Amazon recently rolled out a new technology called Sidewalk.
It’s basically a network of Amazon devices that all pool a portion of their internet bandwidth together to help device connectivity in the surrounding area.
The somewhat unnerving part is that Amazon automatically enabled this feature for most of its devices, including the Echo Dot.
Does Echo Dot Have Sidewalk?
Yes, all Echo Dot versions 3rd generation and newer have Sidewalk automatically enabled. This means your Echo Dot is sharing a small portion of its internet bandwidth with your neighbors devices. To disable it, click on the “More” tab in the Alexa app then > Settings > Account Settings > Amazon Sidewalk disable.
What is Amazon Sidewalk?
You can think of Amazon Sidewalk as a new communications network.
This network is powered by what Amazon is calling “Sidewalk Bridges”. Most Echo smart speakers and select Ring cameras are designated as Sidewalk Bridges today.
This means that they are able to receive incoming Bluetooth low-energy signals from devices that are up to 100 meters away, including your neighbors devices.
Some devices, like the Echo Show 10, the Ring Floodlight Cam and the wired version of the Ring Spotlight Cam, feature 900 MHz low row radios that can receive signals from Sidewalk devices up to half a mile away.
If you have one of these devices, you’re helping to power this network by default.
Ultimately what this all means for you is whenever your Sidewalk Bridge (Echo Dot in this case) receives a signal from someone else’s Sidewalk device, that device will use a tiny bit of your home network’s internet bandwidth.
It will then pass that signal up to Amazon and get it routed to the appropriate server.
The reason Amazon rolled out Sidewalk this year is to help all of their customers’ Amazon devices stay better connected.
And not just in your home, but throughout the entire neighborhood.
For example, say you have some Ring smart lights outside your house that occasionally drop off of your WiFi network. Those same lights can now use some of your neighbor’s Echo Dot bandwidth to stay connected and online.
Sidewalk also works with Tile to help you track down lost items.
Say you attach a Tile device to your dog’s collar and your dog run away. Sidewalk can send you a notification alerting you of your dog’s approximate location, assuming a neighbor nearby has Echo or Ring devices in their home.
So basically Sidewalk helps to keep your Amazon devices “online” more often and can help with location services in the event you lose a pet or your keys.
Sidewalk can sound a little scary, especially the part about other people’s devices using your home network’s bandwidth to connect to the cloud.
But Amazon has done a really good job of detailing measures they’ve taken to keep it safe and secure.
For starters, no one actually gets to see your home network. Sidewalk doesn’t bring any devices from outside your home on to your home network to share your WiFi.
Instead Sidewalk devices act as “anonymous relays”. Devices connect with your Bridges and those Bridges pass the signal up to the cloud. You can’t see those devices and those devices can’t see your home network.
In addition, Amazon uses three layers of encryption for those signals (a very high standard) and not even Amazon themselves can look at that data.
All Amazon can see is the routing information that tells them where that data needs to end up.
Amazon even deletes this data every 24 hours and uses rolling IDs to prevent that data from being tied to any specific user.
The first issue, or concern I have with Sidewalk, is that Amazon turned it on by default. So you need to actively opt-out if you don’t want to be part of the network (see how to disable below).
This kind of rubs me the wrong way.
While I do feel that Amazon has spent a lot of time thinking through how to best protect your data and your privacy, I still think something like this should be opt-in, not opt-out.
The technology world loves to move fast and “break things”, learning as they go.
Often times it’s best to let others be the testers and then, after enough time has passed and the tech has proven itself, go ahead and opt in.
Just my two-cents.
No company is perfect, and as we’ve seen countless times in the past few years, data leaks do happen.
How to disable Amazon Sidewalk
If you’re not comfortable sharing some of your internet’s bandwidth with Amazon Sidewalk, you can easily disable it. Just open up the Alexa App and click on “More” in the bottom right-hand corner. Then select Settings > Account Settings > Amazon Sidewalk and and toggle it to “Disabled”.
If you do decide to opt-out, all of your Amazon devices will continue to have their original functionality, nothing will really change.
It just means you won’t be participating in the Sidewalk Network and won’t be able to leverage some of the connectivity or location benefits it offers.
If you decide that you want to participate at any time you can just opt-in again. Simple as that.
How much bandwidth does Amazon Sidewalk use?
Amazon Sidewalk caps total monthly bandwidth usage, per account, to 500 MB. Consider that the average home’s internet usage spiked to about 400 GB each month in 2020. That’s 400,000 MB. That means Sidewalks max data usage of 500 MB is only 0.125% of your total monthly internet data usage.
Said another way, let’s pretend your monthly internet usage, 400 MB, is represented by a stack of 50 dollars worth of quarters. That means, at max, Amazon Sidewalk would use 6 cents worth of data each month.
But what if your internet plan comes with a data plan and you get charged a fee for overages?
Most providers cap your internet plan at 1TB of data per month. Thats 1 million MB. So I wouldn’t be overly concerned about the 500MB Sidewalk is using.
On the other hand, some rural internet providers have data caps that are much lower that 1TB so be make sure you know what that limit is and then you can make a more informed decision about whether or not Amazon Sidewalk puts you at risk of going over.
Which Amazon devices have Sidewalk?
The following Amazon devices have Sidewalk automatically enabled:
- 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.
Amazon rolled out a new technology called Sidewalk that comes automatically enabled on all 3rd generation and newer Echo Dot devices.
Sidewalk is a communications network that helps to keep your Amazon devices “online” more often, and can help with location services in the event you lose a pet or your keys.
If you leave it enabled it will, at most, use 500 MB of data each month. Considering the average home uses 400,000 MB of data each month, 500 really isn’t much to worry about.
Amazon uses three layers of security to protect the data it uses from Sidewalk and has taken some important steps to make sure your data is safe and secure.
That said, it’s normal to have some privacy concerns.
If you’re not comfortable with Amazon Sidewalk being turned on, you can easily disable it in the Amazon Alexa app. Just go to More > Settings > Account Settings > Amazon Sidewalk and and toggle it to “Disabled”.