Amazon Drops FireOS Encryption amidst Mobile Security Debate

by Matt Klassen on May 7, 2016

Perhaps ironclad mobile encryption is not as important to consumers as Silicon Valley would have us believe, for although the tech industry line is clearly that encryption is something that everyone wants and everyone needs, Amazon’s recent actions seem to indicate an entirely different reality.

To that end, amidst Apple’s knock-down, drag-out battle with the FBI and the government over mobile encryption, it seems when it comes to mobile security and the importance of encryption there may, in fact, be more smoke than fire. For while Apple has made a pretty big deal about the importance of unbreakable mobile encryption standards to enhance and ensure public privacy, smartphone rival (if you can even call it that) Amazon is seemingly less convinced about the importance of unbreakable encryption, quietly announcing that it has already dropped encryption from its FireOS devices because users simply don’t, well, use it.

But in a late-breaking update, having been called on its encryption about-face, Amazon has quickly done yet another, promising to restore all security features to upcoming iterations of its FireOS.

Here’s exactly what Amazon said initially in an email sent to tech site Gizmodo:

In the fall when we released Fire OS 5, we removed some enterprise features that we found customers weren’t using. All Fire tablets’ communication with Amazon’s cloud meet our high standards for privacy and security including appropriate use of encryption.

Now it’s an interesting move, particularly now, as the mobile world is embroiled in an encryption controversy as Apple fights the FBI, and it seems to me that there could be a few reasons at least behind the move: First, as I mentioned, the entire encryption debate isn’t quite what Apple has made it out to seem, with the general public having little or no interest in using the current encryption, or second, no one would be silly enough to do anything important with a device running FireOS to begin with. Given that Amazon is really a tertiary player in the mobile world; perhaps that second option isn’t that far off.

It is worth noting that despite its move to remove encryption from its devices, Amazon has thrown its support behind Apple, filing an amicus brief backing the Cupertino company in its battle against the FBI and orders to unlock iOS encryption.

But that too is strange, given that Amazon’s actions seem entirely incongruous with its actions in regards to encryption; supporting Apple in its fight while tacitly acknowledging that encryption isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

As I mentioned, since this story broke Amazon has update its encryption policy, doing yet another about-face, telling Gizmodo, “We will return the option for full disk encryption with a Fire OS update coming this spring.”

But is the encryption cat already out of the bag, the first real evidence that mobile users don’t really need or want encryption, and that Apple’s fight, as laudable as it may seem, may be nothing more than a marketing campaign to keep security alive as a competitive differentiating factor in the mobile industry?

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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