Amazon created a new service that’s meeting mixed reactions. The tech giant launched a shared network called Sidewalk on June 8th in the United States. According to Amazon, its new network will help devices work better and stay connected outside of the standard home Wi-Fi range.
This neighborhood network comes at no additional cost to those that own Amazon Echo and Ring security products. Also, the Bluetooth tracker, Tile, now works with the Sidewalk network as of June 14th.
While Amazon promotes this network as simply a service that will help devices stay online and up to date outside the home, consumers are concerned about security and privacy.
Here’s a breakdown of how it works, what the benefits are, the devices it works with, security and privacy concerns, and how to opt-out of the Sidewalk network.
How Does Amazon Sidewalk Work?
Users with a Sidewalk Bridge, such as the Amazon Echo and Ring Security cameras, contribute a portion of their internet bandwidth that’s then joined together to make a shared network for all Sidewalk devices in a given community.
Sidewalk Bridges make a new network (that’s not Wi-Fi) using low-energy Bluetooth and 900MHz signals to connect and transmit data between nearby Sidewalk-compatible devices. These signals can’t carry much data but can travel about half a mile.
Amazon Sidewalk does use a small portion of a user’s home Wi-Fi network bandwidth to pass the signals. The maximum bandwidth of each Sidewalk Bridge to the Sidewalk server is 80Kbps, and the total data that Sidewalk uses from every account is 500 megabytes. According to Amazon, that bandwidth is equivalent to about 1/40th of the bandwidth used to stream a high-definition video, and that data usage is equal to streaming 10 minutes of a high-definition video.
What Are the Potential Benefits of Amazon Sidewalk?
If this service works as planned, it will speed up the process of setting up and adding new devices, help devices stay online if Wi-Fi goes out, keep compatible devices connected over long distances, and extend the wireless range of low-bandwidth devices.
Sidewalk will ensure your Echo, Ring, and other Amazon gadgets have internet access, even if your Wi-Fi goes down. This means that consumers never lose access to devices such as smart outdoor lights and Ring security cameras.
Sidewalk can also assure that tools, like Tile trackers, remain accessible if you drop your wallet, your dog gets loose in the neighborhood, or your laptop goes missing outside your home Wi-Fi network.
Despite these positives, reaping the benefits of this service relies on there being enough Sidewalk Bridge devices in a user’s area. Additionally, there are many security concerns to take into consideration.
Security and Privacy Concerns with Amazon Sidewalk
Consumers, businesses, some government entities, and tech experts are raising the questions and concerns they have with this new Amazon service. The company released a white paper that details how they ensure Sidewalk transmissions stay private and secure. However, given the nature of a service, consumers still take issue with the following.
Access to Data
While the Sidewalk network extends the reach of a user’s smart devices, it also means they will be sharing even more data with Amazon. The notion that Sidewalk is adding more devices and more users into one pool can feel risky. With Sidewalk, Amazon gains access to not only your Echo devices but your Ring security cameras and Tile trackers. That’s potentially a lot of information about how you live your life, how secure your house is, and where your valuables are located for Amazon to be able to access.
The company assures that the network is secure and states they are using three layers of encryption so that no party can see the raw data passing through. The tech company also mentioned that they delete information used to route and transmit data every 24 hours.
Strangers on My Wi-Fi?
Another concern users have is if strangers will have access to their Wi-Fi network. Sidewalk does use some bandwidth from your home Wi-Fi to support the servers and Sidewalk-enabled devices, but those devices won’t have access to your network or have any details about it. On your end, you won’t be able to see any information about the devices sending signals to your Sidewalk bridges and network.
Amazon chose to make this service automatic for their users, forcing the consumer to opt-out themselves. It’s not a good look for companies to enabled services by default, especially when it’s a service of this magnitude with potential privacy and security risks.
Amazon Sidewalk Bridge Devices
If you are unsure if your device is automatically connected to the Sidewalk network, here’s a list of the Sidewalk Bridges. They include both Amazon Echo and Ring products.
Sidewalk Bridge devices:
- Echo (3rd generation or newer)
- Echo Dot (3rd generation or newer)
- Echo Dot for Kids (3rd generation or newer)
- Echo Dot with Clock (3rd generation or newer)
- Echo Plus (all generations)
- Echo Show (all generations)
- Echo Spot
- Echo Studio
- Echo Input
- Echo Flex
- Ring Floodlight Cam
- Ring Spotlight Cam Wired
- Ring Spotlight Cam Mount
- Ring Video Doorbell Pro 2
Amazon will continue to partner with additional third-party devices and will likely add new devices to their product line with Sidewalk enabled to expand their network in the future.
How to Turn Amazon Sidewalk Off
The Amazon Sidewalk setting will be on by default, meaning users who don’t want to share their bandwidth and be a part of the broader neighborhood network must turn it off themselves.
Here are step-by-step instructions on how to opt-out of Sidewalk:
- Open the Alexa app on your phone
- Tap More in the lower right-hand corner
- Select Settings
- Go into Account Settings
- Tap Amazon Sidewalk
- Switch Sidewalk off to disable it
If you own Ring devices, you can disable Sidewalk through the control center in the Ring app.
To Wrap Up
The full benefits and risks of the Amazon Sidewalk remain to be seen. As with any new product or service, users should take time to educate themselves to make a decision that fits their needs. If the Sidewalk network isn’t right for you and your business, you can disable it.
If you have any privacy or cybersecurity concerns, contact our team of skilled IT professionals.