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(Update: coming back) Amazon’s latest version of Fire OS disables encryption
Update, March 5: Amazon announced in a statement that it will bring back encryption to its Fire line with a future update coming this spring. Encryption is on everyone’s mind these days and it looks like Amazon is keen to position itself on the right side of the debate.
Original post, March 4: Amazon has been updating a number of its older devices to version 5 of its Fire OS this month, but Amazon forum members have discovered that the update doesn’t just add in new features, it also completely strips the devices of encryption support.
Customers who update their Kindle Fire, Fire Phone, Amazon Fire HD, or Amazon Fire TV to Fire OS 5 will no longer be able to encrypt their data and will presumably lose any currently encrypted files, leaving them potentially vulnerable to prying eyes. While clearly not everyone will make use of this option, completely removing a security feature and forcibly downgrading a user’s security is rather unheard of.
While Apple fights the good fight, @Amazon removes encryption as option from FireOS 5 | @csoghoian @normative @eff pic.twitter.com/nggBdtFG7j— David Scovetta (@davidscovetta) March 3, 2016
It’s not exactly clear why Amazon would want to remove this option from its devices, but the company has mentioned that it was tidying up some unused features with Fire OS 5. We also know that only a single figure percentage of Android devices are actually encrypted, so perhaps the company has a point.
“When we released Fire OS 5, we removed some enterprise features that we found customers weren’t using,” – Amazon Spokesperson
However, the discovery hasn’t gone down well with everyone and comes as Apple, Google, and other technology companies are hotly debating the topic of encryption and law enforcement within the US legal system. We should point out though that the update was decided upon all the way back in fall of 2015, well before the OTA update began rolling out to devices this month, and Amazon has backed Apple on the issue of device encryption and user security.
Amazon customers who currently own devices running Fire OS 4 and want to keep encryption will have to stick on their current OS, but that means that they will miss out on future security updates. The alternative is a custom ROM, but that’s not a convenient solution for the majority of consumers who bought Amazon’s products specifically for their simplicity.