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Amazon Sidewalk and Opt-in

There have been a rash of news stories talking about Amazon Sidewalk. As for what it is, it is best to let Amazon explain:

Essentially, it allows certain devices made by Amazon (Ring doorbell, the various models of Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Show, etc.) to “share” radio bandwidth with anyone in range with a device that can use Amazon Alexa. Amazon says it is unobtrusive, and helps you stay connected with your devices when you are in your yard or garage.

The problem? It is not an “opt-in” feature. You probably didn’t request it. And you have no control over who uses it. Amazon says it is secure, but allowing anonymous users to tap into your home or office network, even in a “friendly” way to “assist” them, is alarming.

But there is good news. First of all, it doesn’t appear to be available locally. I’ve looked at several Amazon Alexa devices around the Olympic Peninsula, and none of them listed Amazon Sidewalk as an option; you couldn’t turn it on or off because it just wasn’t there. Of course, even plain concrete sidewalks are rare on the Peninsula.

Second, it is easy to turn off. After getting loads of criticism for not telling people about Sidewalk, Amazon posted simple instructions for turning Sidewalk on or off:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=GZ4VSNFMBDHLRJUK

This brings us back to the original problem: Amazon did not tell users about Amazon Sidewalk. It was not announced to all Alexa users, it was not explained in terms of risks and rewards, and users were not given clear guidance on how to opt out. For more on why this is generally not cool, go take a look at our May 22 posting on the Terms and Conditions Game.

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