Amazon Backtracks On Encryption Removal, Mum On Why

Amazon reversed course on a decision to remove device-level encryption from its Fire OS 5 tablets and said the feature will return this spring.

Amazon reversed course on its unpopular decision to remove encryption from its Fire OS 5 tablets. Over the weekend, Amazon said, customers’ device-level encryption support will return this spring.

The move comes after Amazon customers and privacy activists expressed outrage over the company’s choice to remove encryption from its popular consumer line of Fire tablets running a forked version of the Amazon OS called Fire OS 5.

“I’m glad Amazon changed it policy. I think it was a poor decision in the first place and I’m relieved they moved quickly to put back this security feature,” said Jeremy Gillula, staff technologist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Last week, Amazon announced encryption support would be removed because customers didn’t use it. Amazon said that encryption was one of several “enterprise” features slated for elimination.

Security experts pounced on Amazon and denounced the move arguing Amazon tablets would now be less secure and no longer safe to store personal data from email credentials, credit card numbers and sensitive business information. Amazon customers took to social media and Amazon message boards blasting the company.

Days later, in a brief one-sentence response, Amazon said it changed its mind. “We will return the option for full disk encryption with a Fire OS update coming this spring,” it wrote in a statement to the press.

Amazon did not respond to a Threatpost request for comment and has been tight lipped about explaining its change of heart. Also unknown is the type of encryption Amazon plans to re-introduce to its tablets.

Gillula theorizes Amazon’s encryption U-turn was likely triggered by a public backlash and its support for Apple in its battle with the FBI.

Amazon does support the concept of strong device-level encryption. Amazon joined Google, Facebook and Microsoft in a “friend of the court” statement supporting Apple: “By standing with Apple, we’re standing up for customers who depend on us to keep their most private information safe and secure,” wrote Apple supporters.

“My guess is, Amazon is bringing encryption back to show solidarity with the rest of the tech community and send the message encryption is important,” Gillula said.

The debate over device encryption is getting more contentious by the day. Over the weekend, Craig Federighi, Apple’s head of software engineering, penned an Washington Post op-ed that said the FBI threatens to turn back the clock on mobile security. Beyond the Apple and Amazon encryption headlines here in the US, the French parliament is set to vote in favor of enforcing penalties against smartphone makers that refuse to hand over encrypted data stored on the phones in terrorist inquiries. The bill would enforce a $385,000 fine and a five year prison sentence on private companies and their executives who refused to help authorities remove data stored on a phone protected by encryption.

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