Ry Crist | CNET.Com
On by default and launching June 8, Sidewalk allows other people’s devices near your home to stay connected by borrowing a sliver of your bandwidth.
This Tuesday, June 8 will mark the launch of Amazon Sidewalk, a new feature that promises to keep your home devices better connected, especially around the edges of your property. The gist is that select Amazon Echo smart speakers and Ring gadgets will serve as bridges capable of connecting with other Sidewalk-enabled devices at long range using wireless Bluetooth LE or 900MHz LoRa signals — plus a small fraction of your home’s Wi-Fi bandwidth. By doing so, these products will become part of a sort of mesh network, with your Echo acting as a middleman between your home network and, say, those smart lights in the backyard that sit right at the edge of Wi-Fi range.
Sidewalk isn’t just for your outdoor lights and other smart home devices: It’s for everybody’s gadgets. If your neighbor uses a Sidewalk-enabled mailbox sensor that’s in range of the Sidewalk bridges in your home, that sensor may very well use your network to connect to the cloud. Amazon insists that those transmissions are tiny in size, thoroughly encrypted, and that no two Sidewalk users will ever be able to access each other’s networks or devices, but the idea is still raising lots of eyebrows.
Even more concerning for some: Sidewalk is enabled by default, so you’ll need to navigate to the Alexa app’s account settings section to turn it off if you don’t want to participate. When you do so, you’ll notice that Sidewalk actually comes with two separate privacy permissions: a main toggle for switching Sidewalk on and off, and a second toggle that controls something called “Community Finding.” Unlike the main Sidewalk permission, the Community Finding permission is off by default.
Amazon explains that this second permission is all about Tile trackers and other Sidewalk-enabled devices meant to help people find things.
“If you also enable Community Finding, you have the option to help your neighbors by sharing your Bridge’s approximate location to provide benefits like helping them locate their pet,” an Amazon spokesperson says. “Neighbors using Community Finding won’t be able to see the exact street address of your Sidewalk Bridge. They will only see an approximate location. This setting will apply to all of your Sidewalk Bridges.”
It’s important to note that Amazon anonymizes that location data. If I had Community Finding turned on and someone dropped a wallet with a Sidewalk-enabled Tile tracker in it outside my house, they’d receive an alert with the approximate area where the wallet is located or the closest nearby intersection. That alert wouldn’t identify me or my home, and it wouldn’t allow that person to contact me or access my home network.
To recap, here’s what is and isn’t on by default with Amazon Sidewalk:
On by default
Localized Bluetooth LE connections between the Sidewalk bridges and Sidewalk-enabled devices in your home
Long-range, Bluetooth LE and 900MHz connections between your Sidewalk bridges and Sidewalk-enabled devices outside of your home, including other people’s devices
Long-range, Bluetooth LE and 900MHz connections between your Sidewalk-enabled devices and Sidewalk bridges outside the home, including other people’s bridges
Bandwidth sharing to send these signals to Amazon’s servers using your home network (no more than 80Kbps per transmission and 500MB of data per month)
Off by default, requires opting in to Community Finding
Location alerts that share your home’s approximate and anonymized location with other users when they lose a Sidewalk-enabled device like a Tile tracker within range of your Sidewalk bridge, or vice versa
For reference, here’s the full list of the devices that double as Sidewalk bridges, along with the protocols they’ll support. So far, only the spherical, fourth-gen Amazon Echo, the Amazon Echo Show 10, the Ring Floodlight Cam and the wired Ring Spotlight Cam include 900MHz radios, which can connect with devices from up to a half-mile away. (BLE transmissions max out at about 100 meters.) At launch, the only Sidewalk-enabled devices that can connect with those 900MHz radios are wearable sensors from CareBand designed to track people living with dementia, but more should follow suit in the coming months.
Amazon Echo (second-gen, 2017, BLE only)
Amazon Echo (third-gen, 2019, BLE only)
Amazon Echo (fourth-gen, 2020, BLE and 900MHz)
Amazon Echo Dot with Clock (first-gen, 2019, BLE only)
Amazon Echo Dot with Clock (second-gen, 2020, BLE only)
Amazon Echo Dot (first-gen, 2016, BLE only)
Amazon Echo Dot (second-gen, 2016, BLE only)
Amazon Echo Dot (third-gen, 2018, BLE only)
Amazon Echo Dot (fourth-gen, 2020, BLE only)
Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition (third-gen, 2020, BLE only)
Amazon Echo Plus (first-gen, 2017, BLE only)
Amazon Echo Plus (second-gen, 2018, BLE only)
Amazon Echo Show (first-gen, 2017, BLE only)
Amazon Echo Show (second-gen, 2018, BLE only)
Amazon Echo Show 5 (2019, BLE only)
Amazon Echo Show 8 (2019, BLE only)
Amazon Echo Show 10 (2020, BLE and 900 MHz)
Amazon Echo Spot (2017, BLE only)
Amazon Echo Studio (2018, BLE only)
Ring Floodlight Cam (2019, BLE and 900 MHz)
Ring Spotlight Cam Wired (2019, BLE and 900 MHz)
How to adjust your Sidewalk settings
To turn Sidewalk off (or turn Community Finding on), open the Alexa app and tap the More icon at the bottom right.
Tap Settings > Account Settings > Amazon Sidewalk to find the main toggle for Amazon Sidewalk.
Tap Community Finding to find the second toggle for location sharing.
First published on June 3, 2021 at 8:50 a.m. PT.