Whether you like it or not, Amazon's new Sidewalk service is coming. As of Tuesday, Amazon's internet sharing network will be activated on millions of Amazon Echo and Tile devices. But if you don't want it, there is a way to unsubscribe. Here's what you need to know before making a decision.
First things first: Sidewalk is Amazon's attempt to create a "mesh" network of interconnected devices — both its own and all participating third parties. Sidewalk-enabled devices — of which there will be many more — connect to each other via Bluetooth and radio frequencies. Your devices are connected to all other Sidewalk devices in range (and those devices' Internet connections), which are connected to all other Sidewalk devices in their range, and so on. This allows all those devices to stay connected to the internet even if the devices themselves are out of range or not connected to their home Wi-Fi network. That also means that your neighbors' data goes through your device and your data goes through theirs. You share a small portion of your internet bandwidth with your neighbors, and they will share theirs with you – unless you bother to turn it off.
Sidewalk has been available for Ring Spotlight and Floodlight cameras since late last year, but now Amazon will massively expand the service (and thus the network it creates) with many, many more devices: Most Echos, Echo Dots, Echo Pluses, Echo Shows, Echo Spots, Echo Studios, Echo Inputs, and Echo Flexes will be enabled on June 8 (some older models are not compatible with Sidewalk). Newer Tile trackers — as well as devices that have Tile built in — will be enabled on June 14. Level smart locks have since been able to connect to select Ring video doorbells via Sidewalk end of May.
And there's probably more to come: Amazon is Amazon actively ask developers to add Sidewalk capabilities to their devices. The more devices that have Sidewalk enabled, the bigger and better the network will be. That's why Amazon has taken steps to ensure that as many devices as possible are on the network. That also means we don't know everything Amazon can and will use Sidewalk for.
"If this service doesn't give you additional functionality that you need, it certainly looks like it should be disabled," David Coffnes, an associate professor of computer science at Northeastern University, told Recode. "Because there is only the potential to share information beyond what is there today."
Before we get into why and how to disable Sidewalk, let's talk about its potential benefits. If your internet goes down and Sidewalk is on, your Ring security cameras can still send you security alerts (but not video; those files are too large). Amazon has promoted Sidewalk as helpful for locating a lost pet or even a lost person – Careband, a portable locator for people with dementia, recently announced that it's partnering with Amazon to see how it can use Sidewalk. If you have Tile, Sidewalk will almost certainly increase its effectiveness, as the network of devices that can help you locate your Tile will be vastly expanded.
It's worth noting that Amazon isn't the only company doing something like this. Apple's "Find My" network crowdsources all Apple devices with Find My enabled to track not only lost iPhones and MacBooks, but now AirTags and even some third-party devices that use Bluetooth. Especially the AirTags have expressed concern that they can be used to stalk people if they have surreptitiously slipped into someone's car or wallet, for example. And while you can take yourself out of Apple's global Find My network, it means you lose the ability to track your own devices through it. And that means if you lose your iPhone or MacBook, Find My won't help you get it back. That is a great discouragement.
Amazon says Sidewalk uses a minimal amount of your devices' power and internet bandwidth to do its job — 500MB a month at most. However, if you have a data plan with a data cap, that may be more data than you want (or can afford) to provide. On privacy and security, Amazon also says it has taken heeft all available measures to encrypt and secure your data. For example, your neighbor doesn't have access to a live Ring video of your bedroom. In fact, your neighbor will not know at all that your data is being routed through their devices. oh and, Despite the data usage, Sidewalk is free.
The red flags of the sidewalk
Still, you may not be comfortable with the idea of your data going through your neighbors' network or devices, or you may not even want to share a minimal amount of bandwidth with them. You may not have much faith in Amazon's privacy protections. You might be okay with an Amazon smart speaker in your home listening to you, but being part of Amazon's mesh network is a bridge too far.
Or, like some privacy experts and academics, you might find the opt-out "option" troubling, or wonder what use Amazon might have for this free service beyond what's advertised.
"Despite all the controls they have — and there are some good controls out there… It shouldn't be enabled by default," Choffnes said. "I think most people won't understand what this thing is, and maybe just go with the standard because they don't know any different."
An Amazon spokesperson told Recode that the decision to opt out of the service was "to make it easy for (customers) to take advantage of benefits such as more reliable connections, greater working range for their devices, easier troubleshooting and no additional connection costs for customers." .”
But it's to Amazon's advantage to have as many people connected as possible, and it knows that people are much less likely to unsubscribe than they would sign up.
"If you can't give a compelling reason for everyone to opt in, then your solution is to unsubscribe — that's a red flag," Choffnes said.
Pardis Emami-Naeini, who researches the security and privacy of the Internet of Things, told Recode she also worried that Sidewalk and the Standard Model would make people more comfortable sharing their data than they already are. And, she noted, we still don't know how Amazon will use Sidewalk and whatever data it gets, in the immediate or distant future.
"It's usually the case that they don't have a good use case for this right now," she said. “But later on they would find some really good use cases for the data, and then they would just take advantage of it. And then they would scale up.”
You can log out as follows, as you are automatically logged in
So if you want to opt out of Sidewalk, that's easy enough. For Echo Devices, you open the Alexa app then Settings > Account Settings > Amazon Sidewalk > Disabled
You can also keep Sidewalk enabled, but opt out of the 'Community Finding' tool used for Tile by disabling Community Finding in the Amazon Sidewalk section.
Disable Sidewalk through your Ring app, go to Control Center > Amazon Sidewalk > Disabled > Confirm
If you have both devices and apps, you should probably opt out of both just to make sure. And you can always sign up for Sidewalk again if you want. But you will make that choice, rather than Amazon doing it for you if you weren't paying attention.