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24 Jun 2021

Tech Life: Should you stroll down Amazon Sidewalk?

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June 24, 2021 Category: Technology Posted by:

By Stephanie Humphrey

Stephanie Humphrey

Earlier this month, Amazon enabled a service on some of its smart devices called Amazon Sidewalk. If you are using a device in the Echo family – i.e., any of the smart speakers that have Alexa, or any Ring devices, video doorbells, etc. – Sidewalk has been automatically enabled on your device. But what is Amazon Sidewalk?

Amazon Sidewalk is a mesh network that will connect your devices to others in your vicinity. The stated purpose is to provide continuity for you if your device is out of range of your own wi-fi, or if your wi-fi goes down for some reason. When you’re connected to Sidewalk, what will happen in either of those cases is that your device(s) will use internet bandwidth from someone else within range, up to a half mile away. For example, let’s say the internet goes out on your block, but two blocks over, the homes still have internet access. If you happen to have a Ring video doorbell connected, it will still work because it would “borrow” the wi-fi of someone else in the area that was also connected to Sidewalk. In the same way, someone else could also borrow your wi-fi if necessary as well. Amazon is insisting that the amount of bandwidth needed to keep devices connected is minimal, and should not exceed 500 MB per month, which is roughly the same amount of data you would use if you watched 10 minutes of HD video online. So why would anyone want to be a part of Amazon Sidewalk?

The main benefit of being connected to this mesh network is continuity. Video doorbell cameras or smart garage door openers will still work if you lose internet access for some reason. Amazon will also be adding Tile devices to the Sidewalk network, so if you use a Tile to keep track of purses, backpacks, or pets you’ll have a much wider range to locate them if they get lost. What could possibly go wrong?

There are a few issues I have with Amazon Sidewalk. First and foremost, there are pretty significant security and privacy red flags here. The idea that other random devices have access to your wi-fi network doesn’t sit well with me, even if the data being shared across the network is encrypted. Amazon released a white paper detailing the technology and the ways that they plan to protect your privacy and security, but the potential hacking risks are still high enough for concern. And do you really want to give Amazon even more of your personal data and potentially share it with your neighbors? There is also the issue of the amount of data that could be used. There probably aren’t many people out there with home wi-fi connections that have data limits, but there are some. If that 500 MB puts you over your cap for the month, it could end up costing you more on your internet bill. And we still don’t know what Amazon might want to do with this network down the line that could consume even more of our wi-fi bandwidth and capture even more of our internet habits. Finally, I think it’s pretty shady that the program enrolls you automatically and forces you to opt out. There should have been way more transparency from Amazon at the beginning, and it should be something you have the choice to opt in to, not the other way around.

In my (humble) opinion, there are still too many unknowns for me to choose to be a part of the Amazon Sidewalk network. It’s a personal choice, but if you feel the same way, here’s how you can opt out on Echo devices:

•  Open the Amazon Alexa app

•  Tap ‘More’ in the lower right corner

•  Tap ‘Settings’

•  Tap ‘Account Settings’

•  Tap ‘Amazon Sidewalk’

•  Toggle switch to ‘Disabled’

To turn off Amazon Sidewalk for your Ring devices:

•  Open the Ring app

•  Tap the hamburger menu (the three horizontal stacked lines) in the upper left corner

•  Tap ‘Control Center’

•  Scroll down and tap ‘Amazon Sidewalk’

•  Toggle switch to ‘Disabled’

•  Toggle ‘Community Finding’ switch to ‘Disabled’

•  Select ‘Confirm’ on the pop-up screen

Stephanie Humphrey is a former engineer turned Tech-Life Expert and author. She is a contributor to ‘Good Morning America’ and Fox 29’s ‘Good Day Philadelphia’. You can find Stephanie all around the web @TechLifeSteph and get her book “Don’t Let Your Digital Footprint Kick You in the Butt!” on Amazon.

Disclaimer:  The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. Use of this column not intended to replace or substitute for any professional or financial advice. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist. This column, its author, the Philadelphia Sunday SUN newspaper and publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions.

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