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Encryption’s a thing of the past in Amazon’s Fire OS 5

Amazon backtracks, says 'full-disk encryption' will return in a spring update

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Jessica Lee Star/Digital Trends

In the latest Fire OS 5 software update for its Kindle Fire tablets, Amazon has removed device encryption. First highlighted on Amazon’s support website, the matter has since captured the interest of many. Why? Because encryption is a hot topic thanks to Apple’s continuing battle with the FBI, making Amazon’s timing — and relative silence about the update — either an unfortunate coincidence, or a carefully timed move.

Encryption is offered by Apple on iOS, and by Google on Android software (where it’s an option on some versions), but for Fire OS 5 hardware, there isn’t an option. It’s no longer offered at all.

Updated on 03-05-2016 by Julian Chokkattu: Added information of Amazon returning encryption to Fire OS in the spring. 

It looks like Amazon has caved in and will bring back full-disk encryption to its Fire tablets.

“We will return the option for full disk encryption with a Fire OS update coming this spring,” Robin Handaly, Amazon’s PR manager, told Digital Trends.

It’s uncertain what caused the sudden change — it could have been the explosive media attention given the backdrop of the Apple vs. FBI case, customer outcry, both, or something else entirely. We’ve reached out and will update this post when we get more information.

As expected, not every customer was thrilled when they found out encryption was being removed:

There are a few things to note, the first being that the update only applies to Fire tablets currently running Fire OS 5, Amazon’s own take on Android 5.0 Lollipop. In addition, if you’re coming from an older version of Fire OS and had your Fire tablet encrypted, the update essentially breaks that encryption. Since it will be back in a spring update, you could simply not update your device until Amazon brings back encryption, but even if you installed the update and breached your security, you’ll get it back soon.

Related: Apple vs. the FBI: a complete timeline of the war over tech encryption

This move couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time, given Apple’s very public support of encryption as it battles with the FBI. Perhaps even more strange is that Amazon, alongside other companies, filed an amicus brief voicing support for Apple. The online retailer has also stated that its line of always-listening Echo devices are strongly encrypted, which is why it was so strange to see Amazon backtrack on encryption for its Fire tablets.

In a effort to explain, Amazon PR manager Robin Handaly told Digital Trends earlier: “In the fall, when we released Fire OS 5, we removed some enterprise features that we found customers weren’t using. All Fire tablets’ communication with Amazon’s cloud meet our high standards for privacy and security including appropriate use of encryption.”

Amazon’s statement did little to assuage its customers’ frustrations over the update, but bringing encryption back will certainly place them in better light.