Removal of Fire OS encryption fans privacy flames

Amazon had quietly removed encryption from it's Fire OS, prompting a backlash from privacy advocates and consumers who wished to protect their data. Amazon quickly reversed the decision.

Image credit: Fir0002/Wikimedia Commons
Image credit: Fir0002/Wikimedia Commons

While Apple and the FBI have taken their fight over phone decryption to the US Congress, Amazon has quietly removed encryption from the latest version of it's Amazon Fire OS which has been greeted with borderline contempt from privacy advocates and users alike.

Despite Amazon publicly declaring it's allegiance to Apple in a display of high-level fisty cuffs over privacy, a tweet by information security and compliance expert David Scovetta sparked a virtual fire which had highlighted the company's somewhat differing view on encryption -

The fifth version of the OS which powers its tablets and phones had in the past allowed security conscious users to protect their data by securing it with a password which made it unreadable in case the device got lost or stolen.

With this change, users who had enabled encryption on in their Fire-based devices are left with two choices: either decline to install the update, leaving their devices with outdated software, or give up and keep their data unencrypted.

Removing encryption protections of any kind from Fire tablets should be seen as a backward step for consumers, and for security as a whole. Cryptologist Bruce Schneier even went so far as to call the move "stupid".

Users took to Amazon support forms to complain, one user saying that “So I'm not alone in my concerns ... I will no longer be able to keep my business email (exchange active sync) on my Kindle as our institution requires that encryption be used. I cannot believe Amazon just 'deleted' this critical feature.”

According to Wired, Amazon's decision to axe the encryption feature from Fire OS 5 was made well before the Apple-FBI legal case blew up last month. Amazon thought disk encryption wasn't being used by enough people to continue support for it. Soon it will let people switch the mechanism back on.

Amazon said it plans to restore an encryption feature on its Fire tablets after customers and privacy advocates criticised the company, an Amazon spokesperson told SCMagazineUK.com that "We will return the option for full disk encryption with a Fire OS update coming this spring”.