In late May 2021, Snopes readers emailed with questions about news reports that Amazon Sidewalk, a Wi-Fi-operated device network-sharing system being launched by online shopping mammoth Amazon, would automatically share Wi-Fi with neighbors without customers’ permission.
“Trying to confirm validity of Amazon Sidewalk which could share some internet bandwidth with neighbors without permission,” one reader wrote, for example. “Is Amazon Sidewalk going to automatically share bandwidth with neighboring devices without permission?” a second reader wrote.
The truth is a bit nuanced.
Yes, Amazon did opt in devices that are eligible for Amazon Sidewalk, but customers can likewise choose to opt out. And if you are on Amazon Sidewalk, that doesn’t mean your Wi-Fi is shared with all of your neighbors. A small portion of Wi-Fi bandwidth will be shared only with other Amazon Sidewalk customers.
We will explain more in detail below.
What Is Amazon Sidewalk?
Technology site CNET described Amazon Sidewalk as “a long-range wireless network capable of keeping things connected even when they’re outside the typical range of home Wi-Fi.”
According to Amazon:
Amazon Sidewalk creates a low-bandwidth network with the help of Sidewalk Bridge devices including select Echo and Ring devices. These Bridge devices share a small portion of your internet bandwidth which is pooled together to provide these services to you and your neighbors. And when more neighbors participate, the network becomes even stronger.
Sidewalk is intended to beef up Amazon’s network of Wi-Fi-operated devices so that they will work even outside the range of the device owner’s home Wi-Fi. Per CNET:
On the Echo front, Amazon plans to leverage Sidewalk’s low-energy Bluetooth connections as something of a backup network for your home Wi-Fi. Per Amazon, that means better stability during device setup and faster reconnections to your router when you update your network name or password.
Ultimately, those Sidewalk connections will also help keep things like smart yard lights, mailbox sensors and connected garage door openers online, even if they sit on the fringes of your home’s Wi-Fi network. At launch, your options for longer-range connections like those will include Ring’s line of outdoor lights and cameras, the Level smart lock and Tile’s Bluetooth tracker tags.
Will Amazon Share Wi-Fi Without Permission?
It’s true that when Amazon Sidewalk goes live on June 8, 2021, customers that own eligible Sidewalk Bridge devices will be automatically opted in, initially. But they also have the option of opting out at any time.
“Fortunately, turning Sidewalk off is relatively painless. It involves:
1Opening the Alexa app
2Opening More & selecting Settings
3Selecting Account Settings
4Selecting Amazon Sidewalk
5Turning Amazon Sidewalk Off”
Privacy laws should require opt-in, not allow opt-out. https://t.co/OvNzAaQM63
— Katie Moussouris (she/her) is fully vaccinated (@k8em0) May 30, 2021
According to Amazon, Sidewalk Bridge devices provide connections to Amazon Sidewalk network, and these devices are:
Ring Floodlight Cam (2019), Ring Spotlight Cam Wired (2019), Ring Spotlight Cam Mount (2019), Echo (3rd gen and newer), Echo Dot (3rd gen and newer), Echo Dot for Kids (3rd gen and newer), Echo Dot with Clock (3rd gen and newer), Echo Plus (all generations), Echo Show (all models and generations), Echo Spot, Echo Studio, Echo Input, Echo Flex.
Amazon spokesman Jeremy Bartram told Snopes in an email that the company began notifying Amazon customers with eligible devices, so they could evaluate whether they wanted to change their preferences before Amazon Sidewalk goes online.
Will Amazon Sidewalk Share Wi-Fi with neighbors?
Yes, but not all neighbors and only a small portion of your Wi-Fi bandwidth.
According to Amazon, Sidewalk will enable Wi-Fi sharing only between customers who own Sidewalk-connected Amazon devices. It will also share a fraction of a customer’s Wi-Fi.
Bartram told us that, “when you share your Bridge’s connection with Sidewalk, total monthly data used by Sidewalk, per account, is capped at 500MB, which is equivalent to streaming about 10 minutes of high definition video.”
Bartram said Amazon took multiple security measures including three layers of encryption on data and measures to prevent customers from viewing other customers’ data. More details on security measures can be viewed here.