April 19, 2021

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Is Amazon Sidewalk Safe, or Should You Disable It Now?

Before the end of 2020, Amazon will launch a new feature called Sidewalk that creates...

Before the end of 2020, Amazon will launch a new feature called Sidewalk that creates small, public internet networks powered by Echo smart speakers and Ring home security products in your neighborhood.

Amazon notes this isn’t a replacement for your normal home wifi network and will only support certain low-powered internet features over Bluetooth. That could come in handy if you want to place a Ring security device on your property but your home wifi network doesn’t reach far enough. Sidewalk also includes a “Community Finding” feature that will make location-monitoring devices like pet trackers and Tile tags more effective and easier to find if lost.

In order to use these features, Sidewalk requires your neighbors to have Amazon Sidewalk-enabled products (which Amazon calls “Bridges) that your stuff can connect to (and vice versa). However, Amazon is taking a proactive approach and enabling Sidewalk by default for all applicable devices.

Yes, you read that right: Sidewalk will be an opt-out feature for all applicable Amazon devices when it launches in the coming days. New Alexa accounts and devices will also be automatically enrolled going forward. And odds are good that most people purchasing any Amazon gear will have no idea what Sidewalk is, nor stumble across it in their device’s options and disable it.

Is Amazon Sidewalk safe?

Amazon’ data privacy track record is shoddy, but to the company’s credit, it’s providing lots of information on Sidewalk’s privacy protocols and data usage metrics.

All Sidewalk networks are triple-encrypted, and Amazon uses several additional security features to obscure each user’s identity and data from each other. You won’t know who’s piggybacking off your network, nor the precise locations for connected devices even when using the “Community Finding” feature (it only provides the general whereabouts of the device you’re searching for).

The company also promises Sidewalk won’t drain your home network’s internet bandwidth; at most, Sidewalk will use 500MB of data a month and 80Kbps of bandwidth at a given moment. Half a gig is a fair bit of data to give up if you’re on a strict cap, but it would take less than an hour to eclipse that amount if you’re streaming high-def media or downloading large files.

How to opt-out or customize Amazon Sidewalk in the Alexa app

Sidewalk might be a cool idea that won’t divert tons of power and data from your network, and it’s clear Amazon is taking the right security precautions, but making Sidewalk an opt-out service instead of opt-in is frustrating enough.

If you’re not on board with Amazon’s big Sidewalk plans, you can customize the Sidewalk settings for all your devices in the Alexa mobile app. Go to Settings > Account Settings > Amazon Sidewalk. From here you have a couple options:

  • Tap “Community Finding” to turn off approximate location sharing but let your devices use Sidewalk, or
  • Tap “Amazon Sidewalk” to toggle it off entirely.

[TechHive]



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