This week, Amazon launched Sidewalk, a new wireless network that takes a portion of your home internet and allows other Amazon devices to jump on when they’re out of a home network.
A majority of Amazon Device owners were automatically enrolled on June 8 — but you can still opt out.
Sidewalk is meant to keep your Amazon devices online (or, in some cases, devices that have partnered with the tech giant, like Tile) even if the main network they live on goes down. The main aim is to make smart gadgets easier to connect and eliminate downtime. Additionally, it plays into Amazon’s vision of shared connected communities, and Sidewalk is akin to the glue that holds it all together — allowing you to share bandwidth with your neighbors and vice versa. It could be a nearby Ring Floodlight Cam, an Echo speaker or even a Tile that needs to update its location. The latter example is aided by a location setting, which is disabled by default. With that on, the approximate location of your Sidewalk bridge is shared and can help with pinpointing devices on a map.
Amazon has said the network was designed with privacy in mind (multiple encrypted layers for data to travel through) and has published a whitepaper detailing the steps it took to make these connections safe. “Sidewalk is designed with multiple layers of privacy and security to secure data traveling on the network and to keep customers safe and in control,” Amazon says in a statement to CNN Underscored. The multiple layers include encrypted lanes for data to move through and, in addition, they’re utilizing rotating device IDs to reduce info being tied back to specific users.
Even so, experts we spoke with are noting concerns — Sidewalk is a new mesh network that uses similar properties to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Both of these have not proven to be invincible to malware or hackers. Amazon’s Sidewalk is proprietary, and encryption is on board, but until we’ve had the chance to test this new experience, we can’t speak to its security or performance, especially with Amazon devices, third parties and users all having a piece of the equation.
You’d also be sharing your home’s internet connection. It’s a very small amount, around 500MB of bandwidth a month (enough to stream an HD video or download an app), but it opens your network and lets other users use it. Essentially, Sidewalk is taking a piece of the internet from many users to create a network. They’re taking security precautions, but Wi-Fi and Bluetooth as a whole have been known to have security holes.
“There are privacy provisions baked in, but many consumers may be concerned about their bandwidth being used by others,” says Avi Greengart, a tech analyst focusing on devices and adoptions. You can see Amazon’s explanation of the privacy and encryption laid out here; additionally, after Sidewalk is tested for a bit by users, analysts and reporters alike can get a better sense of the experience. Ring has noted in a public FAQ that the connection is encrypted for you and others you set as authorized users. None of this changes the fact that a portion of your internet bandwidth is being shared, though.
The remaining concern: It’s unknown how well the benefits will perform. In a statement to CNN Underscored, Amazon notes that “Sidewalk will provide value for every customer, such as more reliable connections, easier troubleshooting and extended range for their devices, such as smart lights, pet locators or smart locks.”
Greengart calls out that it’s “a genuinely useful extension of your home network to outdoor lights and potentially other internet-connected devices on your property.” This may be the case, but as we stated above, we haven’t gone hands-on with the Sidewalk network or even devices that have the feature turned on yet.
Because of all the unknowns, for now we’d recommend opting out. (Note: If you should change your mind in the future, you can engage this feature back on.)
With both the Alexa app and the Ring app, you’ll find that the location setting is disabled by default. We currently recommend keeping that off, even if you keep Sidewalk on, to protect your location. With that engaged, the approximate location of your Sidewalk bridge will be used to help locate other devices like a Tile tracker. The location presented, with finding an item tracker like Tile, will be a highlighted area on a map, not traceable back to the Sidewalk bridge and not a precise spot.
To opt out on Amazon devices, open up the Alexa app on your Android or iOS device. Once open, click the “more” button in the bottom right, then “settings” > “account settings” and then select “Amazon Sidewalk.” From there, you’ll want to hit the blue tab icon next to enabled and see it switch to the off position. You’ll also see disabled next to it. Once done, you’re opted out of Sidewalk.
For those with Ring products, this will happen within the Ring app for Android or iOS: Hit the three-lined hamburger icon in the top left. Then tap “control center” and scroll to “Amazon Sidewalk” under the “community control” heading. Tap into it, and you’ll see a list of Ring devices you might have. Currently, Ring’s Floodlight Cam, Spotlight Cam Mount and Spotlight Cam Wired are the only devices to feature Sidewalk. If you don’t have them, you can’t disable the feature, as it’s not on your network. If you do, tap into each device and click the switch to disable them.
Amazon is being transparent and sharing all of the devices that Sidewalk is built into. These devices act as a bridge (aka a hub) to get other devices onto the Sidewalk network. Here’s a full list:
Amazon turned Sidewalk on by default, but because of potential issues around privacy concerns, and a lack of clarity around the benefit to users, we recommend taking the steps outlined above to opt out, at least for now. Choosing to opt out doesn’t negatively impact your experience with an Echo or a Ring device and protects you from any possible vulnerability. Amazon notes that they “recognize customers appreciate choice and control, which is why they can enable or disable their Amazon Sidewalk settings at any time.”