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Amazon says Sidewalk could make neighborhoods safer; here's what privacy advocates say

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Posted at 5:24 PM, Jun 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-08 12:40:55-04

If you and your neighbors have Ring video cameras or Echo (Alexa) devices, Amazon wants to share your Wi-Fi bandwidth with them to create a "mesh" network beginning June 8.

Amazon says it has many advantages for homeowners.

It would give many devices you own a better Wi-Fi signal all around your property, Amazon says.

The Washington Post explains that it would also give improved Wi-Fi connectivity in all corners of your home, for setting up Ring and Alexa devices, for example, in normally low signal areas.

And it will expand the lost-device feature Tile to your entire neighborhood (not just your home), so that if you drop your car keys in the street four houses down, you would be able to find them with your Tile tracking service.

Amazon says it will not allow neighbors to jump onto your Wi-Fi or see what you are watching on your Ring cameras.

But privacy groups are sounding alarms.

The nonprofit group Mozilla -- which runs the Firefox web browser -- doesn't like that Sidewalk will be automatically on when you buy a Ring or Echo.

"That's not a practice we like," Mozilla's Jen Caltrider told us last December. "We like it when people are given a choice to opt into services that might be sharing their personal data."

How to turn it off

To turn it off, you need to go to your Ring or Alexa app, look for Settings, then select Sidewalk and toggle off the feature.

The Verge has step-by-step instructions on opting out.

For some people, that could be complicated, or they will never get around to doing it.

Some privacy groups feel the program should be opt-in instead of opt-out, but it probably wouldn't work if you had to sign up to join.

Amazon has posted Frequently Asked Questions here.

So if you don't like the idea, make sure you opt-out, so you don't waste your money.

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