Data Doctors: What to know about Amazon Sidewalk

A logo at the entrance of Amazon, in Douai, northern France on April 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler, File)

Q: I’m trying to figure out how to make sure Amazon Sidewalk isn’t on in my Ring doorbell. Can you help?

In September 2019, Amazon announced its initiative to securely extend the range of wireless networks using some of their most popular devices as bridges.

Amazon Sidewalk is based on several common wireless connection methods, such as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and the 900 MHz band of radio spectrum, and will focus on allowing sensors to connect to the internet beyond the normal scope of our home Wi-Fi networks.

The company points out that using a cellular connection for remote sensors can get expensive, and that a single Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection has limited reach, so their solution will provide better coverage for the growing number of internet-connected sensors.

Some examples Amazon used in the announcement included sensors in your mailbox to alert you when the mail has arrived, and sensors that let you know when your garden needs to be watered.

Sensors such as Tile — which is a small, square sensor you can put on your keychain or other items you’d like to track and locate if they go missing — will be one of the first to be allowed to make use of Sidewalk.

To be clear, this network is not designed to allow random devices to connect to the internet; it’s specifically designed for sensors that Amazon approves to connect.

It will use your home Wi-Fi network’s bandwidth to make the connection, but it will be capped at 500MB per month.

Automatic opt-in

Amazon is getting a lot of criticism, especially from the cybersecurity community, because they are automatically turning on this feature in supported devices.

Even though the connections are very low bandwidth (80 Kbps), both privacy and security concerns have been raised by many.

The opt-out process has been left up to the user of each of their devices.

Ring doorbells, spotlights and floodlights

Amazon acquired Ring back in 2018, and has been slowly integrating its products into the Amazon ecosystem.

Sidewalk is currently designed to only use Ring Spotlight or Floodlight Cam devices as a network bridge, not the Ring Doorbell.

If you own a Ring Spotlight or Floodlight Cam, you can enable or disable Sidewalk by going to the Ring app, clicking on the three-lined icon in the upper left corner, selecting Control Center, then on Sidewalk to access the slider-bar control.

Echo smart speakers

If you have one of the Echo smart speakers from Amazon, you’ll need to use the Alexa app to opt-out of Sidewalk.

Start by tapping the More icon in the bottom right corner, then on Settings, Account Settings, Amazon Sidewalk. Tap the slider icon so that the dot is to the left to disable Sidewalk.

Should you participate?

For the moment, there seems to be more beneficial to Amazon both short-term and long-term unless you are heavily invested in the small number of remote sensors that they currently support.

Even if you do decide to participate but your neighbors don’t, the whole concept kind of falls apart, which is probably why Amazon chose to automatically turn it on.

Time will tell if this is something the world actually wants.

Ken Colburn is founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services. Ask any tech question on Facebook or Twitter.

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