If you haven’t heard of it, Amazon Sidewalk is a nice-sounding concept that you likely don’t want to be a part of. Why? Well, the fact that you have only four days left to make that choice alone is self-evident.
Indeed, according to Amazon, starting June 8, a long list of its existing smart home devices will work as Sidewalk bridges unless you choose to opt yours out before then.
What is Amazon Sidewalk?
On the face of it, this is an excellent idea. Here’s what it is, per Amazon:
“Amazon Sidewalk is a shared network that helps devices like Amazon Echo devices, Ring Security Cams, outdoor lights, motion sensors, and Tile trackers work better at home and beyond the front door. When enabled, Sidewalk can unlock unique benefits for your device, support other Sidewalk devices in your community, and even locate pets or lost items.”
Specifically, when enabled, supported devices will work together as “bridges” to form a low-bandwidth network, using the Internet of their owner. So, for example, your next-door neighbor’s Echo can use your broadband and vice versa. They do so without you having any say or control over the process.
The benefit, clearly, is that they can stay connected even when one of their networks is not available. On top of that, Amazon can blanket a large area for additional location-related applications, such as using Tile trackers to find lost items.
Currently, the following devices can work as a Sidewalk bridge:
Ring Floodlight Cam (2019), Ring Spotlight Cam Wired (2019), Ring Spotlight Cam Mount (2019), Echo (3rd gen and newer), Echo Dot (3rd gen and newer), Echo Dot for Kids (3rd gen and newer), Echo Dot with Clock (3rd gen and newer), Echo Plus (all generations), Echo Show (2nd gen), Echo Show 5, 8, 10 (all generations), Echo Spot, Echo Studio, Echo Input, Echo Flex.
So it looks like Sidewalk is good for you. Or is it? But it sure is hella good for Amazon.
Why you should opt-out
There are three reasons you should think twice about being part of Amazon Sidewalk.
First, it’s the bandwidth concern.
Amazon says each Sidewalk bridge, for now, uses no more than 500MB of data per month, and its connection speed caps at just 80Kbps (or .08Mbps). “For now” is the keyword here — that might change — but let’s assume that it remains that way.
To put that in perspective, 500MB is roughly equivalent to the amount of bandwidth needed to view a single TV show episode on your iPad. If you have a typical broadband connection of 80Mbps download and 8Mbps upload, a single Sidewalk bridge will use no more than one-tenth of your home network’s broadband capacity.
However, you need to multiply that with the number of bridges you have at home. So, if you have ten Echo Dots, for example, the bandwidth used for Sidewalk can be substantial.
On top of that, think about the total amount of bandwidth being used for all bridges. And the one who benefits is Amazon. It’s unfair, to say the least.
(In case you don’t get it, this is like you put a penny or two in a tip jar every day for a guy who’s already super-rich. That’s ridiculous when you choose to do so, which is not applicable here.)
Second, it’s your privacy.
Participating in Sidewalk means you’ll be part of a massive data collecting network. Before this, you generally can avoid Amazon’s total data collection by not using its Wi-Fi solution, namely the eero. With Sidewalk, Amazon can potentially collect more of your online (and offline) data no matter what router you use.
And finally, the auto (permanent) opt-in approach is evil. This is clearly Amazon’s shameless attempt to turn its customers into products.
How to opt-out of Amazon Sidewalk, kind of
Clearly, you won’t need to worry at all if you don’t use any of Amazon’s “smart” devices. But you can’t help it, can you?
Well, here’s the alternative: From now until June 8th, you can disable Amazon Sidewalk on your existing gadgets. This option will no longer be available after. Here are the steps (using the Alex app, there might be other ways):
- Open the Alexa app on your phone. Make sure it’s connected to the device(s) in question.
- Tap on the More “hamburger” button at a corner. Then select Settings.
- Tap on Account Settings.
- Tap Amazon Sidewalk (you only see this if you have a supported device that’s associated with the Alexa app).
- Move the slider to the Disable position (it’s enabled by default.)
It’s important to note that disabling Sidewalk will not hinder the device’s original purpose. In other words, it’ll continue to work as it always has. The Sidewalk feature is an additional feature, not a required funtion.
With this auto opt-in approach, eventually, Sidewalk will be prevalent. That’s because chances are all devices you buy after June 8 will have it turned on, and there’s no way you can turn it off. Anything we do now is pretty much delaying the inevitable. But try as we shall.
Sidewalk might be a good idea. However, it gives users little control over whether or not they want to be part of something that sure costs them extra (in bandwidth or potentially privacy). And to enjoy the return, they’ll need to buy additional products or services. Is that a good deal? It’s your call.
Again, you have until June 8 to make that choice. Considering you can always opt-in later — if for some reason you want to — what you should do right now is a no-brainer.