Amazon is rolling out a new feature in their Alexa-enabled devices on June 8. It’s named Amazon Sidewalk, and it’s getting a lot of attention. More and more people are writing to me to ask about it, and the concern in their questions is quite apparent. Why?
Well, in short, because Amazon is adding Sidewalk to all of your Alexa, Echo and other Amazon devices. Everyone’s Amazon hardware is getting a Sidewalk upgrade, as well as many Ring.com devices on June 8. It will create a really big network that shares info over a large area, using your internet bandwidth. And Amazon is doing this without asking you, the end-user, the consumer, the owner of the hardware in question.
What is Sidewalk?
But let me back up a little bit and try to describe the technology a little better: Sidewalk will be a fascinating way of connecting devices at up to half a mile’s distance. Using a mixture of Bluetooth and wireless spectrum transmissions, Amazon wants to mesh all of their devices together. If you have an internet outage, Amazon claims your devices may continue working or be more easily reconnected using Sidewalk technology.
Amazon also wants to alleviate your concerns about privacy and data usage: They state that they’ll be triple-encrypting any data passed through Sidewalk. And the amount of data used each month will be kept low and slow, so you should not notice any speed difference, nor hit any data cap with your ISP.
Why Would(n’t) I Want Sidewalk?
Presuming that Amazon is being truthful about the broad-strokes details, here’s some more possibilities on what Sidewalk could do:
- While your internet is down, Ring devices may be able to still send you motion alerts and other notifications.
- If you lose your keys/dog/toddler, and they have a Tile tracker attached, the mesh network may be better able to help you locate them, even if they are away from your home WiFi and property.
- Amazon Support states that they can help you fix your devices’ connections more easily with Sidewalk enabled.
- Sidewalk can help stretch to your far-flung Amazon devices and keep them connected, if you have to place them further away than your regular Wi-Fi can reach.
But many tech experts and pundits have cautionary opinions about Sidewalk:
- Amazon & Ring don’t have the greatest track record with data security, and they’re not disclosing exactly what of my data they plan to share over Sidewalk.
- If this mesh network spans over entire neighborhoods and cities, does this amount to mass surveillance? Will Amazon be watching me as I travel and connecting me with other people?
- I paid money for my Amazon tech and I own it. It seems a bit presumptuous for Amazon to commandeer my property and use it for their benefit, without compensating me.
I wish I could see the future and tell you how this all turns out, so I could give definitive advice on what to do. But I just don’t know much for certain here. The best I can do is give you decent reading material, urge you to learn more about Sidewalk, and then step back for you to make an informed decision. Please consider these fine publication for more info on this topic:
Wired Magazine: How Amazon Sidewalk Works
Forbes: Why You Should Change This New Sidewalk Setting on Your Amazon Account
Amazon: Welcome to Amazon Sidewalk
Tom’s Guide: What is Amazon Sidewalk
Enabling/Disabling Amazon Sidewalk
If you’ve read up on Sidewalk and are comfortable with this new technology, then you don’t have to do anything! This feature will be turned on automatically and start working on or after June 8, 2021.
If you have any reason to abstain from Sidewalk, though, most of the articles above detail how you may turn it off. In short, you would open the Alexa app on your smart device, and go to More-> Settings -> Account Settings – Amazon Sidewalk, and then push the slider to Disabled. This setting in Alexa will affect ALL devices connected to that Amazon account at one time!
If you only have Ring devices and no Amazon/Alexa devices, you can follow these steps to disable Sidewalk in your Ring app.