As you may know, I am a huge Amazon Alexa fan. I own four of these devices (two at my house, one at my office, and one in my car) and have purchased at least one for each of my relatives. The convenience and time savings that the Alexa provides me is something I don’t want to live without.
However, there are a few times that I am reminded that Amazon devices, like all technology, can also have a dark side, and this is one of those times.
Where the Sidewalk Needs to End
On June 8, 2021, Amazon will automatically enroll all of your Alexa-type devices into a new program of theirs called Sidewalk. Devices this will affect include Alexa, Echo, Ring, security cams, outdoor lights, motion sensors, and Tile trackers. Note the word above: automatically. This is going to happen unless you take action to stop it.
“Operated by Amazon at no charge to customers, Sidewalk can help simplify new device setup, extend the low-bandwidth working range of devices to help find pets or valuables with Tile trackers, and help devices stay online even if they are outside the range of their home Wi-Fi. In the future, Sidewalk will support a range of experiences from using Sidewalk-enabled devices, such as smart security and lighting and diagnostics for appliances and tools.”
Sidewalk is a “mesh network” that is designed to extend your Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connection range by up to a mile. This is being done to ensure that your devices that are connected to the Internet always have a strong Wi-Fi signal, including those that may be at the end of your driveway like lights. This sounds great, right? It does until you look at it a little closer.
Sidewalk uses a “small portion” of your internet bandwidth to pass low-energy Bluetooth connections and 900 MHz radio signals across all those connected devices, including almost anything Amazon has produced since 2016. If your neighbors don’t have enough bandwidth for their devices to connect via Sidewalk, the program will automatically “borrow” a little bit of yours and share it with them. The goal is create large neighborhood networks.
But how much is a “small portion?” Well, to be honest, it’s really not a lot. Amazon says the total monthly data that may be borrowed from your network is capped at 500MB per account or the rough equivalent of streaming 10 minutes of HD video. That’s not the real problem.
Sidewalk and Data Privacy
While the shared network should be secure, according to Amazon, any network can be hacked. And once that happens, then your data and your devices are in someone else’s hands. That includes your security system and what is said in your home. That’s a definite “no” for me. So I took steps to ensure that none of my Amazon devices will be automatically joined to the Sidewalk program. If you want to do that, too, here are the simple steps. You only need to do this one time for all of your Amazon devices.
- Open the Alexa app, tap More at the bottom of the screen, and then tap Settings.
- Next, tap Account Settings and then Amazon Sidewalk.
- Turn Amazon Sidewalk off if you do not want to participate.
If you want to learn about other privacy measures you should take with your Amazon devices, check out this blog from technology guru Kim Komando.
Image from The Digital Hacker on May 30, 2021