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Amazon has an impressive collection of home devices designed to do everything from keep your belongings safe to scare critters from your trash, some can give you an updated weather report and others are great for video chatting with your parents. From the Alexa speaker in your living room to the Echo Show in the kitchen and Ring camera in your driveway, if you’re a smart home fanatic you’ve probably accumulated quite a few. You may have even taken advantage of a tech deal or two over Prime Day and gotten yourself a new one. Good choice, they make excellent devices that perform well.
However, you also might be curious about Amazon Sidewalk, Amazon’s new network sharing program that links eligible devices. You’re definitely not alone. The program launched and automatically opted in all eligible devices on June 8th, and it’s brought up concerns over cybersecurity and privacy, especially given that it’s coming from Amazon. We’re here to answer all your questions about the program, and how it affects you.
What Is Amazon Sidewalk?
According to Amazon, Sidewalk is their way of helping certain Amazon devices like the Echo, Ring Security Cams, motion sensors, outdoor lights and even Tile trackers work better at home and beyond. Essentially, Amazon Sidewalk creates a low-bandwidth shared network between devices, called a Sidewalk Bridge, so if your internet cuts out or experiences low speeds or buffering, others’ networks can supplement so your devices still work at full capacity.
It’s designed to help keep devices outside your home connected, even if your Wi-Fi doesn’t work as well by your garage or driveway, for example. The Sidewalk Bridge makes it easier for devices to reconnect to your router if you experience an outage, and can make it easier to troubleshoot problems with your device even when it’s not connected to Wi-Fi.
However, Sidewalk has made the news in recent weeks because the idea of sharing your Wi-Fi with strangers, or having your neighbors’ devices connected to yours, has brought up concerns about data privacy, and rightfully so. While Amazon has proclaimed that this program was designed with privacy in mind, some are skeptical.
How Does Amazon Sidewalk Work?
Amazon Sidewalk uses Bluetooth as well as 900 MHz spectrum and other frequencies to pool together a small amount of bandwidth from many Amazon devices and create extended coverage for all of them. It’s designed to fill in the gaps in connection that some devices that use low-power wireless connections such as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). According to Amazon, Sidewalk users don’t receive any information about which of others’ devices are connected to the network, they just receive the benefits of the program.
Which Devices Use Amazon Sidewalk?
The devices that can establish connections to Amazon Sidewalk are known as “Sidewalk Bridges” within the program, and they include many Echo devices as well as Ring Floodlight and Spotlight cameras. Here’s an entire list of eligible devices that have already been connected to Amazon Sidewalk automatically as of June 8th, 2021.
Here’s a comprehensive list from Amazon of all the devices eligible for the program:
- 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
- Echo Flex
Ring Floodlight Cam
Echo (4th Generation)
How Can I Opt Out of Amazon Sidewalk?
You can change your preferences and opt into or out of the program any time. For Ring users, you can opt in or out in the Control Center of the Ring app or website. For Echo customers can change their preferences in Account Settings in the Alexa app. If your two accounts in either place are linked, your preferences in one will automatically apply to the other.
How Will It Affect My Wi-Fi Connection?
Sidewalk Bridge is designed with a maximum bandwidth of 80Kbps, which is about 1/40th of the bandwidth it takes to run a high definition video camera like the Ring. The monthly data usage is also capped at 500MB, which is the equivalent of streaming 10 minutes of HD video.
What Happens If I Don’t Have Neighbors With Amazon Devices? Or Neighbors in General?
Sidewalk is built to get stronger the more devices you link to it, so if you don’t have other Amazon devices around to construct a network with it won’t be as powerful. You won’t receive the benefits of the shared network, and therefore it might not be worth it.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Amazon Sidewalk?
A big pro may be quicker device connections to your network and having your devices still function if you have a Wi-Fi outage at your house. Your Ring will still be able to alert you if someone is at the door, and your motion sensor cameras will still work. You won’t be able to steal your neighbor’s Wi-Fi and watch Netflix all of a sudden but your Ring camera will borrow a bit of their Wi-Fi so it can still keep watch over your home while the connection is being re-established.
Another great pro is the potential boost it’ll give to Tile trackers. If they’re able to connect to this shared network while out and about, and potentially outside the range of your Wi-Fi, it makes it easier for you to track down your belongings — your dog who has just hopped the fence, for example.
There are also a few cons with the program, many of which are skeptical, but worth noting nonetheless. This is Sidewalk 1.0, and it’s bound to have some bugs. It can’t hurt to see how it plays out before you fully opt in. The 500mb limit is certainly not a lot of data, but it’s some data being taken from your monthly allotted amount nonetheless. It’s also a program coming from a giant tech company, and therefore security around data is always going to be a concern.
Amazon is already known for gathering as much data as possible from its customers, and this program is increasing the amount you’re sharing with them. This could include who’s ringing your doorbell, how many people are walking by your house, how long your dog walks are, etc. It’s all a matter of personal preference, and how secure you feel about the devices you use.
What Does the Future of Amazon Sidewalk Look Like?
The goal of Amazon Sidewalk and Sidewalk Bridges seems to be creating entire smart neighborhoods where devices are connected to a stronger, more stable network and work consistently. Each home’s individual Wi-Fi connection is strong, but it can’t reach everywhere you might need it, and Sidewalk will continue to fill in those gaps. The great part about it is you don’t need to purchase any additional hardware to use it, as it’s already built into eligible devices.
Time will tell whether the security concerns are justified, or whether Amazon will live up to the claims they made in their recently white paper about the program — in which they detailed the privacy and security measures they’ve taken, the cryptographic algorithms they’re written for it and the three levels of encryption used.
Users will hopefully find it makes their home more secure and functional through devices always having a consistent connection, and as long as Amazon fulfills its promises surrounding data collection, it could prove to be a worthwhile addition to their already robust home security technology.