Pros and Cons of Amazon’s Sidewalk Network. Plus, How to Opt Out.
The expanding network taps into your internet service via your Echo and Ring devices
Amazon is expanding its Sidewalk network, making it possible for Echo smart speakers as well as Ring devices to serve as internet service hubs for low-power devices like pet trackers and smart lights. These devices essentially piggyback off your Echo and Ring products to connect to your home’s internet service.
The Sidewalk network launched in stages last year, slowly rolling out to Ring devices. There weren’t many devices that could tap into it, though. Now a number of products, like Tile item trackers, Level smart locks, Ring outdoor smart lights, and certain sensors (such as Ring’s outdoor motion sensor), are compatible with Sidewalk. And by adding the Sidewalk network to its Echo products, Amazon is hoping to provide more consistent network coverage to these devices in entire communities. The more Echo speakers and Ring cameras in people’s homes with Sidewalk, the bigger the network.
When you use the Sidewalk network, you’re not just providing internet access for your own compatible devices, though, you’re providing internet access to anyone’s Sidewalk-enabled devices that are near your house and are in range of your Ring cameras or Echo speakers, which can reach anywhere from a couple hundred feet to half a mile, depending on the model.
But wait, you say. Don’t you pay for that internet service? You sure do, but Amazon markets this altruism-by-default as a service for the greater good of society. The wide-ranging internet connection that Amazon Sidewalk aims to offer could make it easier to, say, find a loved one with dementia if they’re wearing a CareBand tracker when they’ve gone missing, because it’s more likely there will be internet service so that the tracker can send a signal to alert you to the person’s whereabouts.
Living in a world where your devices are never out of range of an internet connection may sound convenient, but you might not want to share your internet access (which only you pay for) with others. And of course, there may be privacy concerns.
Which Amazon Echo Smart Speakers and Ring Cameras Work With Sidewalk?
A variety of Amazon Echo speakers and Ring cameras will act as Sidewalk Bridges. The list includes over 20 devices, including:
- Amazon Echo (third and fourth generations)
- Amazon Echo Dot (third and fourth generations)
- Amazon Echo Show (5, 8, and 10 models)
- Ring Floodlight Cam (2019)
- Ring Spotlight Cam Mount (2019)
- Ring Spotlight Cam Wired (2019)
- Ring Video Doorbell Pro
- Ring Video Doorbell Pro 2
What Devices Use the Network?
At this time, CareBand wearables, Level smart locks, Ring outdoor smart lights, Ring motion and mailbox sensors (you’ll be notified when mail has been delivered), and Tile item trackers use, or will use, the Sidewalk network. Level and Ring products already work with Sidewalk; Tile devices will start working June 14, and CareBand devices will start working at an unspecified date in the future. Amazon is likely to announce more compatible devices over time.
How Does the Sidewalk Network Actually Work?
Amazon Sidewalk is technically two wireless networks in one: Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and 900 megahertz. The BLE network is for devices within a couple hundred feet, while the 900 MHz network is for devices up to half a mile away.
To send data to the internet, Sidewalk devices will use one of these two networks to send data to an Echo speaker or a Ring camera. The Echo or Ring device then sends that data off to the internet via your home’s WiFi.
How Much Data and Internet Bandwidth Will the Sidewalk Network Take From Your Home’s Internet Service?
The Sidewalk network will use up to 500 megabytes of data per month from your home’s internet service. This could be a problem if you have DSL internet service, but if you have broadband internet service, you should be fine. Some broadband plans have data caps, but they’re usually 1 terabyte or more (that’s 1,000,000MB). As for whether Sidewalk will slow down your internet connection, it’s unlikely because any one device uses just a minuscule amount of the bandwidth you’d have with broadband internet service.
Will Amazon, or People Using the Sidewalk Network, Know the Location of Your Devices?
Amazon probably already knows the location of your Echo and Ring devices. Amazon asks you to input your home address for Echo devices so that they can provide information that’s relevant to your area, such as weather and traffic. And when you set up a Ring device, Ring requires you to input the address where the camera is located.
Amazon will then share your device’s approximate, but not exact, location (such as a nearby street intersection) with other Sidewalk users that use the network’s Community Finding feature. This feature allows users to locate items, such as Tile trackers, pet trackers, and people with CareBand wearables.
If you want to enable Sidewalk but not share your devices’ locations, you can turn off Community Finding under the Amazon Sidewalk settings in the Amazon Alexa and Ring apps. To turn off the setting in the Alexa app, tap More at the bottom right of the app, followed by Settings > Account Settings > Amazon Sidewalk > Community Finding and toggle it off. To find the setting in the Ring app, tap the menu button at the top left of the app, followed by Control Center > Amazon Sidewalk and toggle off Community Finding.
How Robust Is the Privacy and Security of the Sidewalk Network?
It might seem concerning that data from strangers’ Tile trackers, Ring sensors, and other devices might be traveling through your home’s WiFi router and modem. After all, we’re told to guard our home networks against intruders to prevent hacks.
Amazon released a white paper addressing the privacy and security concerns of the new network. According to the paper, Sidewalk uses three layers of encryption to ensure that data can be seen only by the device itself and the server to which it’s sending data. Sidewalk devices can’t see any data about the Echo or Ring devices they connect to (including any data about its owner) and vice versa. The only exception is if you own both the Sidewalk device and the Echo or Ring device.
We also shared the white paper with the privacy and security testing team from the Consumer Reports Digital Lab. "Amazon Sidewalk seems pretty secure,” says Cody Feng, one of CR’s test engineers for privacy and security. “We don’t see any problems or security concerns based on that information. However, introducing a new form of communication between devices inevitably opens up new ways for hackers to attack these devices.”
How Do You Opt Out of Sidewalk for Echo and Ring Devices?
You can opt out of Sidewalk entirely in the Amazon Alexa and Ring apps. If you own both Echo and Ring devices and your Amazon and Ring accounts are linked, you only need to do this in one of the apps. If the accounts are not linked, you will need to do it in each app. And if multiple people in your home have accounts to use your Echo and/or Ring devices, you’ll need to opt out from the primary account holder for the devices.
In the Amazon Alexa app, tap More at the bottom right of the app, followed by Settings > Account Settings > Amazon Sidewalk and toggle it off. In the Ring app, tap the menu button at the top left of the app, followed by Control Center > Amazon Sidewalk and toggle it off.
How Do You Opt Out of Sidewalk for Tile, Level, and CareBand Devices?
All three of these devices already work on their own; being able to connect to Sidewalk improves their connectivity. However, if you’re not comfortable with Amazon handling your data, you don’t have to use the Sidewalk network. You don’t have to do anything with Level and CareBand devices, because Sidewalk is an option you have to opt into to use. The situation is trickier for Tile devices, though.
If your Tile device is not connected to Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa, you don’t need to do anything to opt out of Sidewalk. If it is connected to Alexa, however, you will need to disable the Tile Alexa skill (and lose the voice control functionality). To disable the skill, open the Amazon Alexa app, tap More at the bottom right of the app, tap Skills & Games, tap the Search magnifying glass, search for Tile, tap the Tile skill, tap Settings, and finally tap Disable Skill.
If You Decide to Try Out Amazon Sidewalk, Can You Opt Out at a Later Date?
Yes, you don’t need to opt out of Sidewalk now. You can always try it out and opt out at a later date. You can also opt out now, wait and see how the network plays out, and opt back in. It’s completely up to you.