For years, a secret network has been lurking in millions of Amazon Echo speakers and Ring security cameras, just waiting to be activated by Amazon. This might sound like the opening line of a lazy sci-fi novel, but it’s not. It’s real, and it’s called Sidewalk. As Amazon explains on its website, “Sidewalk is a shared network that helps devices like Amazon Echo devices, Ring Security Cams, outdoor lights, motion sensors, and Tile trackers work better at home and beyond the front door.” And in case you weren’t aware, Sidewalk officially launched today.
In order to operate, Sidewalk creates a low-bandwidth network between Sidewalk Bridge devices in close proximity, which include Echo speakers and Ring cameras. These devices then use some of your home internet bandwidth to provide certain services to those on the network, such as simplifying new device setups, extending the working range of Tile trackers, and keeping devices online when they are out of range of your home network. And unless you opted out, you’re already in.
As terrifying as this technology would have been anyway, the reason that the entire internet is up in arms about Amazon Sidewalk is the fact that Amazon is forcing device owners to manually opt out if they don’t want to be part of the network.
At this point, you’re probably wondering how you can do that. Thankfully, it’s fairly easy:
- Open the Alexa app on your mobile device.
- Open More and select Settings.
- Select Account Settings.
- Select Amazon Sidewalk.
- Tap on the toggle to enable or disable Sidewalk.
Whether you choose to leave it on or turn it off, this choice will apply to every supported Echo and Ring device that you have linked to your Amazon account. Here is the long list of supported devices: Ring Floodlight Cam (2019), Ring Spotlight Cam Wired (2019), Ring Spotlight Cam Mount (2019), Echo (3rd gen and newer), Echo Dot (3rd gen and newer), Echo Dot for Kids (3rd gen and newer), Echo Dot with Clock (3rd gen and newer), Echo Plus (all generations), Echo Show (2nd gen), Echo Show 5, 8, 10 (all generations), Echo Spot, Echo Studio, Echo Input, and Echo Flex.
Other than losing access to whatever vague benefits Sidewalk claims to offer, there isn’t any downside to deactivating the network. Amazon confirms in this FAQ that “Sidewalk Bridges will continue to have their original functionality even if you decide to disable Amazon Sidewalk.” In other words, your Echo isn’t going to stop telling you whether or not it’s raining if you opt out of Sidewalk.
You can read more about how Amazon plans to keep users safe in this 13-page whitepaper, but quietly connecting millions of people to one another without their permission while using their own networks and devices to make it happen it enough for me to say no to Sidewalk.