Amazon is unveiling a new community network, called Amazon Sidewalk, for its users to have a more robust internet connection for their smart home devices and a way to reconnect to their router quickly. If you’re an Amazon user or thinking about buying new gadgets, Sidewalk is a feature worth looking into for its privacy and security concerns. Most importantly, you’re already enrolled in it and may not even know it.
What is Sidewalk?
On June 8, Amazon is unveiling its Sidewalk feature as a community network for all of your Amazon devices to work together and stay connected to your home’s wifi for longer distances than your router can support. You can also see other devices connected to Sidewalk and automatically reconnect your smart lights and other devices easier. The feature uses a portion of your Internet bandwidth to make this possible for you and your Amazon neighbors, free of charge. All in all, everyone will have a more robust network together.
The bandwidth of any Sidewalk-enabled device doesn’t exceed 80Kbps. Amazon shared that this is about 1/40 of the bandwidth used for high-definition video. Sidewalk monthly data usage is capped at 500Mbps per account, equivalent to streaming 10 minutes of HD video.
Amazon Sidewalk’s security and privacy promises
Amazon Sidewalk was built with three layers of encryption to protect data, which is a great security measure. But that’s not enough for a feature that uses your Internet connection. Here are a few other security measures found in the Amazon Sidewalk whitepaper:
- Any third-party apps must follow the same encryption standards as Amazon Sidewalk.
- No routing information is stored, as it’s automatically cleared every 24 hours.
- Multiple features to detach any data from a customer.
- Sidewalk users cannot see other users’ data.
- Ability to disable and enable the feature at any time.
The whitepaper also shows how customers’ information is protected from start to finish with an easy-to-read graphic. In short, your device’s data will travel from the application server to the Sidewalk endpoint using the Sidewalk Bridge or Gateway. But it still may not be enough to convince customers and security experts that the feature is safe.
What are Sidewalk Bridges?
Sidewalk Bridges are devices that use a portion of your Internet connection for an overall stronger connection for you and your neighbors. Here are devices that act as Sidewalk Bridges:
- Ring Floodlight Cam (2019)
- Ring Spotlight Cam Wired (2019)
- Ring Spotlight Cam Mount (2019)
- Echo (3rd generation or newer)
- Echo Dot (3rd generation or newer)
- Echo Dot for Kids (3rd generation or newer)
- Echo Dot with Clock (3rd generation or newer)
- Echo Plus (all generations)
- Echo Show (2nd generation)
- Echo Show 5, 8, and 10 (all generations)
- Echo Spot
- Echo Studio
- Echo Input
- Echo Flex
Amazon Sidewalk security risks
We dug into a few articles to get to the root of the Amazon Sidewalk security risk. We know that wifi connections require extra steps to be secure. There are also some pauses considering how much information Amazon already has, including doorbell cameras and smart devices inside homes. Some experts are concerned that Amazon’s encryption is not thorough enough to protect all smart devices, Echo conversations, cameras, and personal information. And that doesn’t include Sidewalk data.
A Forbes contributor shared some hesitation with the feature being on automatically. Other concerns include Amazon having access to your internet, not knowing what your devices are connected to on the other end, or what information is shared. All of this adds to the list of smart home privacy and security concerns, such as hacking.
A note about Amazon Sidewalk with new devices
When you first turn on a new device compatible with Amazon Sidewalk, you’ll be asked whether you want to join the community network. You can then decide whether or not you want to use the feature by sliding the button to disable it before continuing.
Amazon has also informed existing Amazon and Ring customers via email that Amazon Sidewalk is on the horizon and explains how to disable the feature.
How to turn off the Sidewalk feature
If you’re not comfortable with Sidewalk, Amazon lets you opt out of the feature right now. You can disable the feature using your Amazon Alexa app and these simple steps.
- Go to “More” at the bottom of the app.
- Next, click on “Settings.”
- Tap “Account Settings,” and you should see “Amazon Sidewalk.”
- The feature will automatically show as “Enabled.” Slide the toggle to the left to disable it.
Our take on Amazon Sidewalk
It all boils down to how much you trust Amazon and how much personal data you’re okay with sharing. We believe it’s good that Amazon has addressed privacy and security hesitations and its measures to combat them. But that doesn’t take away from the overwhelming concerns about using your internet, devices, and data with strangers just because they’re Amazon customers. If you’re second-guessing Amazon or Ring as your security or smart home provider, that’s okay, too. Other home security providers don’t have this feature and offer great security measures.
Amazon Sidewalk FAQs
Yes, however, you’ll be using less bandwidth because the Sidewalk feature relies on bandwidth from all Sidewalk users to have the strongest connection.
We’re not sure yet, but Amazon believes that the more users, the better the connection.
Yes, all devices are expected to continue to work as usual.
The feature is free but only available for U.S. users with compatible devices.