Listen... Amazon Kindle Fire encryption was pointless anyway, so chill

Amazon Kindle Fire tablets will get encryption back again—as will other devices running Fire OS. But who in their right minds would switch it on? Kindle Fire tablet
Credit:, Inc.

Amazon does a U-turn over encryption on the Kindle Fire (and other toys using the Android-derived Fire OS). In a one-line PR statement, Amazon says encryption will come back to the suspiciously-cheap units in the springtime.

Really, so what? Amazon was probably correct when it said users didn't want the feature. Because of the painfully weak hardware in these useless tablets, switching on encryption would have been a recipe for frustration, reduced battery life, and general sad feels.

So don't store confidential information on them. Stick to using Amazon tablets for what they're designed to do: consuming media and buying stuff.

In IT Blogwatch, bloggers know the value of nothing. Not to mention: Check out this amazing musical instrument

curated these bloggy bits for your entertainment. [Developing story: Updated 1:08 pm and 6:04 pm PT with more comment.]

Update 1: Amazon caves! Richard Lawler was one of several scribblers who Amazon contacted—Amazon reverses course on encryption for its Fire tablets:

You will be able to encrypt Amazon Fire tablets again. [Amazon says] it will bring the option back in another update that is due to arrive this spring.

That was quick. Ros Krasny was another—Amazon to Restore Encryption:

“We will return the option for full disk encryption with a Fire OS update coming this spring,” Amazon spokeswoman Robin Handaly said in an e-mail Saturday. [She gave no] specific date [nor] reason.

Yeah, I think we can guess the reason. Dante D'Orazio dares to comment—Company reverses course after widespread criticism:

[This] came at a particularly inopportune time: a standoff between Apple and the FBI. [It] prompted a high-profile, nationwide conversation about device security.

Removing the feature marked an odd regression in security practices. ... The decision looked especially poor in light of Amazon's support of Apple's position. ... Amazon filed a joint amicus brief.

Update 2: And other commentators draw similar conclusions. David Z. Morris worms his way into the story—Amazon to Restore Fire Encryption After Just One Day of Scrutiny:

The company initially told reporters that it had removed the feature because of a lack of interest. ... The company’s u-turn may forestall what could have become a PR disaster.

Apple’s battle with the FBI...has turned into a national referendum on data security, complete with street protests. ... Supporting impenetrable encryption while removing it...makes Amazon look, at best, disorganized.

Stop beating around the bush. Greg Sandoval is less circumspect—Amazon flip flops:

Talk about a fast course correction. ... The contrast wasn’t good for Amazon’s image.

Amazon looked like it might be trying to avoid a conflict with the government. ... Whatever the reason, Amazon has now walked it back.

Update 3: If you're unfortunate enough to own a Kindle Fire, what should you do? Adrian Kingsley-Hughes suggests some suggestions:

Fire OS is a customized version of Android. ... However, the latest Fire OS 5 release [is] leaving owners of Fire hardware with a tough choice; abandon encryption...or run an outdated operating system. ... So, what do Fire owners do?

If you've already upgraded to Fire OS 5...then it might be prudent to remove any sensitive information off the device. ... If you've not upgraded...then you have two choices:

Run an outdated version of Fire OS for a few weeks/months and wait for the update. [Or] upgrade now to Fire OS 5, live without encryption for a few weeks/months. ... Personally, I'm going with the former over the latter.

Everyone's rushing to make comparisons with Apple's San Bernadino situation, but can this story teach us anything? Catalin Cimpanu draws the blinds—Shamed Amazon Decides to Restore Full-Disk Encryption:

Unfortunately, the timing of this media scandal couldn't have been worse. ... The immense backlash...shows exactly why many have sided with Apple...and why, despite its best intentions, the FBI can't win...the public opinion being always against it.

This story originally covered the removal of the feature, and the reactions to the news. The earlier version continues below:

What's the craic? Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai reports—Amazon Quietly Removes Encryption Support from its Gadgets:

While Apple is fighting the FBI...Amazon quietly disabled the option to use encryption...on its Android-powered devices. [It] deprecated support for device encryption on the latest version of Fire OS.

This move goes against the recent trend to make encryption available by default. ... It’s unclear why Amazon disabled this feature. [Amazon] did not answer...requests for comment. ... For some, Amazon’s backtrack might be a good enough reason to boycott the company.

I wonder why Amazon chose to do that? Natasha Lomas managed to get a statement out of the company—Amazon confirms it has dropped device encryption support for its Fire Tablets:

“In the fall when we released Fire OS 5, we removed some enterprise features that we found customers weren’t using.” ... Ironically enough, Amazon is one of the companies [backing] Apple’s stance [in] a joint amicus brief.

Claiming users weren’t using the encryption of course a disingenuous argument. ... Users also hate using strong passwords — is Amazon going to encourage users to ditch those too?

Which devices are we talking about? Tim Hardwick enumerates—Amazon Dropped Device Encryption From Fire OS Before Apple-FBI Case:

The change effectively kills local encryption...leaving the data on these devices vulnerable to attacks and potentially accessible to thieves. ... Kindle Fire, Fire Phone, Amazon Fire HD, and Amazon Fire TV Sticks are all affected after users accept the Fire OS 5 update.

In the scheme of things, is this a big deal? Rex Crum beats the drum—As Apple’s FBI fight heats up, Amazon drops encryption in Fire OS:

A funny thing happened to Amazon on the way to its filing a court brief in support of Apple. ... Word of Amazon dropping its Fire OS encryption began to spread like a, uh, wildfire...when David Scovetta, of the [EFF], tweeted.

It’s hard to say how many consumers this may affect. Amazon doesn’t release exact sales figures. ... Removing encryption...may not have anything to do with Apple’s battle [but] Amazon might not be winning any converts to its...universe today.

But not everyone sees this as a significant move. Thomas Palmer for example—Fire OS 5 - No full device encryption:

Clueless masses...don't realize that Android encrypiton is easy to break, has fatal flaws, has a simple back door, and doesn't actually protect all data. Web data is easy to pull for example, and it doesn't encrypt data on the SD card.

If these people would actually do some research they'd find this stuff out. ... But no, they'd rather no-vote the facts and bury thier head in the sand.

And Finally…

Wintergatan's Marble Machine (a musical instrument using 2000 marbles)
[hat tip: Andy Baio]

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Opinions expressed may not represent those of Computerworld. Ask your doctor before reading. Your mileage may vary. E&OE.

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