good analysis of this on security now which is steve gibson’s podcast on the twit network he did a deep dive into this a lot of detail on the security model on the privacy how the network works far better than what i can provide so definitely check that out i’ve got it linked right to where the discussion of sidewalk begins so i would definitely suggest diving into that if you’re interested because i think he did a very nice job of i think camping down some of the hysteria around this there are certainly things to be concerned about but you know it’s not as bad as i think the press is making it out to be so have a listen and let me know what you think down in the comment section now this whole controversy may be rendered mood at some point in the very near future because in low earth orbit right now there is a satellite constellation called swarm that communicates over this low raw technology with iot devices on the ground it is very affordable because again it’s not very high bandwidth and the huge range of this technology makes it very easy for a low-powered device on the ground to communicate with a satellite overhead i hadn’t even seen this before i started looking into this whole amazon thing and you can learn more at the swarm dot space website to see how this works i think right now it’s kind of limited to industrial applications but given how little bandwidth is required to send these little messages back and forth i can see this really becoming something more significant and maybe amazon will end up acquiring them

at some point now i wanted to bring up the air tags because this works very similar to how apple’s find my network works which is that when i’m out and about with my backpack if i put my backpack down somewhere and an iphone user happens to walk by that iphone is going to tell apple where it saw my air tag without the iphone owners consent because they opted in everybody i don’t recall ever seeing an email like i got from amazon telling me that my device was going to be part of this mesh network but everyone’s iphone is you can dive into a menu and disable that feature but it’s on by default so just about every iphone out in the field is currently tracking the location of these air tags and soon they’re going to be tracking other stuff like bicycles and other things that will have this air tag technology embedded inside of them and it works pretty well i planted an air tag in my wife’s car and it was getting picked up all over the place you don’t know who’s picking it up but you do know where your item was last seen and it gives a very specific address as to where you might be able to find that and it also appears that this airtag technology is built into ipads and iphones and macs as well and i got this comment the other day from a viewer who said somebody knocked on his door because the iphone that he had in the house happened to pick up an ipad that was marked missing that happened to be going by in the car of whoever took it and this guy knocked on his door saying my ipad is in your house and thankfully he said he was able to reason with the person and they decided to just leave it be but this is the kind of concern that i have for all of this stuff and apple provides a

very specific location versus the more generalized one that amazon says it’s going to provide but either way even a general location is enough to have somebody knock on your door and i think that’s a concern that is a valid one that these companies have to figure out how to best approach now you might be surprised to learn what else your phone might be doing without your direct knowledge and a good example of this is google and google maps so if you ever use their real-time traffic data that data is not coming from a helicopter like the radio station has it’s actually coming from phones that are in cars and those phones are constantly reporting their location back to google apple does the same thing and if it detects that a lot of phones are stuck in one spot it will indicate that there’s a traffic jam and that’s how this traffic thing works uh they also use this to figure out how busy a particular business might be at certain hours of the day so here’s the mcdonald’s that i pulled up and you can see at the time i was looking at it on a sunday afternoon it was busier than usual how do they know it’s busier than usual there’s more phones in that mcdonald’s than there usually is and they’re able to map that data out over time and this is all happening in the background without your direct knowledge and you consent to it at some point when you set up the phone for the first time buried in that long list of things that you agreed to on the privacy policy some guy in germany by the name of simon wecker did a really fun experiment where he took about a hundred phones and put him in a wheelbarrow and he very slowly walked down a street creating a virtual traffic jam because google interpreted that to be a hundred phones stuck in traffic so there are some ways maybe to

game it if you wanted to another thing google has done is used wi-fi access points to get a greater amount of detail to their location information so when they were out doing all of their google street map stuff they were also picking up what wi-fi access points were in range of the vehicle that was driving around and they used that wi-fi database along with gps coordinates to zero in on where you are exactly and that’s how when you’re sitting at home it knows exactly where you are even if you’re in doors and you’re not able to receive signals from a gps satellite wi-fi data is a real key part of that they did stop this practice now i guess they do it through mobile phones when they’re docked at their home base again through the same things that you agree to on the traffic side of things but that’s a big part of how they got the location data working the way it does and there was a way to opt out of it from this cnet article from about a decade ago and they wanted you to change the name of your access point to no map so that you would be kept off the list now this next one has always bugged me a bit although i will admit to using it from time to time this of course is the xfinity public hotspot and this is something that by default runs on every residential and small business internet gateway that comcast rents yes rents to its customers so you are paying for this thing to be in your home or business and then you’re allowing comcast to provide service to other people rent free but we’ll get to that another time and the way this works is essentially any comcast customer will see this xfinity wi-fi thing broadcasting itself out of your house and they can connect to it you can find more information on this page here i don’t know how they segment the traffic my hope is that inside the gateway there are two physical interfaces

to keep everything air gapped but i’m not sure about that and i would love to get some comments from you all as to how exactly they segment the traffic out safely here because this has always bugged me that somebody could just connect to the device inside of my home and get on the internet they’ve recently during the pandemic opened this up to everyone but it’s been limited just to comcast customers and if you go on the comcast website they actually have an app that you can download to find these things that are again running inside of private businesses thankfully the residential ones are not listed on the map but many of the addresses that i was pulling up on the map around my area were at places that are not necessarily open to the public but they’re being shown as being a public wi-fi access point that the general public could go and use so it’s something that’s always kind of concerned me because i don’t know if every business owner on this map realizes that they’re being advertised as a free wi-fi access point now on the residential side and the business side you will see this xfinity wi-fi show up on your list of available networks i of course have turned it off on my end my new service doesn’t even have it as part of the gateway but if you see this it’s either running in your house or a neighbor’s house and it’s all over my neighborhood and i see cars pulled over frequently with laptops out and somebody banging away to get an email sent or some big attachment sent out because they’re able to

connect into people’s homes and get a connection that they could not get off their cell phone and it is what it is but it’s always kind of bugged me that comcast does this without the consent of the user now this next one is something i hadn’t really thought about until i stumbled across something the other day as you know many cars now come with a built-in wi-fi hotspot so you buy a sim card for the car and then it connects out to the 4g network and all the kids can connect with their tablets and watch movies while you’re going on a long car trip sounds like a great feature right unfortunately what happens is is that the nature of wi-fi access points is to broadcast their existence so the kids ipad can connect to the network and as the car is driving around guess what it’s doing it’s announcing itself saying hey here i am connect to me and i was looking through my unifi router’s control panel the other night and in full disclosure they sent this router to me free of charge to review a while back it has a wi-fi scanner built in that i didn’t even know it has and this is often a useful tool for enterprises because you don’t want people showing up on your campus with their own hotspot and getting into your network or sharing your internet connection with others so these wi-fi scanners are pretty common and of course there’s software you can install on laptops that does the same thing here and to my surprise it’s picking up all of the cars that are regularly driving by so this is the report from the last month and every day at least there’s a chevrolet that drives by that gets picked up by one of my access points in the house you can see there’s a bunch of chevy’s on here

there’s an audi looks like a volvo here some car named rj and a few of these further down the list actually had the full name of the person who owned the car and they’re just broadcasting this stuff out constantly i don’t think people are aware that their cars are literally roving beacons and whatever is out there that can pick up a wi-fi access point is gonna pick up the car and that’s something that i think people should be more aware of maybe we’ll dive into this topic in a future video so with those examples as context i don’t think amazon’s sidewalk is as bad as some in the media are making it out to be this is not turning your ring doorbell or your echo into a wi-fi hotspot like comcast it is really a low bandwidth low data connection that is designed for iot devices and i do think that amazon deserves some credit here especially compared against apple for letting customers know that their devices are going to be part of this network unless they opt out and they gave plenty of notice for that i am sure we’ll have some discussion about this down in the comments section so have at it but be respectful to each other but i did want to dive into this because it really was a very interesting topic i think to dive into now this week’s wrap-up is being brought to you by all of you and i want to thank some super chatters who participated on our live stream the other day zam rich daly chris alegretta david parker peter hages and feral sparky all made super chat contributions again during one of my live streams we also picked up some new supporters this week ej hawkins and sasebo in imrae contributed via my

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