Starting June 8, 2021, Amazon Echo and Ring video doorbell owners will automatically begin sharing their WiFi home network with other Amazon device owners as part of a new "feature" called Amazon Sidewalk. Sidewalk, which was first announced in September 2019, apportions a small piece of all Amazon Echo or Ring device’s wireless connections and pools them together “to create a network that benefits all Sidewalk-enabled devices in a community.”
According to Amazon, “[w]ith Amazon Sidewalk, customers will be able to place smart devices anywhere on their property and know they’ll work great, even in dead spots where WiFi and Bluetooth don’t reach.” Owners of Amazon devices will also benefit if their home network becomes unavailable. For example, Ring Cams will be able to piggyback on a neighbor's Amazon device to send alerts.
What devices are Amazon Sidewalk enabled?
Amazon Echo and Ring devices which will be automatically enabled for Sidewalk include:
- Ring Floodlight Cam
- Ring Spotlight Cam Wired
- Ring Spotlight Cam Mount
- Third-generation and newer Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Dot for Kids, and Echo Dot with Clock
- All versions of the Echo Plus
- Second-generation Echo Show
- All versions of the Echo Show 5, 8, 10, Echo Spot, Echo Studio, Echo Input, and Echo Flex
- Third-party Alexa-compatible device makers will be able to add Sidewalk capabilities to their products as well
There are millions of Alexa, Echo, and Ring devices out there – according to Statistica, half of U.S. homes include a smart speaker, and nearly 70% of all smart speakers sold in the U.S. are Alexa compatible, according to eMarketer.
Should you opt-out of Amazon Sidewalk?
Amazon Sidewalk may be a completely benign technological aid, but Amazon hasn’t helped quell the inevitable conspiracy paranoia with how it’s handling Sidewalk’s rollout. Amazon isn’t asking us if we want to become part of the Sidewalk network. Instead, Amazon is simply turning Sidewalk on for your compatible Echo and Ring devices.
Wait, what? They can do that? Yup. That capability by itself is a bit scary.
With the potentially malevolent reach of Big Tech into our online life dominating the news, it’s natural to be suspicious. What does Amazon get out of Sidewalk? Does its ability to somehow reach into our Echo and Ring gear and WiFi connection mean they can reach into our devices and access and collect our personal info as well? Can evil-doers hack into Sidewalk and steal our personal information? Can Amazon reveal our data to be used against us in a court of law?
Amazon has at least anticipated Sidewalk privacy and data security concerns. The company has posted an “Amazon Sidewalk Privacy and Security Whitepaper” to help explain “how Amazon secures customer data, and how Amazon limits the collection and storage of customer information” when you allow your devices to become connected to Sidewalk. We’re assured that “Amazon has carefully designed privacy protections into how Sidewalk collects, stores, and uses metadata.”
Uh-huh. Do go on.
In rather long and overly technical language, the Whitepaper explains what data Sidewalk collects and uses. They assure us that:
- Your data is encrypted
- Amazon can’t access individual user data
- Non-Amazon Alexa devices are restricted from unauthorized access to sensitive data
- Your individual location is protected
- Sidewalk data can’t be subpoenaed or otherwise accessed by law enforcement
What is not adequately addressed by Amazon is the backdoor Sidewalk creates into your secure WiFi network. This new vulnerability could be exploited by hackers to access not just your Amazon product, but all devices connected to your network. And despite whatever assurances Amazon will give us about Sidewalk's security, we have seen time and again supposedly secure systems get compromised.
Do you think Sidewalk’s smart home connectivity extension is worth any possible privacy intrusions or risks? We might have been a smidge more trusting if Amazon had left the Sidewalk opt-in decision to us to start. In our opinion, this tradeoff between convenience and security is far too great. Unless you have a specific situation where you need Amazon Sidewalk to extend your WiFi network, owners of Sidewalk compatible Echo or Ring devices should opt out.
How to opt out of Amazon Sidewalk
To opt out of Sidewalk in your Amazon Alexa app:
- Tap on the striped “More” icon in the lower right-hand corner of the home screen.
- Select Settings.
- Select Account Settings.
- Select Amazon Sidewalk. If you don’t see Amazon Sidewalk, you don’t have a Sidewalk compatible device
- Toggle to Disabled.
To opt out of Sidewalk in your Ring app:
- Tap on the three lines in the upper left corner to bring up the menu.
- Select Control Center
- Scroll down to the Community Control section and select Amazon Sidewalk
- Toggle to Disabled. If your Ring device is not Amazon Sidewalk compatible, you’ll see a list of Sidewalk Enabled Devices.
[Image credit: Amazon Echo Dot with Plant via BigStockPhoto]