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.
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.