Amazon Sidewalk, going live today, affects Echos but not Fire TVs — What you need to know and how to turn it off

Amazon Sidewalk is a new system that is being activated today across millions of Echo smart speakers and a few Ring devices. It allows those devices to act as a middleman for internet access so that other Sidewalk-enabled devices can use your network. The catch is that anyone’s devices, not just your own, can use your network for internet access. If that’s not bad enough, it’s retroactively being flipped on by default for everyone and has been shown to turn itself back on even after you explicitly turn it off.

Amazon Sidewalk devices fit into two categories, Sidewalk Bridges and Sidewalk-enabled Devices. Sidewalk Bridges are the Echo and Ring devices (for now) that can share their internet access with Sidewalk-enabled Devices, like Tile trackers, that don’t have internet access of their own. Sidewalk-enabled devices can connect to any and all Sidewalk Bridges, regardless of who owns them.

Currently, the list of devices that can act as Sidewalk Bridges is as follows:

  • Echo (3rd-gen & newer)
  • Echo Dot (3rd-gen & newer)
  • Echo Dot for Kids (3rd-gen & newer)
  • Echo Dot with Clock (3rd-gen & newer)
  • Echo Plus (All generations)
  • Echo Show (2nd-gen)
  • Echo Show 5 (All generations)
  • Echo Show 8 (All generations)
  • Echo Show 10 (All generations)
  • Echo Spot (All generations)
  • Echo Studio (All generations)
  • Echo Input (All generations)
  • Echo Flex (All generations)
  • Ring Floodlight Cam (2019)
  • Ring Spotlight Cam Wired (2019)
  • Ring Spotlight Cam Mount (2019)

It’s important to point out that Amazon has changed the above list over time. It used to also include models like the 2nd-gen Echo & Echo Dot, as well as the 1st-gen Echo Show. It also did not originally include the Echo Flex or Echo Input, which have recently been added. The takeaway, for me, is that there are probably many devices that are technically capable of being Amazon Sidewalk Bridges that aren’t on this list for now, including Fire TVs, that may be flipped on at Amazon’s whim in the future.

For the record, I’m not against Amazon Sidewalk as a concept/feature. I like the idea a lot. I just think Amazon has made many bad decisions about how they’re activating it, which really stains my opinion of the whole thing. The idea that everyone’s hardwired home devices share a tiny bit of their network with everyone else so that simpler mobile devices have a tiny bit of access to the internet without needing a cellular connection of their own is a great idea. Having access to a somewhat widespread internet network at no extra cost opens up the possibility of a lot of interesting new gadgets to be created, which I’m all for. It should have simply been left off on existing devices by default.

Amazon Sidewalk Bridges will only allow a maximum of 500 MB of data to be transferred per month per account. That data will only ever consume a maximum of 80 Kbps of bandwidth. To put that into perspective, the average U.S. internet speed is about 40 Mbps, so a Sidewalk Bridge will only ever use 0.2% of that connection. For the few places in the U.S. that have data caps on home internet, the overage charge is usually about $10 per 50 GB, so Amazon Sidewalk running in the background would cost those people the equivalent of $0.10 a month. It’s really not a burden or a strain on the vast majority of people. That said, it really should have been an opt-in feature for existing devices and only on by default, with a clear message asking if you want to turn it off during device setup, for new devices.

My main concern with leaving Amazon Sidewalk turned on is security. It’s one more point of entry to my home network that could potentially be compromised in the future if Amazon didn’t button things up correctly. Since it serves little to no benefit to me and most people right now, I think it’s best to turn it off. If you are or become the owner of a Sidewalk-enabled device that benefits from the Sidewalk network, then it makes sense to consider helping your fellow gadget lovers out by allowing your devices to act as Sidewalk Bridges.

Thankfully, turning Amazon Sidewalk off on all your devices is easy because it’s an option for your entire Amazon account, not a per-device option. To turn off Amazon Sidewalk, open the Alexa app, open “Settings” under the “More” menu, select “Account Settings,” select “Amazon Sidewalk,” and flip the option to off. Since it is going live today, it’s probably safe to assume it will no longer flip itself back on as it has done in the past, but you never know, so maybe set yourself a reminder to check on it in a few weeks.

Update

Adam in the comments points out that the setting for Amazon Sidelwak is missing in his Alexa app, probably because he doesn’t have any Echo models that are on the list above. So if you don’t see the setting, it’s likely because none of your devices can use Amazon Sidewalk.

17 comments
  1. Chris Lukas says:

    I’d like to point out that there’s no privacy. Almost everyone who reads this well-written article is carrying a GPS tracker and couldn’t function without one. This further invasion of privacy is trivial compared to the 100% exposure all except the die-hards (those without cell phones and email) have

    • big F says:

      I totally agree with what Chris has said, in fact it’s what I say to all the tinfoil hat wearing types who don’t want to get a COVID vaccine because the government is injecting them with nanotechnology. The only thing to add is Amazon already own countless petabytes of info about their users. Sidewalk will be an extension to that. The added worry is that the tech used can be hacked and has been. Unless it’s totally locked down, this private Amazon internet of things will end up being accessed by the wrong hands.

  2. Adam says:

    Uh, Chris, I don’t think the concern here is privacy or tracking. Its that it uses your internet bandwidth without your consent, and it could be a potential vector for your network to be hacked.

    Did you read the well-written article? Its really short on concerns about privacy and tracking…

    As I side note, I disabled this the first time Elias brought it up. Its no longer available on my app. I believe, because I only have a 2nd gen echo. So if that’s you too, don’t panic if you don’t see the option in your app.

    • Thanks for the note about the missing setting. That’s work pointing out so I’ll update the article.

      • Hank Gallo says:

        My “Sidewalk” option has been coming and going since you first wrote about it. Someone will ask me and mine and theirs won’t have “Sidewalk” listed. Yesterday it was not in my Alexa app, but today it is and it is still disabled. Thank you for letting us know to watch for it so long ago.

  3. WalterTobiasFrankfurter says:

    Over-reaching step in my opinion and the security concerns we raise are valid here. Almost makes me want to drop all our Amazon technology. Amazon has become more and more a disappointment and this just adds to the sentiment. If you don’t think so try to call their offshore customer support for anything.

  4. Chris Lukas says:

    Can’t have privacy, that’s long gone. I can spare the 80k bandwidth and am eager for my customers to have a backup channel for their Amazon/ring security systems. As far as the network security implications, I’m sure Amazon has overlooked some vector, but most keep all iot devices on a separate VLAN anyway

    • big F says:

      Trouble is your average Joe home user doesn’t probably know what a VPN is let alone how to set one up.
      One guy I set one up for recently though it was a variation on VPL and nothing to do with his computers.

      FYI……. VPL is visible pantie line, an issue some ladies and men get when wearing tight trousers or leggings.

  5. Nicholas Cannon says:

    Great feature for emergencies

  6. Brantome says:

    Surprised here to see this jumping on the Chicken Little bandwagon – yeah, Amazon maybe should have chosen an opt in rather than opt out implementation, but that apart, the knee jerk opt out advice here and elsewhere is disheartening.

    Here’s one of the sadly few balanced looks at it… https://www.forbes.com/sites/patrickmoorhead/2021/06/07/amazon-sidewalk-focuses-on-security-and-privacy-for-all-iot-users/

  7. Chris Lukas says:

    In a test, the company sent over 700 Sidewalk-enabled devices to employees of subsidiary Ring, and to friends and family of those employees. In just three weeks, it had the sprawling, densely populated L.A. Basin fully covered.

  8. wes says:

    Guessing this is a US only thing because I don’t have an option for that in my app settings.

    • Brantome says:

      Yeah, USA only. Hopefully by the time non USA users get it , the FUD and Chicken Littles will have settled down ;)

  9. David says:

    From what I’ve heard there’s a lot of FUD around this topic. True, Amazon should have explained this better including the opt-in. If you check out the “Security Now” podcast from December 2020 they talk about this in detail. Echo/Echo Dots will use the 900mhz band to share data. This is not the frequency that WiFi uses, so its not like a hacker is going to sit outside your house using your WiFi to stream Netflix. And there’s a data cap…basically the amount of data transmitted is too small to be dangerous. The takeaway seems to be that Amazon can’t get this big network up and running unless it was opt-out only, but going forward new devices will get the prompt.

    I had originally disabled Sidewalk, but after heard a neutral party (and privacy experts) explain it, it doesn’t sound that bad. I enabled it again the other day. I like the idea that maybe someone will be helped by it if they use a Tile tracker and they lose something. This will quickly help Tile create a massive “Find My” network, similar to what Apple did with AirTags. Again, Amazon could have/should have explained it better but its not nearly as bad as it seems if you dig into the details.

  10. Nate says:

    I can understand both sides of the coin in this debate, but I really do feel as though Amazon has really mucked up this rollout by 1.) Not communicating this much more widely than it already has and 2.) Making this opt-out rather than opt-in. I have no doubt that the engineers of this feature have gone to great lengths to ensure that it is a very secure feature, however, that does introduce a new attack vector on one’s network for any malicious actor. Regardless of how good something can be programmed or engineered, adding any potential openings to a network adds an associated risk; a risk that some people may unknowingly have now and not wished to have ever had. I understand the spirit of this from a network coverage perspective, but the execution of it has not been up to par.

  11. Patrick says:

    I have.
    echo gen 2(not on the list)
    Echo dot gen 1(not on the list)
    2x Echo dot gen 3(on list)

    Option not in my menu. App up today’s. It’s supposed to be released to Canada too. App is up to date.

    I’m looking to disable as it seems for the past 2 days my music has stopped playing after a couple songs. On the gen 3 dots and the echo 2 but not the dot 1. I was hoping it was related to this so I could disable to hopefully fix.

    • Brantome says:

      Haven’t seen any news of it being implemented outside of the USA – do you have a source for the Canadian rollout?
      Plus it will have nothing to do with your issue with music which is more likely to be a local issue. Reboot your router, and when it’s back up and running, do the same with your echos…

Leave a Reply to Adam Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.

*

Get AFTVnews articles in your inbox!

Get an email anytime a new article is published.
No Spam EVER and Cancel Anytime.

FOLLOW