Amazon is creating a new network called Sidewalk that will potentially make many internet-connected devices work better, set up easier and even help locate lost pets. But to do it, they will begin sharing a tiny portion of Ring and Echo device owner’s home internet connections.
“There are real privacy concerns… and there are overblown privacy concerns… but it’s still very much early days,” said Chris Davies, executive editor at SlashGear, a consumer technology website.
The Sidewalk network will be powered by various Amazon devices, including Ring Spotlight and Floodlight cams and a laundry list of Echo products. These devices will serve as tiny “bridges” across America – slinging the network into neighborhoods everywhere.
“Amazon is definitely doing all that it can to get as many of these different Sidewalk bridges turned on… so that as many places as you go you’ll have a connection,” said Davies.
To do it, Amazon is making participation in the network automatic, which means if you have one of these devices, you’ll be included in the sharing.
Amazon explained it in a recent email to affected users and even included opt-out instructions.
They also explained the benefits of the network: easier setup and continued connections of certain smart home gadgets even if your WiFi goes out. For instance, let’s say your WiFi goes out temporarily, your smart bulbs might continue to function properly if they can still talk to the Sidewalk network.
One feature Amazon is promoting is the ability to locate lost items and even pets. That’s because Tile has signed on as a participant and Amazon plans to make its own tracking devices that will operate on the network.
“When people experience it for the first time and when you find your car keys and don’t have to spend 500 dollars getting a new set programmed… that will definitely turn people on to this idea that this is something they do want,” explained Davies.
Again, to make this all work, Amazon is going to use a small portion of users’ home internet connections and share it with the community. All activity on the network is encrypted and your personal internet activity won’t be shared with anyone. Amazon says data contributions are capped at 500 megabytes per month.
“There’s definitely cause for concern and to be a little skeptical and weary… because well, Amazon doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to privacy and these devices,” started Victoria Song, a consumer tech reporter at Gizmodo.
The headline on her recent article reads “You need to opt-out of Amazon Sidewalk.”
“Tech likes to move fast, they like to break things and disrupt stuff without thinking about what the societal implication could be for consumers themselves,” said Song.
The plan itself is pretty clear, but the sneaky part, that many in the tech world are taking issue with, is the fact that Amazon is turning on participation by default. This means millions of users might soon be sharing their internet connections without even realizing it.
“You really should wait to see if an independent security researcher that is more on the side of the consumer signs off on something before you just blindly trust a company,” concluded Song.
Should you choose to opt-out of Amazon Sidewalk, here’s how:
Open the Alexa app on your iPhone or Android
Tap Account Settings
Tap Amazon Sidewalk
Toggle the switch to Off to disable your participation
You can always change your mind later and join back in.