If you live in the U.S. and have an Amazon device like an Echo or Ring, or use Alexa, you’ll want to disable Amazon Sidewalk, the company’s wireless mesh service, before June 8th. Other affected Amazon devices include security cameras, motion sensors, outdoor lights, and even Tile trackers.
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So just what is Amazon Sidewalk, and why do you want to disable it? Simply put, it is a shared, low-bandwidth, wireless mesh network that helps your Amazon devices work better, both at home and when out and about. According to Amazon, not only will you be able to unlock extra benefits for your Amazon devices, but you’ll also be able to locate pets or lost items and even “support other Sidewalk devices in your community.” Wait… “other Sidewalk devices in your community?”
“These Bridge devices share a small portion of your internet bandwidth which is pooled together to provide these services to you and your neighbors. And when more neighbors participate, the network becomes even stronger.”Amazon
Yes, you read that right. When enabled, Amazon Sidewalk will share a bit of your internet with your neighbors, and theirs with you, in order to improve your Sidewalk-enabled devices and those near you. As mentioned above, being part of this network will help you find your pet or lost items, but it will even allow your Amazon and Ring devices to stay connected in the event your internet goes down. Sounds handy, doesn’t it?
The service is set to launch on June 8th in the U.S., but with a big caveat: it will be enabled by default. Not surprisingly, users in the U.S. won’t be opting in when the service launches but rather will have to OPT OUT of the service. Given most users don’t look around in their settings or may even be aware of this new service, potentially millions of people in the U.S. will be a part of Amazon’s new wireless mesh network.
Amazon does point out that user data will be protected:
How does Amazon Sidewalk protect customer information?
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. Learn more here.
Will I know what other Sidewalk-enabled devices are connected to my Bridge?
Preserving customer privacy and security is foundational to how we’ve built Amazon Sidewalk. Information transferred over Sidewalk Bridges is encrypted and Bridge customers are not able to see that Sidewalk-enabled devices are connected to their Bridge. Customers who own Sidewalk-enabled devices will know they are connected to Sidewalk but will not be able to identify which Bridge they are connected to. For more information, visit our whitepaper here.Amazon Sidewalk FAQ
So why would you want to opt out? As Ars Technica points out that while no specific flaws in the system have been detected yet, there are always risks. Common technologies like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth have had their fair share of vulnerabilities in the past, even though they’ve been touted as being secure as well.
Wireless technologies like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth have a history of being insecure. Remember WEP, the encryption scheme that protected Wi-Fi traffic from being monitored by nearby parties? It was widely used for four years before researchers exposed flaws that made decrypting data relatively easy for attackers. WPA, the technology that replaced WEP, is much more robust, but it also has a checkered history.
If industry-standard wireless technologies have such a poor track record, why are we to believe a proprietary wireless scheme will have one that’s any better?Ars Technica
The list of devices that will be opted in at launch includes:
- 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 (all models and generations)
- Echo Spot
- Echo Studio
- Echo Input
- Echo Flex
Fortunately, it is super easy to opt-out of Amazon Sidewalk. Open the Alexa app on your smartphone, tap More > Settings > Account Settings > Amazon Sidewalk, and toggle it to the left (off). While easy enough to do, a service like this should be an opt-in, not opt-out, service. NOTE: At this time, the Amazon Sidewalk setting doesn’t show up on iOS devices. It’s a known bug and Amazon is working on a fix (thanks Conrad!).
The good news is that your Amazon devices will continue to work as is if you choose to disable Amazon Sidewalk. If you do, you’ll just be missing out on the service’s extended connectivity coverage and location-based benefits like locating pets and lost valuables.
What do you think about Amazon Sidewalk? More importantly, how do you feel about Amazon (and other companies) enrolling users in new programs by default? Let us know on Twitter, MeWe, or any of the social media sites below.
Last Updated on June 2, 2021.