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March 4, 2016updated 05 Sep 2016 7:45am

Amazon risks market backlash after removing encryption on Kindle Fire tablets

News: The latest version of Kindle Fire OS does not have the data scrambling tool previous versions did.

By Charlotte Henry

Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet has had a security feature removed, with the firm claiming that it was not popular with customers.

The feature in question scrambled data on the device, meaning it can only be accessed once the user has entered the correct password.

In a statement an Amazon spokesperson said: "In the Autumn 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."

Leading security and privacy advocates have condemned the move.

Renate Samson, Chief Executive, Big Brother Watch, told CBR: "Amazon’s removal of encryption on their Fire products is a step in the wrong direction."

"Companies shouldn’t be pandering to customers who find typing in a password annoying, inconvenient or fiddly, rather they should work with them to encourage better security and privacy and to make encryption an accessible and easy to use priority.

Chris Boyd, Malware Intelligence Analyst at Malwarebytes, told CBR that the move could prompt people to not use the device: "The removal of this feature says a lot about people in general in terms of their security priorities. We often want to be the most secure that we can, but all too often fail to make use of the tools given to us.

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"In some strange way, people’s reticence to engage with this encryption has now made all of those users a little less secure by default. This could actually be a deal breaker for those affected by its removal, and could well prompt a mini exodus away from the Fire. Whether or not this has sufficient impact to make Amazon re-think their strategy remains to be seen."

The Fire OS5 is built using Android Open Source Project Code. However, it does not have the apps and services Google offers, nor does it gurantee that apps developed for the Google-approved version of Android will be compatible. Amazon developed its own user interface and apps for the Fire.

Older Fire devices, which do not get upgrades to Fire OS 5, will keep the encryption capability. This includes the Kindle Fire phone.

The move from Amazon comes at a time when major rival Apple is engaged in a court battle with the FBI over encryption. The FBI wants the tech giant to create software that would unlock an iPhone used in the 2015 San Bernadino attack.

Apple is refusing to do this, saying that it would put user security at risk, and Amazon is one of a number of major tech firms that is backing Apple and its CEO Tim Cook in holding out against the request.

"The encryption discussion is a hot topic currently and one that will only increase in importance as more of our lives are lived online," said Samson.

The Kindle Fire has become increasingly popular as a low cost alternative tablet, costing from only £59.99. Black Friday 2015 saw three times the number of devices sold on three times higher than the year before.

Amazon confirmed on February 29th 2016 that Morrisons had become the first firm to enter into a grocery supply deal. Morrison’s products will now be sold on Amazon.


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