While Apple is fighting the FBI in court over encryption, Amazon quietly disabled the option to use encryption to protect data on its Android-powered devices.
The tech giant has recently deprecated support for device encryption on the latest version of Fire OS, Amazon’s custom Android operating system, which powers its tablets and phones. In the past, privacy-minded users could protect data stored inside their devices, such as their emails, by scrambling it with a password, which made it unreadable in case the device got lost or stolen. With this change, users who had encryption on in their Fire devices are left with two bad choices: either decline to install the update, leaving their devices with outdated software, or give up and keep their data unencrypted.
For privacy and encryption advocates, this move goes against the recent trend to make encryption available by default, and puts Amazon customers’ data at risk, given that they won’t be able to protect the information in their tablets and phones with encryption.
“This is a terrible move as it compromises the safety of Kindle Fire owners by making their data vulnerable to all manner of bad actors, including crackers and repressive governments,” Aral Balkan, a coder, human rights activist, and owner of a Kindle Fire, told Motherboard. “It’s clear with this move that Amazon does not respect the safety of its customers.”
Balkan also highlighted the hypocrisy of Amazon using encryption to protect its copyright with digital rights management or DRM technology.
Some Amazon Fire customers complained about the change it in support forums.
“How can we keep using these devices if we can't actually secure the large amount of personal data that ends up on them?” asked a user rhetorically.
It’s unclear why Amazon disabled this feature, and the company did not answer to repeated requests for comment. But the move definitely comes at a weird time. Apple has received support from some users and technologists in its fight with the FBI over the encryption of the iPhone, which is enabled by default since 2014. For some, Amazon’s backtrack might be a good enough reason to boycott the company.
“I will definitely be getting rid of the Fire after this,” Balkan told me. “I might keep the Kindle Paperwhite purely for reading books but, to be honest, my gut feeling is to shut my Amazon account in protest.”
Update: After a couple of days of backlash, Amazon announced it would restore encryption for Fire OS devices in an upcoming update. The company didn't explain why it backpedaled on this decision.