How to Disable Amazon Sidewalk from Echo, Ring Devices

Amazon launched its new Sidewalk feature Tuesday, giving Echo smart speakers and Ring security cameras the ability to automatically share a piece of their internet connection with neighbors, the Associated Press reported.

The system's automatic integration in already-equipped devices has sparked backlash from unwilling Amazon customers and experts unsure of potential privacy and security risks, but what some users might not know is that they can disable the feature themselves.

To opt out of Sidewalk for Amazon smart devices, users must go into the Alexa app, click the "More" tab in the lower right corner of the screen, select "Settings" and then "Account Settings." There, they'll come across a disable button in an Amazon Sidewalk section.

Ring users looking to disable the feature must go into the security camera's app, go into the "Control Center" and click "Sidewalk" in order to opt out.

The purpose of Sidewalk's bandwidth-sharing services is to create a "mesh network" to broaden the coverage area of home Wi-Fi networks, Amazon said. This can allow certain technology, such as smart locks and Tile, to stay connected near other Sidewalk devices even if outside the reach of their home network.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Amazon Sidewalk
Amazon launched its new Sidewalk feature Tuesday, giving Echo smart speakers and Ring security cameras the ability to automatically share a piece of their internet connection with neighbors. Above, David Limp, senior vice president of Devices and Services at Amazon, displays a new Echo (left) and an Echo Plus during an event announcing several new Amazon products by the company on September 27, 2017, in Seattle. Elaine Thompson/AP Photo

Did Amazon tell customers this was happening?

Amazon says it sent emails to customers last month and in November that Sidewalk was coming. The company says you'll also get a notification when you set up gadgets that work with Sidewalk.

How does it work?

Amazon is tapping into a variety of radio technologies, including one called LoRa for its long range and better known for industrial and business applications such as keeping track of cattle roaming through pasturelands.

"The goal here is not to create coverage for a single home," said Marc Pegulu of chipmaker Semtech, which is partnering with Amazon on the technology. "It's kind of a shared network, a community shared network."

Among other things, devices connected to the shared network can supposedly search for the best signal in a way that can preserve their battery life.

Thomas Clausen, a computer science professor at France's École Polytechnique, says that the network Amazon is creating could be a good thing provided that it's open and accessible, because it would make it easier and cheaper to use internet-connected devices and sensors and spark new innovations.

"But of course, when a behemoth like Amazon, or Apple or Google or Microsoft, create a platform, they also can end up controlling the platform and that can stifle innovation," he says.

What are the risks?

Hackers could potentially infiltrate home networks via Sidewalk, said Eric Null, a policy manager at digital rights group Access Now. If that happens, Null said hackers could observe everything you do, take over your devices or access your files to steal information.

"It's only a matter of time before someone's network gets hacked and data gets breached," said Null.

William Tong, Connecticut's attorney general, warned consumers this week that the program was "uncharted territory" and that people should opt-out of Sidewalk unless they are sure their privacy and security will be protected.

"Wireless networks are already notoriously vulnerable to hacks and breaches," Tong wrote in a statement. "Families need better information and more time before giving away a portion of their bandwidth to this new system."

What does Amazon say?

When asked about privacy and security concerns, an Amazon spokesman said he couldn't respond to "hypothetical situations." The company didn't respond to a request to make an executive available for an interview, but said that data that flows through its network has three-layers of encryption that's meant to to keep hackers from seeing it.

Samir Jain, director of policy at the Center for Democracy and Technology, said Amazon's efforts to encrypt data was a good step. But Jain said that it's hard to identify security vulnerabilities until a new technology is deployed in the real world.

Which devices want to share my internet?

Echo devices that share network bandwidth via Sidewalk include the third generation and newer versions of the Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Dot for Kids and the Echo Dot with Clock. The Echo Show 5, 8, 10; the second generation of the Echo Show; Echo Spot; Echo Plus; Echo Studio; Echo Input; Echo Flex.

Sidewalk-enabled Ring devices include the Ring Floodlight Cam; Ring Spotlight Cam Wired; and Ring Spotlight Cam Mount.

Does Amazon have bigger ambitions?

Amazon has explained Sidewalk in the context of consumer devices such as cameras and speakers. But it could also one day integrate the technology into its core business: delivering goods.

For example, the company could embed tiny internet-connected devices into cardboard packages to help track them, said Clausen of École Polytechnique.

"Having integration of alarm systems, presence detection of whether or not people are there, will potentially allow Amazon to create more efficient delivery schedules and fewer re-deliveries," he said. That could be one application Amazon is thinking about, he added.

Ring Camera
Amazon launched its new Sidewalk feature Tuesday, giving Echo smart speakers and Ring security cameras the ability to automatically share a piece of their internet connection with neighbors. Above, a doorbell device with a built-in camera made by Ring is seen on August 28, 2019, in Silver Spring, Maryland. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images