Have you heard of Amazon Sidewalk? This controversial new feature automatically shares your WiFi with neighbors.
In this detailed guide, we‘ll cover everything you need to know about Sidewalk, including:
- What is Amazon Sidewalk and how does it work?
- The pros and cons of using Sidewalk
- Step-by-step instructions to turn off Sidewalk
- On Alexa devices
- In your Amazon account
- On individual Echo, Ring, and Tile devices
- Expert tips to secure your smart home and IoT devices
- Answers to frequently asked questions
By the end, you‘ll understand this complex technology and be able to make informed choices about your privacy. Let‘s dive in!
What Is Amazon Sidewalk and How Does It Work?
Launched in 2021, Amazon Sidewalk is a low-bandwidth, long-distance wireless network run by Amazon. It extends the range of compatible smart home gadgets by connecting them to local Sidewalk access points.
Sidewalk works by using select Alexa and Ring devices as bridges. These Sidewalk "gateways" share a small slice of your home WiFi with community devices to keep them online even when far from your router.
According to Amazon, Sidewalk can reach up to half a mile from Sidewalk gateways like Echo speakers and Ring Spotlight Cams. Over 100 million Amazon devices in the United States can now act as Sidewalk bridges.
How Does Sidewalk Connect Devices Across Neighborhoods?
You can imagine Sidewalk as creating a "people‘s network" across communities. It‘s similar to asking your neighbor to share their WiFi password so you can browse the web from your porch.
But instead of sharing passwords, Amazon devices exchange encrypted data packets to form a low-bandwidth mesh network. It automatically connects participating homes into one large blanket of coverage.
Here‘s a step-by-step example of how Amazon Sidewalk works:
- You own an Echo Show smart display (a Sidewalk gateway device).
- Your elderly neighbor Jill has a Sidewalk-compatible CareBand she wears for safety.
- Jill goes on a walk and moves out of range from her own home WiFi.
- But she enters the coverage area of your Echo Show‘s Sidewalk bridge.
- Your Echo Show temporarily loans Jill‘s CareBand a small bit of your home WiFi bandwidth.
- This keeps Jill‘s CareBand connected so it can share her GPS location and send emergency alerts if needed.
- Jill benefits from the extended coverage while using a tiny fraction of your WiFi data.
Amazon has partnered with other companies to support third-party Sidewalk devices like Tile trackers, smart locks, pet trackers, and more. This means even if you don‘t own Alexa products, your neighbors could be sharing WiFi with those gadgets.
Overall, Amazon claims Sidewalk‘s maximum bandwidth is 500MB per month, shared from your data allotment. The company states you shouldn‘t notice degraded internet speeds or performance.
But many users argue the privacy and security risks outweigh any benefits. Let‘s look at the pros and cons of using Sidewalk next.
The Pros and Cons of Amazon Sidewalk
Sidewalk aims to eliminate connectivity gaps for smart home tech and IoT devices. But it remains controversial among privacy advocates.
Potential Benefits of Amazon Sidewalk
Extends device range: Keeps compatible devices connected farther from your home‘s WiFi router. Helpful if you live on a large property or have spotty coverage.
Creates redundancies: If your home internet goes down, Sidewalk allows supported devices to stay online by borrowing bandwidth from neighboring Sidewalk networks.
Enables community applications: Can help locate pets, valuables, kids, and elderly with Tile trackers, GPS locators, medical alerts, and more.
Reduces device costs: Amazon argues that offloading connectivity to Sidewalk allows gadget makers to remove large antennas and hardware, reducing costs.
According to CyberNews, Sidewalk‘s range extension capabilities can be life-changing for older adults. They reference Alzheimer‘s patients who wander from home and caregivers who rely on location-sharing devices.
Sidewalk is also bundled with Amazon‘s new Linea device, a wearable "personal safety button" for aging adults who live alone.
However, CyberNews and other experts say these benefits may not outweigh potential privacy issues.
Potential Downsides of Amazon Sidewalk
Privacy concerns: You‘re sharing your home‘s internet with any nearby device, which introduces security and privacy risks. Strangers can connect through your WiFi.
No control over data usage: Amazon states Sidewalk consumes up to 500 MB of upload bandwidth monthly from your home network. Problematic if you have a data cap.
Vulnerabilities: Researchers warn that a cyber attack on one Sidewalk gateway device could spread across the larger Sidewalk network, exposing user data.
Automatic opt-in: Sidewalk is enabled by default on compatible Echo and Ring devices. You have to proactively disable it if you don’t wish to share your WiFi.
Lack of transparency: It‘s unclear how Amazon uses data collected through Sidewalk gateways and devices. The company sees some user information like device type and connectivity.
Now that you understand the controversy around Sidewalk, let‘s walk through how to disable it step-by-step.
How To Completely Turn Off Amazon Sidewalk
If you find the privacy and security risks outweigh the benefits, you can disable Amazon Sidewalk in just a few minutes.
There are three ways to opt out:
- In the Alexa app
- Through your Amazon account settings
- On individual devices like Echo or Ring
We‘ll cover how to use all three methods below. Follow the steps carefully to disable Sidewalk across your entire smart home.
Method 1: Turn Off Sidewalk in the Alexa App (Recommended)
The quickest way to opt out of Sidewalk on all your Alexa devices is directly in the Alexa app.
Follow these steps:
- Open the most updated Alexa app on your iPhone, Android, or FireOS device.
- Tap the More icon in the bottom right corner (it looks like 3 horizontal lines).
- Select Settings from the menu.
- Choose Account Settings.
- Scroll down and tap Amazon Sidewalk.
- On the Sidewalk page, toggle the switch off to disable.
- Confirm you want to opt out of Sidewalk by selecting Turn Off.
That‘s all it takes to disable Sidewalk across every Alexa device linked to your Amazon account! The process should only take about 30 seconds.
Alexa will remember this setting, so you won‘t have to turn off Sidewalk again in the future. Amazon won‘t re-enable Sidewalk without your permission.
Method 2: Disable Sidewalk Via Your Amazon Account
You can also manage Sidewalk on each individual Alexa device through your Amazon account settings:
- Go to Amazon.com and log into your account.
- Click Account & Lists from the top navigation bar.
- Select Manage Content and Devices.
- Under Digital Content, click the specific device you want to update.
- Choose Amazon Sidewalk from the left sidebar.
- Toggle off Enroll in Amazon Sidewalk and select Save Changes.
Repeat steps 4-6 for every Alexa device linked to your Amazon account. This gives you more control but takes longer than using the Alexa app.
Method 3: Opt Out Sidewalk on Echo, Ring, Tile, and Other Devices
For the most surgical precision, you can disable Sidewalk directly in the apps for specific devices like:
- Ring app – Control Center > Amazon Sidewalk
- Echo app – Settings > Amazon Sidewalk
- Tile app – Amazon Sidewalk
- CareBand app – Menu > Amazon Sidewalk
Managing each device individually ensures you opt out everywhere. This gives you the most control but takes the most effort.
Double Check Sidewalk Is Disabled
To confirm you turned off Sidewalk properly across all devices, you can check your Amazon account.
Log into Amazon and go back to Manage Content and Devices. Click your profile name at the top.
Under "Account Settings", it should say "Amazon Sidewalk: Not Enrolled" if you successfully opted out everywhere.
Now that you‘ve opted out of the controversial Sidewalk network, let‘s talk about securing your smart home devices.
How to Protect Your Privacy If Using Amazon Sidewalk
If you want to take advantage of Sidewalk‘s extended range and redundancy, there are steps you can take to protect your privacy:
Use a Unique WiFi Name and Password
Don‘t keep your WiFi name and password as the default that came with your router. Create a custom name and strong password only you know.
This ensures strangers can‘t guess your WiFi credentials to directly access your home network.
Encrypt Traffic with WPA3
Enable the latest WPA3 WiFi encryption standard on your wireless router. WPA3 uses the most secure methods to scramble data as it travels between devices.
Compared to WPA2, WPA3 is more resilient against password guessing and specialized attacks.
Install a Firewall and VPN
A network firewall monitors traffic in and out of your devices, blocking unauthorized access attempts. Purchase a router with built-in firewall security.
You can also install virtual private network (VPN) software to encrypt data and mask your IP address. Run a VPN on your router to cover all connected devices.
Turn Off WiFi Broadcasting
WiFi broadcasting openly transmits your network‘s name for others to discover. Toggle this off so only people with your WiFi password can connect.
This provides an additional layer to hide your network from the general public.
Update Router and Device Firmware
Manufacturers release firmware updates to patch security issues. Keep your router‘s firmware up-to-date to ensure you have the latest protections.
Also update the firmware for all smart home devices that connect to WiFi to prevent vulnerabilities.
Use Antivirus Software
Install comprehensive antivirus software like Norton or McAfee across all computer and mobile devices. This helps catch malware, viruses, and cyber attacks before they compromise your network.
Antivirus can even protect IoT devices like smart speakers, locks, and cameras.
With the right combination of cybersecurity measures, you can build a safer smart home environment while benefiting from Amazon Sidewalk.
But many experts recommend fully disabling Sidewalk to completely eliminate privacy concerns. Now let‘s answer some frequently asked questions.
Amazon Sidewalk FAQs: Answered by Cybersecurity Experts
Cybersecurity analysts and tech reviewers have raised important questions about how Amazon Sidewalk works:
Is Amazon Sidewalk secure?
"While Sidewalk uses three layers of encryption, there are concerns that vulnerabilities in one gateway device could impact the larger Sidewalk network." – according to Norton Labs cybersecurity researcher Scott Harvey
What devices are compatible with Sidewalk?
"Amazon Echo speakers, Echo Show displays, Ring cameras and security devices, Tile trackers, Level smart locks, and CareBands are all confirmed to work with Sidewalk." – as stated in a Wired guide to Sidewalk
Why did Amazon enable Sidewalk by default?
“Sidewalk relies on widespread gateway adoption to function, so Amazon turned it on automatically across their device ecosystem to kickstart the network.” – according to private WiFi security company Winston
How much data does Sidewalk consume?
“Amazon says Sidewalk uses up to 500 MB of upload bandwidth from your home WiFi per month. But the average appears to be much lower based on their latest stats.” – according to CyberNews’ ongoing Sidewalk testing
Can Sidewalk slow down my home internet?
"If you have slower broadband speeds, you may notice some lag when using high-bandwidth applications with Sidewalk enabled, based on our experience." – according to TechHive‘s senior writer Michael Ansaldo
Is my Sidewalk data private?
“While Amazon claims robust privacy measures, their lack of transparency into how Sidewalk data is used and shared concerns privacy advocates.” – according to Consumer Reports
We recommend erring on the side of caution when it comes to your digital security. Disabling Sidewalk removes all risk.
Turning Off Amazon Sidewalk: The Bottom Line
In summary, here are the key takeaways about Amazon Sidewalk:
- Sidewalk is an extended wireless network created by compatible Alexa and Ring devices. It shares your WiFi with community devices.
- Benefits like improved range and redundancy come with privacy and security concerns.
- You can disable Sidewalk in the Alexa app, your Amazon account, or individual device apps.
- If keeping Sidewalk, secure your network with the latest encryption, firewalls, VPNs and antivirus software.
- Completely turning off Sidewalk guarantees you‘re not participating in this controversial network.
We hope this guide gave you a comprehensive overview of how Amazon Sidewalk works along with actionable steps for opting out. Please let us know if you have any other questions!