Many people have welcome an Amazon smart device featuring Alexa or Ring security cameras that incorporate technology that is meant to make our lives easier. Since these devices truly are convenient, so many of us have not thought twice about how much access we are giving companies in our homes and personal lives.
Now, Amazon has announced that millions of Amazon Echo devices and Ring security cameras will have a feature called Sidewalk, which will give a bit of your home’s internet connection to neighbors.
So what does exactly mean? First of all, the company has certainly made it difficult to navigate settings in order to turn this feature off. Many are worried that this will create an intricate network for Amazon in order to be able to increase surveillance. It is unclear how secure Sidewalk is, and you should always be weary of sharing your network with people you don’t know.
The whole purpose of Sidewalk is to give blanket of connectivity to suburban America, providing low-bandwidth wireless access that will span across half a mile and provide WiFi in areas that were once too expensive to give connectivity access to. The benefits of this include making it easier to connect devices in spots without WiFi.
However, once you opt in to connect to such a program, you don’t have much control of what data is being transferred. Sidewalk could become a bridge to more surveillance and trackers, which is concerning because it is owned by a private company, Amazon, with not much regulation.
Sidewalk uses Bluetooth to connect nearby devices to your home’s Amazon device as well as another type of signal that uses the 900 MHz spectrum in order to connect devices that are up to half a mile away. While it cannot carry as much data as WiFi, it can signal from all the nearby Amazon devices and combine them together into a “mesh network.”
General manager of Sidewalk Manolo Arana said: “Wi-Fi is constrained mostly to your home; it doesn’t have the range to go into your backyard and into the neighborhood. Cellular offers long-range connectivity, but it is expensive. Sidewalk splits the difference between those two and allows us to put billions of things at the edge of the network.”
The issue is that Sidewalk authorizes the Amazon device to share a bit of your home’s internet bandwidth, up to 500 megabytes a month, which is like 150 cell phone photos. This mean that this traffic used by others will be paid by you, not Amazon, and might count to your internet provider’s data cap if you have one, so it’s important to keep that in mind.
If you do have an Amazon device and want to disabled Sidewalk, it is possible but a little bit of a lengthy process of digging through several stages of settings. Go to the Alexa app, and click on More. Next tap on Settings, then Account Settings, and finally Amazon Sidewalk. Make sure you set “Enabled” to off.