Personal Tech | June 8, 2021 12:48 pm

If You Own an Amazon Device, You Need to Opt Out of This Feature Today

Sidewalk is a just-activated wireless network for Ring and Echo devices. It has some benefits, but lots of concerns.

An Amazon Echo Show 5 smart display casting a sinister shadow, to represent issues of privacy and security, taken on December 12, 2019.
Your Amazon Echo devices are now part of a larger, unseen wireless network.
Neil Godwin/Future Publishing via Getty Images

If you own and use certain Amazon devices in your home, today is the day you should change your settings.

The tech and retail giant just activated Sidewalk, which is basically a sleeper agent (well, wireless network) that exists in your Ring security cameras and Echo smart speakers. It’s a low-bandwidth network designed to reach places that your wifi can’t currently get to.

Advantages? As the Washington Post (which is owned by Jeff Bezos) noted in a critical assessment, this may allow you to receive motion alerts from Ring security cameras when they lose wifi, extend the range of smart lights, and, later this month after they’re integrated, extend the range of your Tile and smart lock Level to the Sidewalk network.

But this feature — where your data and neighbors’ data is being shared in a mesh network — isn’t opt-in for those without privacy concerns. You actually have to opt out.

Amazon refers to Sidewalk as a “crowdsourced, community benefit.” The company also notes:

A simple control is provided to enable and disable participation in the neighborhood network. When customers first turn on a new Sidewalk gateway device, they will be asked whether they want to join the network. For customers with existing devices that are Sidewalk capable, an over-the-air (OTA) update will connect them to the network—no action is needed. These customers will first receive an email about the pending update and instructions for how to disable, if that is their choice.

As well, the data you are “sharing” is encrypted and extremely limited — neighbors can’t spy on you via your Ring camera, for example — and requires very little power or bandwidth. Still, with Amazon’s privacy protocols in question, the company should have made the feature an opt-in choice … which they must have known would have gained very little traction. Plus, we don’t know how Amazon is going to use this data in the future.

If you do want to opt out of Sidewalk, Vox suggests the following:

  • For Echo devices, open the Alexa app, then Settings > Account Settings > Amazon Sidewalk > Disabled
  • Via the Ring app, go to the Control Center > Amazon Sidewalk > Disabled > Confirm