ISPs may want Amazon's Sidewalk kicked to the curb

Amazon Echo
Users of Amazon Echo and Ring devices can opt out of the Sidewalk service if they wish. (Amazon)

Update: This story previously incorrectly stated that Sidewalk uses Wi-Fi. It instead uses other kinds of wireless connectivity.

Amazon appeared set to roll out its Sidewalk internet-sharing service today after issuing an update last month on the project, which is expected to raise the ire of ISPs and increase privacy concerns because it allows Amazon devices and other devices and apps to share low-bandwidth wireless portions of internet coverage from devices in individual homes across a localized area.

Though Amazon had not formally confirmed the Sidewalk launch as of this writing, a New York Times story and review of the service said the launch was due to begin today. Amazon itself also said last month that Sidewalk would launch starting June 8

The e-commerce and web services giant said at that time that initial devices using the shared 900 Mhz wireless and Bluetooth Low Energy signals would include its own Echo and Ring devices, Level’s smart locks and the Tile service for helping people find misplaced items. Amazon also announced a pilot program with CareBand, which creates connected wearables for people living with dementia and similar challenges.

ISPs are not likely to be happy about Amazon Sidewalk. While the service would only use 80 kbps at a time and 500 MB per month maximum bandwidth, ISPs may feel it violates their terms of service and allows Amazon to freeload on their networks to make its own name as an ISP, or at least an enabler of localized mesh networks. The Times story quoted one unnamed ISP source as saying Amazon "does not have the right to do this."

While the Sidewalk service won’t be able to provide the high-bandwidth, reliable coverage that ISPs can provide across entire markets — at least not at the start — it potentially could provide a venue for a cottage industry of new devices and applications that could build their businesses around shared, hyper-local, low-bandwidth connectivity.

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Regarding privacy concerns, neither users of the shared signal nor home networks whose signal is being shared will be able to identify one another. Also, the Sidewalk service is optional, but reportedly requires users to opt out, rather than opt in. That means users of Amazon Echo and Ring devices can use their app account settings or command their Alexa virtual assistants to disable or turn off the feature after it becomes available if they don’t want to share internet from devices in their homes with others. Across social media in recent days, critics of the service have been sharing advisories about Sidewalk and how to disable it.