Today Amazon is turning on Sidewalk, a way to extend internet service between Amazon devices like Echo smart speakers and Ring cameras. Unless you opt out, your Amazon devices will automatically start participating in this connectivity bacchanal.
Amazon has talked about Sidewalk for a while, so it’s no surprise that the switch is finally flipping. Sidewalk uses the always-on Amazon devices that are already in your home to create a sort of mesh network to keep up connectivity. If one Sidewalk-enabled device loses internet access, it can grab some bandwidth from another one in the vicinity. As a result, the more devices that have Sidewalk turned on, the better it will work. This probably explains why Amazon took its usual approach of turning it on by default. If you don’t want your devices to be roped in, you need to actively change some settings.
Amazon has emphasized its commitment to privacy and security in designing Sidewalk, and it even released a white paper to detail all the protections in the service. At the moment, it doesn't appear to endanger your data to snoops. And it can enable some genuine conveniences, like being better able to find Tile trackers thanks to a recently announced partnership. But there are still good reasons that you might not want your devices participating and sharing a little bit of your home Wi-Fi network in exchange for a little bit of your neighbor’s.
“We all trade some level of privacy for convenience in our increasingly interconnected world,” says longtime security and privacy researcher Katie Moussouris. “The devices in our homes should be private by default, and when they aren’t, we should opt out whenever possible. It’s not necessarily because of how that access is being used today, but how that interconnectedness might expose us or be used in the future that poses concerns.”
Even if you're comfortable with Sidewalk using up to 500 MB of your data each month to help your neighbor set kitchen timers, you need to consider also how a network like this might evolve. That's especially so given the cozy relationship between law enforcement and Amazon's Ring devices. And on principle, you might prefer that Amazon not flip an invisible switch that enlists your devices into its plans to reshape the internet. It could at least ask you first.
You can always enable Sidewalk later if you decide it’s worthwhile for you. But for now, here’s how to turn it off. It takes a bit of digging.
For the Echo family of speakers, open the Alexa mobile app and go to More, Settings, Account Settings, Amazon Sidewalk and choose Disable.
In the Ring app, go to the Control Center, Amazon Sidewalk, Disable, Confirm.
There doesn't appear to be any way to opt out of Sidewalk from a browser.
“For customers who choose to pool their bandwidth with neighbors, we ensure owners of other devices cannot view data sent from your devices,” Amazon wrote in a September blog post. “Sidewalk is also built with maximum upload limits and bandwidth caps to preserve internet bandwidth for Sidewalk Bridge customers.”
If you're just not feeling that friendly, though, you're not alone, and you've got options to stop the spread.