Amazon has one of the largest ecosystems of smart home gadgets on the market today. From Echo speakers to Ring’s lineup of security cameras and doorbells, millions of users rely on Alexa-compatible gear to stay connected and protected. With a massive IoT presence, Amazon is no stranger to privacy concerns, and it seems like the company is once again facing some public scrutiny. Next week, a low-bandwidth mesh network will be activated across its gadgets in the US, leaving users only a few days left to opt out.
Since 2019, Amazon has been testing a protocol called Sidewalk to extend the range of its gear. Originally announced alongside the Ring Fetch, Sidewalk operates as a mesh network over the 900Hz band, allowing gadgets to streamline the setup of new gear and keep devices online outside of your home’s Wi-Fi connection. Most of Amazon’s products since 2018 support the feature, with Echo speakers and Ring cameras acting as bridges. These hubs can cast a signal up to a mile in range, but up until now, it’s been limited to test areas in the United States.
On June 8th, Amazon is enabling Sidewalk on every compatible device in the US, so if you own an Echo, you and your network will automatically be enrolled. Although its maximum bandwidth is limited to 80Kbps with a monthly data cap of 500MB, it’s still a shared connection to miscellaneous gadgets in your neighborhood.
There are some real benefits to staying enrolled in Sidewalk, like Ring cameras continuing to send motion notifications even without a consistent Wi-Fi connection. It also offers a tracking network, similar to Samsung’s SmartThings or Apple’s Find My, for any of Amazon’s partner devices. For example, Tile trackers will sync over Sidewalk starting on June 14th.
Still, any wireless network comes with security risks, and with Amazon creating one out of its millions of devices, opting out might be a smart idea. Thankfully, turning it off takes only a few steps. In the Alexa app on your phone, head to the “More” tab and select Settings. Within “Account Settings,” choose “Amazon Sidewalk” and toggle it off. This process applies to all of the various devices you have in your home, so you won’t have to disable each individual unit. Turning Sidewalk off doesn’t change how your Echo or Ring gadgets work, so there’s no loss to disabling the network.
The company has published a whitepaper on its network’s privacy and security implications for those willing to stay enrolled in Sidewalk. It’s worth looking over before you make a final decision. Sidewalk can still be disabled after its launch next week using the same steps above.