Bad Move, Bad Timing: Amazon Removes Encryption In Fire OS 5, But Will Bring It Back Soon
Encryption is currently a very hot topic in the tech industry, with Apple facing a legal battle with the FBI. The company is being ordered to create a backdoor to infiltrate encryption on an iPhone used by the shooters in the San Bernardino tragedy.
Other big names in tech, including Google, Facebook and Microsoft, have expressed their support for Apple to stand its ground against the FBI, with the company also gaining the former heads of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency as allies.
As such, the move by Amazon to remove device encryption for devices powered by its Fire OS 5 comes at a bad time.
Amazon released the Fire OS 5 in the fall of last year, and company spokeswoman Robin Handaly said that Amazon decided to remove certain enterprise features with the rollout of the customized Android operating system because customers were not using the said features.
The enterprise features that were mentioned included one that allows users to place their whole device under encryption. If the wrong PIN was attempted on the device for 30 times in a row, all the data stored within the Fire OS 5-powered device would be deleted.
All communications between the Fire devices and secure servers such as those of Amazon's are still encrypted though, so users will not have to worry about the data that they are sending out from their Fire devices.
In addition, Handaly mentioned that Amazon decided to drop encryption from the Fire OS 5 as Fire devices are mostly used for entertainment purposes and not for productivity, which would increase the possibility of the devices carrying data that should be protected.
According to Brian Geisel, who has a Boston-based software company, encryption features prevent Amazon from reducing costs as smaller and cheaper processors will not be enough for such protection. By dropping encryption from the Fire OS 5, Amazon will be able to further reduce the cost and price of its products.
The removal of the encryption option from Fire OS 5 was brought into the spotlight as Amazon has rolled out the new operating system to older Fire tablets. By upgrading to Fire OS 5, consumers lose the ability to protect their devices from the authorities and thieves alike through device encryption.
Amazon could also face backlash from consumers with the move, as the market could perceive Amazon products lack data security measures.
"Now that Amazon is removing encryption from some of its devices, I worry about bringing Echo into my home. It is, after all, an always-on, always-listening device. If I can't trust Amazon to care about my privacy and security in its tablets, why should I when it comes to Echo?" asked analyst John Koetsier from the mobile marketing company TUNE regarding the Amazon Echo, a voice-enabled digital assistant.
Nathan White, the senior legislative manager at Access Now, a digital rights organization, said that Amazon's decision should be considered a step back for consumers and security in the tech industry as a whole, as Fire devices now remove all choices from consumers to encrypt their data.
In addition, White said that even though Amazon insists it maintains data security with the cloud, it doesn't change the fact that the data on Fire devices will now be vulnerable, as data encryption at rest and data encryption in motion should be considered as two different things.
After all the criticism that the company received regarding the issue, Amazon released a statement saying that optional encryption will be brought back to the Fire OS 5 in a software update that will be released in the spring.