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Amazon Sidewalk Approaches

As a household that has several Amazon Echo devices, I feel obligated to share the news about Amazon Sidewalk, including how to disable it.

What is Sidewalk?

Sidewalk is a “feature” in the latest firmware for the current generation of Amazon smart home products, including; Echo smart speakers, Ring doorbells & security cameras, and Tile trackers. When enabled, Sidewalk capable devices used by neighbors, visitors or passers-by are able to leverage your local internet connectivity.

Amazon says that these Sidewalk interlopers are allowed a limited amount of bandwidth, just 80 kbps, which is about the same as a tradition VoIP phone call.

Why Sidewalk?

That’s simple – ubiquitous connectivity is very convenient. Amazon knows this from years of experience. For example, their WhisperNet was a mechanism leveraging AT&T’s 3G mobile network to provide ubiquitous connectivity to early Kindle e-book readers.

Tile tracker

Imagine someone who uses Tile Pro to track their car keys. They are, as so many do each day, dropping their child off at Travis Elementary School, which is across the street.

It could be very handy if their Tile Pro found our front room Echo Dot, allowed it to ping Amazon servers. If they later lost their car keys, Amazon would know they had been near our home. Presumably, Amazon would have a more detailed record of their location that might otherwise be possible.

Similarly, someone might have a tracker on their dogs collar. The dog might get out of the yard. The ability to generate a ping as the dog passes within range of any of the Amazon devices in the neighborhood would substantially increase the likelihood that its location could be determined.

How Does It Work?

According to Tom’s Guide, Sidewalk leverages Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) as a means to link devices to a Wi-Fi connected Amazon device (recent Echo variant or Ring gear) that acts as a bridge. BLE is like the Zigbee or Z-Wave radios, supporting low-bitrate communications over longer distances than Wi-Fi.

So, it’s a bit like a Philip Hue hub. Except that a Hue hub connects to Ethernet, not Wi-Fi. Also, it’s intended to connect to random passers-by on a transient basis…where I have to manually add every Hue devices to our installation.

CNET also has a nice article on Sidewalk.

Is it Secure?

Amazon says it is, with “three layers of encryption.” But we really don’t know the details. We can assume that your basic Wi-Fi is one layer of encryption. Then there’s the application layer, too.

Will I allow it?

Heck, no! I can see no benefit to allowing this on our network. I can only see potential down-side as I expect that there will be issues once its launched.

Can I turn it off?

Happily, Sidewalk is easily disabled!

Screenshot_20210601-103640

Here’s how, using the Alexa app on your smart phone or tablet:

  • Select More
  • Select Settings
  • Select Account Settings
  • Select Amazon Sidewalk
  • At the bottom of the page, set to disabled.

Close

It will be interesting to see what happens once Sidewalk is launched on June 8th. I might eventually be convinced to allow it, but that would require a substantial effort to setup a dedicated Wi-Fi network for our IoT devices. Not really difficult for me, but perhaps beyond the average Harry Homeowner.

In the interest of balance

Stacy Higgenbotham of the IoT Podcast suggests Stick with Sidewalk, y’all.

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