Amazon's latest controversial product, Sidewalk, will be used to connect and track entire neighborhoods with Amazon devices. But despite its critics, new job listings at the company show that Sidewalk is only going to grow.
Sidewalk is a free feature that Amazon says will help devices “work better at home and beyond the front door.” Sidewalk works by opening up a small piece of your internet connection with neighbors who have Sidewalk-enabled Amazon devices, connecting households up to half a mile away into a sort of self-contained internet. Amazon claims the feature will enable things like easier device setup, and allow products like Ring or smart-home lights to work “beyond the front door” or when internet connection dips out by connecting to that trickle of bandwidth from your neighbors. Dropped your keys on the walk home last night? Amazon Sidewalk will let you track the Tile on your keyring outside of your bluetooth range to find them on your neighbor’s lawn.
The feature is now active by default on all “Sidewalk Bridges” (devices that can interact with the features), though it can be turned off by digging through some settings. “Don’t think you need Amazon Sidewalk?” Amazon’s Sidewalk landing page reads. “No worries. You can update this anytime from the Ring or Alexa mobile apps.”
The fact that Sidewalk is on by default — and that it creates something of a closed network tracking entire neighborhoods that only Amazon devices can use — has sparked concerns about breaches of privacy. At its best, Amazon portrays the service as a way to connect communities and get the most out of your devices. At its worst, opponents liken it to your smart home devices flipping on you like a manchurian candidate, and say it could open users up to potential data breaches.
Though it was announced in 2019, work on Sidewalk seems to have been kept under the radar at Amazon. Job listings with the keyword “Sidewalk” only started appearing in April, and there are only nine currently listed positions with the keyword on Amazon’s jobs page, according to Thinknum Data. Though Sidewalk is only available in the U.S. at present, the positions are located across the globe, including in the United States, Taipei, Cambridge and Hsinchu.
Critics of Sidewalk have raised concerns that the stream of bandwidth from all involved households opens up large swaths of Amazon customers to data breaches, but several job listings contain language specifically addressing that risk. Of the nine open positions, two are focused around designing new security features for Sidewalk: Senior Security Engineer and Senior Security Software Engineer. The listings place an emphasis on designing security features that will protect users’ data and privacy.
The description for the Senior Security Engineer position bluntly states that “In this role, You will design new device security technology to enhance device integrity, data protection and authentication.” The Senior Technical Program manager also specifically references security, requesting that candidates have experience with “network security, incident response, vulnerability management.”
Sidewalk is not some small feature that Amazon is rolling out, but one that Amazon appears to be invested in developing further. Other listings give a glimpse at a long-term roadmap for Sidewalk, as well as the products and features tied specifically to it that may be released in the coming years.
The Embedded Software Development Engineer listing contains several lines which point to some of the ongoing projects related to Sidewalk, and the ways Amazon is altering existing products, planning future products, and working with third-party developers to integrate with the feature. Some of the listed responsibilities for the position include:
- Further existing protocol stack for low power wireless networks, network management tools and processes that increase overall efficiency of network.
- Work with teams and vendors to improve and tailor existing drivers, stack and applications to our needs.
- Define and/or refine hardware requirements, participate in the development and delivery of operability-related features.
- Implement the right metrics, debug tools and integrate with backend solutions to continuously measure and improve our solutions.
Key to Sidewalk's functionality is the bandwidth it draws from its users. Amazon has stated that it will cap the data it pulls at 500MB per month. That's an incredibly low amount, and all the devices connected to the network — lights, cameras, Alexa devices and more — will have to be able to function as promised through Sidewalk with only incredible slow, limited internet access. The Development Engineer role shows that Amazon is designing future products with those limitations in mind, and is further developing Sidewalk to improve on the current iteration of the feature.
On the whole, Amazon is investing heavily into its presence in customers' homes. Since 2017, Amazon's job listings containing the keyword "Alexa" have increased 168%. At present, 813 job listings on Amazon's site mention the AI assistant, with nearly 300 of them having been added this year. In March of last year, Amazon had over 40,000 total open job listings at the company. Today, it has well over 50,000.
About the Data:
Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online, jobs, social and web traffic, product sales, and app ratings, and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue, and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales.