Culture / Newsy

Amazon is Sharing Your Internet With the Neighbors on Sidewalk — Big Brother Tech or Harmless Help?

How to Opt Out — and If You Should

BY // 06.09.21

Surprise. If you have Amazon Ring or Echo devices in your home, you are now sharing your Internet connection with the entire neighborhood. Amazon switched the settings on its Ring and Echo devices remotely to create a new Wi-Fi network dubbed Sidewalk. It went live Tuesday.

Sidewalk shares “a small portion of your Internet bandwidth which is pooled together to provide these services to you and your neighbors,” a description on Amazon’s website reads. “And when more neighbors participate, the network becomes even stronger.”

Did you miss that opt-in consent, allowing Amazon to do this and share your Internet connection with anyone and everyone on your  Sidewalk? No, you didn’t — users were automatically enrolled. Many see that as another Big Brother tech issue. There was no warning, no notification, and no consent authorizing this use of your devices and Internet.

“Amazon seems oblivious to many obvious consumer concerns with its increasingly invasive technology. So let me say it: Remotely activating our devices to build a closed Internet of Amazon is not okay,” writes Washington Post technology columnist Geoffrey Fowler.

Though Fowler in employed by the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post, he writes that he reviews “all tech with the same critical eye.”

Sidewalk 101

The newly created network known as Sidewalk uses private Ring and Echo devices to create a wireless network utilizing a sliver of everyone’s Internet bandwidth. Basically, leeching off private Internet accounts to provide “free” Wi-Fi to the sidewalk and beyond. All of Amazon’s eligible devices have now been automatically connected.

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Could it have a positive effect? Sure. Say your network goes down, your Echo or Ring device could keep you up and running essentially “borrowing” from your neighbor’s device until you get reconnected. It could also maintain the motion alerts that you receive from your Ring security cameras. Amazon engineers are even investigating how this new Amazon controlled network could aid in tracking elderly patients with dementia. Though the new and extensive tracking capabilities could be considered Sidewalk’s most ominous capability as well.

Ring – devices have now been accessed to create what Amazon calls Sidewalk
Ring and Echo devices have now been accessed to create what Amazon calls Sidewalk.

“Sidewalk is also a vast new wireless network entirely controlled by Amazon — and paid for by us,” Fowler writes. “Sidewalk, which is built into Amazon devices dating back to 2018, raises more red flags than a marching band parade: Is it secure enough to be activated in so many homes?

“Are we helping Amazon build a vast network that can be used for more surveillance? And why didn’t Amazon ask us to opt-in before activating a capability lying dormant in our devices?”

How To Disconnect From Sidewalk

There are ways to opt out of Sidewalk. You just need to know and take the steps to do it.

If you have a Ring device, go to the control center on the app or the website. If you have an Echo device, go to the Alexa app on your smartphone.

Instructions for Alexa app:

  • Look for the sandwich menu (three lines) labeled More at the bottom right of the dashboard and tap it.
  • Select Settings.
  • Select Account Settings.
  • Select Amazon Sidewalk.
  • Use the slider to choose Disabled.

Instructions for Ring app:

  • Go to the sandwich menu (three lines) in the upper left of the dashboard.
  • Select Control Center.
  • Select Amazon Sidewalk.
  • Use the slider to choose Disabled.
  • When prompted, tap Confirm to indicate that you wish to disable Sidewalk.

It’s a new world — and you might unwittingly not even realize you’re a part of it.

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