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Amazon Devices Will Soon Share (Some) of Your Home Bandwidth

Ars Technica reports that on 8 June 2021, Amazon will flip the switch on Amazon Sidewalk, an experimental mesh network that uses Amazon devices to share small amounts of bandwidth with each other. Although you have a choice as to whether your Amazon devices will participate in Sidewalk, compatible Amazon devices are opted in automatically.

  • 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 Flex
  • Echo Input
  • Echo Plus (all generations)
  • Echo Show (all models and generations)
  • Echo Spot
  • Echo Studio
  • Ring Floodlight Cam (2019)
  • Ring Spotlight Cam Wired (2019)
  • Ring Spotlight Cam Mount (2019)

Many media outlets are covering the news as though Amazon Sidewalk will share your full Internet connection. In fact, the bandwidth limits are small: 80 Kbps with a cap of 500 MB of usage per month. But, if you have limited bandwidth or a bandwidth cap, even that might be too much.

The other concern is privacy. Although Amazon has published a white paper outlining Sidewalk’s privacy and security features, the company doesn’t have the best record when it comes to protecting its customers’ privacy (for instance, see “Amazon’s Ring Doorbells Sent Wi-Fi Passwords in the Clear,” 21 November 2019). Plus, Amazon hasn’t always used the most aboveboard methods of increasing sales in the past (see “Amazon Using Police Departments to Sell Ring Cameras,” 29 July 2019). Finally, although this concern is tangential, one of the stated uses of Sidewalk is to increase the size of the network for Tile trackers. Apple has put significant effort into preventing the AirTag from being a tool for stalkers; could a significantly more capable Tile network be far more problematic?

If you wish to opt out of Amazon Sidewalk, open the Alexa app in iOS, go to More > Settings > Account Settings > Amazon Sidewalk, and turn off Enabled, but this is only available if you already have a compatible device.

The Sidewalk setting in the Alex app

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Comments About Amazon Devices Will Soon Share (Some) of Your Home Bandwidth

Notable Replies

  1. nls

    I for one am looking forward to using it and deliberately bought the latest gen. of Echo in order to get the one with the built-in LoRa radio. I already use other long-range LoRa devices like the YoLink hub and devices.

    This video by a generally respected security expert may be of interest:

    From the Transcript:
    “… This is Security Now with Steve Gibson…predictably the click-seeking tech press is jumping up and down in a froth over neighbors stealing our wi-fi which has nothing whatsoever to do with Sidewalk…
    It has nothing to do with anyone sharing anybody’s wifi as we concluded in our careful analysis late last year the system’s total bandwidth usage is extremely low only being useful for signaling class applications not you know not big media streaming you can’t do that over this.
    Remember that that LoRa which is this low bandwidth long radio it actually uses frequency chirps in order which are slow to do because you have to chirp the carrier the good news is it makes it high penetration because it prevents there from being any resonances with the carrier that prevent, would prevent, the signal from going through but it means it’s not, it doesn’t have, a high bit rate.
    You can’t do a chirp very quickly okay so it is also quite thoroughly encrypted in addition to being a signaling class application deeply encrypted so Amazon’s intention here is clear. They want the system to be adopted, so they’ve designed themselves out of it. Remember that even they can’t see into it. The way it’s designed the upside of leaving this thing enabled is you get low power roaming bluetooth or low rod devices able to access an unknown Amazon users network over a triple layered deeply encrypted tunnel. … I think what we’re gonna see is many ultimately compelling use cases as this thing spreads…”

  2. Amazon’s biggest revenue streams depend on data mining, and tracking is critical to their business model. They also own Ring doorbell, Tile and Echo stuff. Data mining is not a big source of revenue for Apple. And how many users of Amazon’s services, products and retail are going to understand what Sidewalk is, and if they do, that they need to opt out of it?

  3. Users only need to opt out of it if they care about Amazon collecting data. If they’re already using Echo, Ring, etc., that suggests they may not care that much.

  4. Collecting data about what? The data is encrypted and invisible to Amazon. I don’t own and won’t own any Echo devices myself, but I have a Ring mailbox sensor that can tell me when a newspaper has been left in my box at then end of my very long driveway. I’m kind of hoping that my neighbors across the street get Ring or Echo devices, because their houses are closer to the street and might help the reliability of the mailbox sensor, assuming it will be part of sidewalk. But I also have no problem if people with a Tile tracker use a sliver of my internet connection to track their lost stuff. (Assuming that the mailbox sensor becomes part of sidewalk - for now, it’s not.)

  5. “ But the company’s plans have caused alarm among observers. Ashkan Soltani, a former chief technology officer of the US Federal Trade Commission, told the tech site Ars Technica: “In addition to capturing everyone’s shopping habits (from and their internet activity (as AWS is one of the most dominant web hosting services) … now they are also effectively becoming a global ISP with a flick of a switch, all without even having to lay a single foot of fiber”. The feature may also break the terms and conditions of users’ internet connections, which do not allow such resharing, warned Lydia Leong, an analyst at Gartner.

    Users can disable Sidewalk in the settings section of the Alexa or Ring apps, but have until 8 June to do so. After that, if they have taken no action, the network will be turned on and their devices will become “Sidewalk Bridges”.

    If Amazon weren’t concerned that many people would opt out of Sidewalk, they would not have made it very difficult to do so after seven days from its release. I suspect that many of the people who were automatically included in Sidewalk won’t be aware they were at all.

  6. That completely misstates what Amazon Sidewalk is.

  7. Or if they’re on metered internet with a low cap, in which case up to 500MB of data could be expensive for them. I think that’s the biggest moral hazard with Amazon not notifying people giving them an explicit option to opt-out. Though I understand why they’ve done that, they obviously want as wide a coverage as possible.

  8. To be fair, Apple did the same thing with its Find My network, opting iPhone users in automatically. And it’s not particularly difficult to disable Sidewalk in the Alexa and Ring apps.

  9. This is true, but the big difference is that Apple doesn’t collect, track and sell information. And Tile devices are part of the Sidewalk network as well. If you trust that Amazon won’t be mixing the info in with all the other data they track and sell, that’s OK. I don’t.

  10. nls

    With all due respect, I would say that’s backwards. The ones who understand what Sidewalk is, and perhaps are familiar with LoRa, are leaving it on or turning it on. The masses who don’t understand what it is and how it works are the ones opting out of it, due to these misleading clickbait articles.
    And there is nothing hidden about the new products that added in the LoRa radio and Sidewalk. It is explicitly described and stated in these products’ advertising and packaging.
    In addition, the Alexa app where the opt out/in command is located is not in some mysterious hidden system. The customer uses the Alexa app to find and set up their devices, and continuously daily thereafter to create routines to operate their devices, to turn on skills to add sophistication to their operation, to set up timers and reminders, etc. I’ve been a loyal Mac enthusiast and user since its introduction in 1984 and still am, and in my opinion the Alexa app where all options are found is very Mac-like and easy to use and understand and control to suit one’s individual preferences.

    And while we are on the subject, how do you feel about Apple’s “Find My …” and Tile’s network?

  11. What I don’t understand is why Tile would want to abandon its own app and network and become a third party using Find My. I doubt that Tile will be interested. My guess is that Apple is making this offer because of all the grief they are getting over Fortnight and the App Store.

  12. nls

    That headline in the Guardian is very misleading. To be accurate, it should have read: “Amazon US customers have (only) one week (left)…”
    Amazon has been announcing and describing Sidewalk for months and months. Here is the language about Sidewalk included in the online description of the Echo 4th Gen. which I purchased in November of 2020 because it included Sidewalk:

    That information was also included in the introductory pamphlet included with the Echo 4th when it was delivered, including instructions as to how to opt out if one wished.
  13. I think this part of the quote is more concerning than weather or not it’s easy or difficult for someone to opt out of Sidewalk:

    “Ashkan Soltani, a former chief technology officer of the US Federal Trade Commission, told the tech site Ars Technica: “In addition to capturing everyone’s shopping habits (from and their internet activity (as AWS is one of the most dominant web hosting services) … now they are also effectively becoming a global ISP with a flick of a switch, all without even having to lay a single foot of fiber”.

    Privacy and security are what sets Apple apart from the crowd.

  14. nls

    Actually, my point in asking you this was more along the lines of wondering why you express no concern for privacy with Apple’s Find My … network (as well as Tile’s network):

    I submit that a capability for a domestic violence abuser to track his victim is of much greater concern than whether merchants learn what size shoes and socks I wear.

  15. There is a tremendous amount of mis-information from most contributors to this conversation. I don’t even no where to begin. I guess I’d start by asking everybody to first read through all of the Amazon Sidewalk FAQ’s to make sure you understand exactly what this is about.

    As an example, the Tile network exists today and is not related to this capability. If you are a Tile user and want to opt out of the Tile network, then you have always had full control over that from the Tile app settings.

  16. Ah, that’s good to know (and of course wasn’t included in the article I read). I hadn’t realised Amazon was explicitly telling people about this network and providing information on how to turn it off if wanted.

  17. nls

    Amazon has stated that the monthly total for data used by Sidewalk, capped at 500MB per account, is the equivalent of streaming about 10 minutes of high-definition video once per month.
    As far as I have seen, not even any of the critics of the program has disputed the accuracy of that equivalency.

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