Why your Amazon Echos and Ring cameras are about to start using more data / bandwidth and how to stop it

Amazon is about to start rolling out something called Amazon Sidewalk to Amazon Echos, Echo Dots, Echo Shows, Echo Studios, Ring cameras, and more. You may have recently received an email about it. Amazon Sidewalk is a shared network that allows your devices, as well as other people’s devices, to communicate with each other and the internet. If enabled on your account, you’re allowing Amazon to use a portion of your internet bandwidth and data for a shared network that anyone can tap into.

The only two devices that I’m aware of so far that will tap into the Amazon Sidewalk shared network are Tile trackers and Ring’s upcoming car alarm, but you can expect more products in the future. The idea is that these devices don’t have their own cellular connection, so they instead use the shared Amazon Sidewalk network to communicate with the internet when they happen to come within range of an Echo or Ring device with Amazon Sidewalk enabled.

Amazon Echos and Ring devices with Amazon Sidewalk enabled that share your internet access are referred to as Sidewalk Bridges. Currently, the list of devices that can be Sidewalk Bridges are:

  • Echo (2nd-gen, 3rd-gen, & 4th-gen)
  • Echo Dot (2nd-gen, 3rd-gen, & 4th-gen)
  • Echo Dot for Kids (2nd-gen, 3rd-gen, & 4th-gen)
  • Echo Dot with Clock (3rd-gen & 4th-gen)
  • Echo Plus (1st-gen & 2nd-gen)
  • Echo Show (1st-gen & 2nd-gen)
  • Echo Show 5 (1st-gen)
  • Echo Show 8 (1st-gen)
  • Echo Show 10 (1st-gen)
  • Echo Spot (1st-gen)
  • Echo Studio (1st-gen)
  • Ring Floodlight Cam (2019)
  • Ring Spotlight Cam Wired (2019)
  • Ring Spotlight Cam Mount (2019)

Amazon says that a Sidewalk Bridge can use a maximum bandwidth of 80Kbps. This is the amount of data it can send out at any given time. The total monthly data that Amazon Sidewalk can use is 500MB per account. While the total monthly data cap is account-wide, it’s not clear if the bandwidth cap is per account or per device. If it’s the latter and you have several Echos and/or Ring cameras, you could be seeing the 500MB of data go out in bursts that exceed 80Kbps. The exact wording on Amazon’s Sidewalk info page certainly leaves it open for being a per device bandwidth limit.

What’s also not clear is if Amazon Sidewalk will be enabled by default or not. It seems to be off by default, but that doesn’t mean it will never be enabled. If you don’t want your devices participating in Amazon Sidewalk, my suggestion is to go into its setting that I describe below and toggle it on and then off. There is a chance that if Amazon ever decides to flip it on themselves that they will only do so for accounts that have never manually adjusted the setting.

To disable Amazon Sidewalk, open the Alexa app on either an Android or iOS device. Then select the “More” button in the lower right corner and select “Settings” from the app’s main menu. Then select “Account Settings” and then select the “Amazon Sidewalk” menu item. At the bottom of the Amazon Sidewalk screen are toggles to enable or disable the feature. Again, my suggestion for those who don’t want Amazon Sidelwak functioning on their devices is to enable both options and then disable them both.

28 comments
  1. Brantome says:

    It states quite clearly that the 500MB limit is per account.

    “ Today, when you share your Bridge’s connection with Sidewalk, total monthly data used by Sidewalk, per account, is capped at 500MB, which is equivalent to streaming about 10 minutes of high definition video.”

    • You’re absolutely right and my apologies for stupidly missing that. I was focused on the bandwidth limit not clarifying if it was a per-device or per-account limit and didn’t pay attention that the total monthly data cap clearly is a per-account limit. I’ve updated the post to make that clear. Thanks for catching my mistake!

      • Brantome says:

        500MB per month is roughly the same as 80Kbps , so again the bandwidth is per account viz. 500MB ~ 500×1000 KBytes per month ~ 500,000 / 31 / 24 / 60 * 8 ~ 89K bits per sec.
        I think the bandwidth usage is being overplayed tbh – it’s a scratch as far as I’m concerned…

        • Brantome says:

          Oops, ignore me, just woken up – I may be missing another 60 there – so, I work it out much smaller, around 1.5Kbps on average, perhaps peaking at amazon’s 80Kbps? Sorry for the slip up…

  2. Jerramie Mcgough says:

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention!!

  3. clocks says:

    No thanks, amazon. But thanks to Elias for the heads up.

  4. Nate says:

    Great catch, Elias.

    I will be keeping an eye on that setting to ensure it doesn’t majestically turn itself on in future app updates.

    Honestly, anything that could potentially cost end users money, a la overages with their ISP (even at a mere 500mb), should be completely opt in and not opt out by default.

  5. Gareth Price says:

    This would appear to be just USA based at the moment (?), as can find no mention in Settings/Account Settings for Sidewalk in my UK 3rd Gen Echo (but will keep a copy of this for future reference should it be activated here)

  6. Gareth Price says:

    Well…to answer my own question, I just came across this item on the BBC News site

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-55059696

    Whoops Amazon!

  7. Nate says:

    One of the reasons I just purchased the new 4th Generation Echo was specifically for Sidewalk, which I am eagerly awaiting when it goes live, especially for the extended range I expect it to give to tracking our dog should someone do something careless like leaving the gate to our backyard fence open. I assume it may also speed up viewing access to our backyard security cameras. So big deal if my internet bandwidth usage goes up a tiny trickle? I doubt many people fret over this when they decide to switch on NetFlix to watch a movie!
    What I don’t understand is: Since when is it big news that added services and/or functions must be paid for? Why do you make it sound like some sort of scandalous secret? I see the cost of Sidewalk to be quite trivial compared to its benefits, and I already received the email from Amazon giving me the option to turn Sidewalk off, which I certainly will not do!
    But I am happy to get your newsletter and look forward to more newsworthy future editions! Upward and onward!

    • Auburn John says:

      I agree. Thought this was an odd angle for Elias to take. I appreciate his notice for those who might miss the email (and thoroughly enjoy this site), but the piece comes across with a negative slant.

      I heard about this on a podcast a few months ago and was intrigued. Granted, I already use Tile and could see benefit for sharing.

      • Nate says:

        Out of curiosity, which part of the article features a negative slant? As far as I can see, Elias has reported nothing but factual information, explained what the program achieves, and provides a guide for users to opt out if they wished to do so. I don’t see anywhere an opinion on the value of the program for good or bad nor a recommendation to not participate.

  8. Red says:

    Email I received from Amazon clearly states that it will be ON by default and can only be turned off by using the latest version Alexa app.

    • JFC says:

      After reading Elias’ post above, I went into my Alexa app, followed his instructions, and found the Sidewalk setting. On my Alexa app, it was turned OFF by default. I never even knew it was there until reading his post, so never had touched it previously.

  9. Ray says:

    While this technology sounds intriguing, some of us have ridiculous data caps (thanks Comcast) and are forced to do everything we can to keep from going over this arbitrarily low number. Every month we manage to go just over and are dinged on our bill for it. :(

    Sorry Amazon, off it goes.

    • Nate says:

      “…total monthly data used by Sidewalk, per account, is capped at 500MB, which is equivalent to streaming about 10 minutes of high definition video.”
      Jus’ sayin’

  10. Jon says:

    This is just flat out unacceptable no matter how little data it uses.

  11. Zeric says:

    There may be some benefit to this concept, but people should have more control than just enable/disable. Others here have made good points about bandwidth concerns and that is one area that control should be granular.

    If the link is for basic sensor and device control data as described, it should use considerably less than 80kbps. That 80kbps is per gateway device the way they describe it, not per account. Only the data cap is per account.

    The other big concern is security. I’ve read the white paper, and sidewalk seems well thought out, but the paper is high level. The algorithm details are proprietary and can not be independently reviewed, let alone have a full code review. It would be better if the whole thing was open source with independent device compliance certification.

    Even if is all works as designed, there could also be liability issues and unintended consequences.

  12. Nate says:

    Not to dig up an old post here, but just as an aside: From the time I initially read this article (November 24) to today (November 29), the Amazon Sidewalk feature was turned on within my Alexa app after I confirmed it was off in the prior four days.

    I am searching all folders within my email account, but it appears as though I did >not< receive any notification from Amazon that this feature would be turned on within my account.

    This only furthers my point that this needs to be opt-in, not opt-out. As someone who regards himself as a very informed Amazon device user, this even caught me off guard; imagine how many casual Alexa users will never be aware of this?

    • Zeric says:

      Yep, I expect >95% of users will not be aware of this.

      I’m not surprised they made it opt-out, otherwise they wouldn’t get sufficient participation to make it effective. Control should be much more granular than just on/off, maybe I only want it turned on for some devices and not others, or maybe I want a different bandwidth cap or total usage cap. This should all be user configurable. Hopefully they will improve it over time.

  13. Nate says:

    Although I am excited about Sidewalk and intended to take advantage of it, I agree with Zeric that:”…Control should be much more granular than just on/off, maybe I only want it turned on for some devices and not others, or maybe I want a different bandwidth cap or total usage cap. This should all be user configurable.…”

  14. Jny#5 says:

    So… Who is paying for that bandwidth that I was not asked if I wanted tobgive it away, especially now that my ISP data is going to be capped in 2021? If some passerby, or even a neighbor, ticks my data over for just one month, thatvcan be a costly surcharge on my ISP bill. Theft of bandwidth is still theft. Opting in or out is the wrong discussion; instead, it’s about duping you into giving away your data.
    This is different than Comcast’s open xfinity WiFi connection, because when someone logs into xfinity on through my router, it doesn’t use my data. That is why it really works for Comcast.
    Whereas with Amazon sidewalk, the other party will be using my bandwidth and there maybe no way for me to block that unwanted traffic from my router.
    This is theft and is a criminal act, and because of how pervasive it will be, the crime is that much more worse.

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