‘Sidewalk’ security concern? Opting out of new Amazon feature the right choice, expert says

Updated: Jun. 8, 2021 at 5:55 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Amazon on Tuesday, June 8, launched new technology that the company said will enhance the performance of some devices. If you own certain Alexa-enabled devices or Ring cameras, Amazon will be able to use part of your home’s Wi-Fi to create a new network called “Amazon Sidewalk.”

What this means is that your internet now can be shared with your neighbors. This has some privacy advocates concerned.

People who spoke with Eyewitness News about Amazon’s plans said they are upset with the company because they feel like they never opted in for this service. Many said they are worried about it being a cybersecurity threat, sharing internet connections on a grid with neighbors.

“My mom was really, really upset about it. She actually unplugged the cameras that were inside,” said Kansas resident Virginia Flores who has Ring cameras at her home.

Fellow Kansan Kristina Vinduska, also with Ring cameras at her home, said the “Amazon Sidewalk” announcement “kind of freaked (her) out.”

“I don’t want people looking in my house. I don’t know if that’s a possibility, but it kind of scares me a little bit, honestly,” she said.

Kansas resident Tyler Gladfelter, who has an Amazon Echo Dot, said is concern is that the change comes with a security risk.

“Just (because) you don’t know who’s going to be on your network or what kind of information you have access to, especially like cameras and stuff like that,” he said.

Why is Amazon adding the “Sidewalk” feature? Technology expert Burton Kelso said the idea behind it is good, but he too has security concerns.

“The logic behind this is to allow you to stay interconnected in case your internet goes down,” Kelso said. “The way that “Sidewalk” works is that it connects all of your devices so that you can latch onto your neighbor’s Wi-Fi in the event that your Wi-Fi at home or (your) office were to go down.”

But those who spoke with Eyewitness News said they don’t want the feature.

“It just seems like kind of an invasion of privacy,” Flores said. “It just seems like it’s kind of opening up the channels to let hackers hack into it.”

Vinduska said until she gets more information about “Sidewalk,” she’s considering disconnecting her devices from the internet.

Even Kelso advised opting out.

“it’s really not a good idea if you have your RING devices or your Amazon Echo devices connected to this Sidewalk mesh network. It’s a big security risk,” he said.

To turn off “Sidewalk,” first, open the Alexa app on your phone. Once the app is open, you’re going to want to find the button at the bottom right of the app that says “More.” That takes you to the screen on which you’ll click on “Settings.” On the next screen you’ll get, just click on the second tab from the top, “Account Setting,” the “Amazon Sidewalk” tab on the next page. From here, just swipe the blue bar to the left and the feature is turned off.

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