If you thought Apple’s battle against government encryption backdoors would lead to more privacy and security on mobile devices, think again. Amazon has just announced plans to make its Fire HDX tablets less private by ceasing to support full device data encryption.
Fire OS, Amazon’s operating system for Fire tablets, used to support full device encryption. Following recent updates to Fire OS 5, however, Amazon is no longer offering that option.
It’s unclear why Amazon made the move. Some users, who have complained about it loudly, assume it has to do with improving device performance. Since full encryption consumes a fair amount of system resources, it can slow down devices, especially lower-end tablets.
Meanwhile, the Register speculates that the decision was a response to the fight between Apple and the U.S. government. That confrontation centered around orders by the government for Apple to provide access to data on encrypted iPhones. By removing encryption from its tablets, Amazon avoids that type of situation entirely.
Whatever Amazon’s motivations, the change clearly detracts from data privacy and security. It makes it much harder to store information on Fire tablets without worrying about the information being stolen if a third party gets physical access to the device.
As users have pointed out, the removal of Fire OS encryption doesn’t only affect people who are super-paranoid about privacy. It also makes the devices less useful for businesses, where a basic level of data security and privacy is usually a regulatory requirement.
“I will no longer be able to my keep corporate email (exchange active sync) on my Fire HDX 8.9,” one user complained. “Big downside!! I am shocked that such an important feature like encryption is being left behind. No more Amazon tablets for me.”
Amazon announced the change quietly, and seems not to want to make headlines with it. But it’s a truly remarkable move in what the privacy-conscious would consider the wrong direction, given all of the recent debate about data privacy on mobile devices.