Amazon Responds to Criticism, Bringing Back Fire Device Encryption

Customer pressure has apparently caused Amazon to reverse an earlier decision and bring encryption back to its Fire devices.

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After removing encryption from its line of Fire devices in late 2015 and hearing resulting criticism about the move from customers in recent months, Amazon has reversed course and will bring data encryption back this spring.

The concerns from customers follow the ongoing legal wranglings between Apple and the FBI over very tight security measures in Apple's iPhones, according to a March 5 story by Bloomberg. In the iPhone case, the U.S. government is battling with Apple in the courts to get the company's help to deeply search the phone of a terrorist who shot 14 people to death in a rampage in San Bernardino, Calif., in December. Apple is fighting the government's request, citing privacy concerns over making its devices more accessible to government reviews instead of maintaining user privacy.

The iPhone case has caused many technology users to be more conscious of security and privacy issues, leading to criticism against Amazon upon hearing that encryption had been removed from their Fire devices.

"Amazon removed encryption from the devices in late 2015, possibly to reduce costs for its tablets and electronic readers," Bloomberg reported. "The devices aren't intended for communication of sensitive data, although they can be used to access the Internet and email. Some customers complained about the change after they updated their Fire software on older devices and saw encryption was no longer offered."

In an email to Bloomberg on March 4, Amazon said it would restore full disk encryption as an option on Fire devices through a software update sometime "this spring," the news service reported.

In the Apple-FBI court fight, the FBI is trying to force Apple to unlock the iPhone that was used by the terrorist in the San Bernardino killings so the agency can see if there are any links to other terrorists that could help in their investigation. Apple has steadfastly denied giving the agency or the government access to the device's security measures.

Apple has in the past routinely helped the FBI get past its security in at least 70 other prior cases, according to an earlier eWEEK story.

Amazon's Fire devices no longer include a smartphone, which the company discontinued in 2014 after it failed to secure consumer interest and adequate sales in a very crowded marketplace. In January, Amazon reportedly began negotiating with other smartphone vendors to try to get its sales and services offerings more deeply integrated into Android phones so customers can buy from and interact with the company more easily. Part of the initiative also is aimed at supplanting some Google services on devices to try to take more of a leadership role in low-level device systems, according to earlier reports.

The effort isn't the only backroom initiative that Amazon has been working on in the consumer marketplace lately. In November 2015, rumors began circulating that the company is working on the creation of an app for Apple TV, which doesn't by default offer dedicated access to Amazon's streaming Instant Video offerings. Amazon dropped its sales of Apple TV devices in October 2015 due to the lack of built-in Amazon services on the devices, according to an earlier eWEEK report. Amazon also stopped sales of Google's Chromecast devices for the same reason at the time.

The arrival of an Amazon app for Apple TV would make life simpler for Apple users who want to view Amazon Instant Video on their Apple TV. Presently, it can be done using Apple AirPlay with an iOS or OS X device, but that can be less reliable for streaming video viewing.

In September 2015, Amazon unveiled revamped Fire TV devices and Fire tablets, and announced several new Fire devices. Among the announcements were a $49.99 price for the 7-inch Fire tablet, the addition of a new 10.1-inch Fire HD 10 tablet and the debut of a new Fire TV Gaming Edition. The Amazon Fire TV devices boast 4K Ultra HD, support High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), have 75 percent more processing power than the previous version and cost $99.99.

Apple's fourth-generation Apple TV device hit the market at the end of October with an improved remote, Siri integration, new capabilities for Apple Music, a new operating system, improved gaming and multiplayer options, and more. Apple TV includes a 64-bit A8 processor and fast 802.11ac WiFi and comes in two versions—a 32GB model for $149 and a 64GB model for $199. The earlier Apple TV version continues to be sold for $69.