Amazon launched its Wi-Fi sharing system Sidewalk on Tuesday as a way to extend internet service between Amazon devices like Echo smart speakers and Tile trackers. And unless you opt out, your Amazon devices will automatically be enrolled in the program.
Privacy advocates have decried the automatic opt-in element.
But how exactly will the new network function, and will it put your data at risk?
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What exactly is Amazon Sidewalk?
Announced in 2019, Sidewalk uses wireless low-energy Bluetooth and 900MHz radio signals to connect compatible devices beyond the normal range of Wi-Fi capability — in some cases, as far as half a mile, according to Amazon.
It does this by creating a sort of network of internet networks that uses your home's Wi-Fi bandwidth to bridge connections for Sidewalk-compatible devices. If one Sidewalk-enabled device loses internet access, it can grab some bandwidth from another one in the vicinity. The feature is aimed to better help users' products stay online even when, say, your broadband goes down or your home loses power. It's also useful for staying in touch with your Tile tracker should you lose your wallet or keys while out for a walk and it's outside of the normal range of your Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection.
In order for the feature to work, however, Sidewalk requires your neighbors to also have Amazon Sidewalk-enabled products.
Amazon has emphasized that others won't be able to see or access your actual network or devices, including which devices are using a portion of your Wi-Fi. The company claims that Sidewalk data is deleted from the server every 24 hours and offers three layers of encryption, so your neighbors can’t access any footage from your devices. You can learn more about Amazon Sidewalk and user privacy by reading Amazon’s Sidewalk and Privacy Whitepaper.
How will Amazon Sidewalk impact my personal wireless bandwidth and data usage?
Amazon uses a small amount of bandwidth from each home with Sidewalk-enabled devices to create a wide-range shared network between you and your neighbors. The maximum bandwidth of a Sidewalk Bridge to the Sidewalk server is 80Kbps, which is about 1/40th of the bandwidth used to stream a typical high definition video, and it will be capped at 500MB a month, which is equivalent to streaming about 10 minutes of high definition video, according to the company.
What devices have Amazon Sidewalk?
Tile trackers, Ring Floodlight Cam (2019), Ring Spotlight Cam Wired (2019), Ring Spotlight Cam Mount (2019), Echo (3rd gen and newer), Echo Dot (3rd gen and newer), Echo Dot for Kids (3rd gen and newer), Echo Dot with Clock (3rd gen and newer), Echo Plus (all generations), Echo Show (2nd gen), Echo Show 5, 8, 10 (all generations), Echo Spot, Echo Studio, Echo Input and Echo Flex.
If you already own these devices, the Sidewalk feature will arrive as a free software update. New devices will have the Sidewalk feature enabled and will require turning them off during setup.
How do I turn off Amazon Sidewalk?
Even with Amazon's security precautions in place, some experts have warned that extending the reach of a user's smart home makes them vulnerable to hackers.
So, if you don't like with the idea of your data going through your neighbor’s network or devices, or you don't want to share your bandwidth, here's how to turn off Sidewalk:
- Open the Alexa mobile app
- Go to More in the bottom right corner.
- Navigate to Settings > Account Settings and tap Amazon Sidewalk.
- Scroll to the bottom of the Amazon Sidewalk page and tap the toggle bar to turn off the feature.
- Open the Ring app
- Tap the three-lines in the upper left-hand corner of the screen for More
- Tap Control Center
- Tap Sidewalk
- Tap the Sidewalk slider button
- You will see a screen asking you to confirm that you want to disable Sidewalk. Confirm that you wish to disable Sidewalk.
Repeat the above procedures to opt back in to Sidewalk.