Sidewalk is Amazon’s Latest Creepy Service

Posted on November 24, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Amazon, Cloud, Smart Home with 36 Comments

Amazon alerted users of its Alexa-powered devices that it will soon enable a potentially dangerous new service called Sidewalk. You may want to disable it.

“Amazon Sidewalk is a shared network that helps devices work better,” an Amazon email reads. “For example, if your device loses its [Wi-Fi] connection, Sidewalk can simplify reconnecting to your router and help set up new Echo devices. Sidewalk can also extend the coverage for Sidewalk-enabled devices, such as Ring smart lights and pet and object trackers, so they can stay connected and continue to work over longer distances.”

That all sounds fantastic. But read a bit further, and you’ll find that Sidewalk “uses a small portion of your Internet bandwidth to provide these services to you and your neighbors.” That’s right: Amazon is going to siphon off a portion of your Internet bandwidth—during a pandemic, when we’re all working from home and need that connection—so that your neighbor’s Echo and other compatible devices will work better. And yes, this setting will apply to all of the supported devices that are linked to your Amazon account.

No, it’s not that much bandwidth—80Kbps, Amazon says, and it’s capped at 500 MB per month. But still. Does anyone else have a problem with Amazon silently creating a public mesh network in your neighborhood?

Here’s the good news: You can disable it, and you can do so now. To disable Sidewalk, open the Alexa app on your mobile device and navigate to More > Settings > Account Settings > Amazon Sidewalk.

Still curious? You can learn more about Amazon Sidewalk here.

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Comments (43)

43 responses to “Sidewalk is Amazon’s Latest Creepy Service”

  1. christianwilson

    I read the email I received this morning. You are right. I thought it was a clever idea when I started reading it until I got to the siphoning of my internet connection for neighbors. That is a turn off. And turning it off is exactly what I am going to do.

  2. Daekar

    I feel like this is yet another validation of our decision not to purchase smart devices. The whole sector has been such a dumpster fire since the beginning, and now this to top it off?

    I don't mind sharing, but this isn't the kind of thing that I want to have on my network. Security is porous enough as it is.

  3. nine54

    I definitely see the use cases for things like Ring cameras, which might be far from an access point or have interference from building materials. But for people to gain any benefit, wouldn't their neighbors also have to enable it and "share" their bandwidth?

    • SvenJ

      In reply to nine54: The brilliance here is it is turned on by default, and unless you follow tech sites, or really read your e-mail, you'll never know. So your neighbor's will likely be on. Much like XFinitiy's thing.

  4. JH_Radio

    I could care less. For me ease of use is the name of the game. but then I do not care about Comcast having the wifi point for Xfinity customers either. Its a separate network, and I already have way more bandwidth than i'll ever use as part of my package.

  5. wright_is

    The bigger issue is that it is opening up your network to strange devices you have no control over and are an additional security threat to you and your devices.

  6. Juraj Kováč

    Over here, a major ISP called UPC provides a similar "service" to its subscribers. They would automatically enable a secondary guest SSID on your router and, in exchange, you'd get to connect to the same SSID on other peoples' routers. If only it were configured properly not to occupy the same set of channels for every single router...

  7. Chris_Kez

    I think Amazon is using this as a play to get into the tracker market, and perhaps also to help somehow with their delivery/logistics data. Having a massive, low-bandwidth network could be of strategic value. But of course they say "hey, this will let you set up that Ring security light out back". It just feels creepy and disingenuous. Gross.

    • Paul Thurrott

      Exactly. You can cite a clear user benefit but you need to look beyond that for the real purpose.
      • lwetzel

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        They are also setting up more divisiveness. From their FAQ....

        "What happens if there are not a lot of Bridges in my neighborhood?

        Amazon Sidewalk coverage may vary by location based on the number of participating

        Bridges in a location. The more Sidewalk Bridge customers who participate, the better the

        network becomes."

  8. Ironworker16

    Is it any different than Comcast Xfinity. They use your bandwidth also have been doing it for years.

    • tghallin

      In reply to Ironworker16:

      Comcast is not using your bandwidth. When you install the cable modem you are renting from Comcast, they create an Xfinity WIFI access point in addition to any other WIFI or wired connections you setup. They do not use your bandwidth, but they share the cable modem and the cable back to the access node. In early draft specs, the user's data had priority up to the subscribed bandwidth.

  9. nbplopes

    Aside from another bad technical design decision don’t see for much of a problem with this.

    What is the problem of having a small portion of our network shared with others so that the collective and each one work better?

    Amazon is already siphoning your network to get an intimate view of your life down to your personality.

    I think the base of discontent is basically ... “what? I’m paying for my neighbor to use my network ... no no ..., I work really hard to allow the slob .... This network is for me and mine alone”

    People being people.

    Personally I would disable not because of this but because... “ Why do these devices need a Internet connection to Amazon servers to simply turn my lights on and off automatically? I feel it shouldn’t, there is no technical justification for that. So its decision justified by ... well you know. I prefer to have no part of that, my lights work fine. Don’t even buy these devices to be honest ”

  10. UK User

    As of yet there are no Sidewalk setting on my Android phone in the UK, so is this just an American roll out at the moment?

  11. Chris_Kez

    I think my ISP was doing something similar, carving out a bit of everyone's bandwidth to make a wifi network you could connect to anyplace they had customers.

  12. endoftheroad

    Alexa is a very capable Trojan Horse, and this new idea is just another example. I would not let it in my gateway. Assistants should be on device. That is the direction both Google and Apple are moving.

  13. jmhartman

    After listening to the podcast and reading the email I went into the Alexa app to disable it and was surprised to see it was already disabled. Didn't comcast implement this same concept years ago?

  14. billd12848

    Which way do you set the setting to disables the service, it seems a bit misleading.

  15. Mcgillivray

    I guess the mentality going on here is that the last thing anyone needs during this time is : To be nice and help others.

    So I read this as : Hoard what is yours. Don't share. How dare others not have devices and services capable of helping themselves!

    Which is par for the course in this day and age I guess...

    Still, the best way Amazon could implement this is by notifying everyone and letting them know that if they would like to contribute to this - they can go and enable it - but it will be disabled by default.

    • proftheory

      In reply to Mcgillivray:

      Sounds like a Commune mentality. With the likelihood of it opening up a security hole I'd prefer it not be there.

    • SvenJ

      In reply to Mcgillivray: It's not about not helping others. It's about the security aspects of the feature. Do you have your home Wifi open to all with no password required? When I had Comcast, I had no issue with their router establishing an independent network that others could use. It was however, independent from my home network, only using the same physical connectivity back to the servers. It did not provide access to my network. It is unclear what Sidewalk does in this respect. Imagine if I could have a battery powered Echo, walk up to your house, have it connect via your network, and say 'Alexa, open the garage door'.

    • Paul Thurrott

      Um. I agree we should be nice and help others. But that should be our choice, not the choice of the world's third-largest corporation, just because I bought one of their $49 smart speakers.
    • christianwilson

      In reply to Mcgillivray:

      This has little to do with giving your neighbors a helping hand. It has everything to do with Amazon trying to make their products work better. That is fine, but the way they are going about it brings up some important concerns regarding security that none of us outside of Amazon have the answers to.

  16. sherlockholmes

    Amazon itself is creepy.

  17. derekabraham

    Well it is disabled by default and seems to be an Opt In rather than an Opt Out. It is not clear what is the concern - the possibility of it using 500 MB if someone opts in to do that or something else altogether.

  18. Philotech Mueller

    I fail to see the issue either. Over here in Europe where Wifi isn't as ubiquitous as it apparently is in the US, there are may services that work exactly like it. If I open my private WLAN to the public (using a special guest access), I get to use similar WLANs of other people for free. Unfortunately, it's provider-specific and you need the provider's own router, so I think a few 0.0000% of the people use it.

    • Chris_Kez

      In reply to Philotech:

      You can choose to do that, and the public benefit is reciprocal WiFi usage when you might not have it for your phone or laptop or tablet. That is not what Amazon is really offering here; the bandwidth is too little for a mobile device.

    • Paul Thurrott

      The issue is that people pay for bandwidth in many places. The other issue is the potential security and privacy problems that occur when a device on one network silently connects to another network or devices on another network.
  19. JerryH

    Amazon alerted WHO? I just shut down (powered off; it is still linked in my account) my last Echo yesterday. We had two and are now down to 0 as they are not anywhere near as useful to me as the Google ones (which are all over our house). But I certainly did NOT get any notification from Amazon about this.

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