Amazon Sidewalk is Using Your Wi-Fi to Build Smart Neighborhoods

·3 min read

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First announced in 2019, Amazon Sidewalk has finally been unleashed upon the masses. Billed as a free “low-bandwidth network,” Sidewalk helps keep a variety of Amazon products online by connecting to other devices owned by your neighbors. It’s a unique idea – although the thought of having dozens of unknown electronics connected to your Echo in the kitchen might be a bit unsettling.

As of June 8th, Amazon Sidewalk has been enabled for a variety of existing Echo speakers and Ring cameras. If you own one of these products, you’re automatically opted into the program, and it’s very possible you’re now broadcasting a Sidewalk signal throughout your neighborhood. The service works by co-opting a small portion of your Wi-Fi and repackaging it as a new signal for nearby Amazon products.

It’s worth noting that the low-bandwidth network doesn’t give people the ability to surf the web or check their Twitter account – only select products have access to a select set of features, and no one will be hijacking your Wi-Fi to stream the latest movies. Amazon also said Sidewalk uses just a small fraction of your bandwidth and all devices on the service will remain anonymous.

“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,” Amazon announced. “Preserving customer privacy and security is foundational to how we’ve built Amazon Sidewalk. 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. For example, Sidewalk Bridge owners do not receive any information about devices owned by others connected to Sidewalk.”

Several insiders recently raised concerns about Amazon’s cybersecurity practices, meaning there’s good reason to be a bit worried about how the e-commerce giant is handling your data. The type of connection used by Sidewalk isn’t likely to result in a major data breach, but the fact that you’re automatically opted into the program could be a major sticking point for many Echo and Ring owners.

How To Deactivate Amazon Sidewalk

Thankfully, deactivating the service is simple – although you’ll need to follow specific instructions based on your device. Here’s what you need to know about opting out of Amazon Sidewalk.

Turn Off Sidewalk on Amazon Echo

  • Open the Alexa app.

  • Navigate to “More,” then select “Settings.”

  • Open the “Account Settings” tab and look for the new “Amazon Sidewalk” section.

  • From there, simply select “Off.”

Turn Off Sidewalk on Ring

  • Open the Ring app.

  • Navigate to “Control Center.”

  • Find the new “Amazon Sidewalk” option.

  • Select “Disable.”

Amazon Sidewalk
Credit: Amazon

Potential Benefits of Amazon Sidewalk

If you decide to keep Amazon Sidewalk activated, you’ll benefit from a host of connectivity enhancements. Beyond making setup easier for new products, Sidewalk will expand the location tracking abilities for Tiles, simplify the reconnection process when your Wi-Fi goes out and help keep cameras and other outdoor devices online even if they’re far away from your router.

Amazon says the network can even be used to find lost pets if they happen to be wearing a Tile tracker and are within range of a Sidewalk-enabled device in your neighborhood.

It’s an interesting pitch, although its benefits might not be enough to win over a massive install base. If you’re concerned about privacy issues, disabling Sidewalk is a painless process – although Amazon seems to be doing a fair bit to keep data encrypted and anonymous.

Depending on initial feedback, expect to see more products and features added to Sidewalk in the future.

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