Is Apple's ongoing battle with the U.S. government over iPhone encryption pushing other device manufacturers to adopt stronger data security and privacy? It seems so following news that Amazon (AMZN) will restore encryption features to its Fire OS for tablets.
The backstory here is interesting, and underlines just how much progress there remains to make regarding data privacy on mobile devices. Amazon originally offered full-device encryption for tablets running Fire OS, its Android-based mobile operating system. Then, with the debut of Fire OS 5, the company quietly dropped that feature.
Amazon apparently made the change because it thought few people were using encryption on their tablets. Unsurprisingly, that reasoning left few privacy-conscious users feeling happy -- especially at a moment when Apple was making headlines by refusing to weaken data privacy features on its iPhone.
Amazon's decision to drop Fire OS encryption came before the Apple news went public. Still, it was a sign of just how little stock mobile device vendors were placing in data security before the Apple incident. Disk encryption for tablets is a pretty basic feature -- and one that has been standard in mainline Android for years. Amazon's decision not just to turn the feature off by default, but actually remove it entirely, seems pretty shocking in 2016.
Now, no doubt influenced by the frenzy surrounding the Apple stance on iPhone privacy, Amazon has announced that it likes disk encryption after all, and will restore the feature to Fire OS. So all ends well for users concerned with data privacy.
Yet it seems unlikely that this would have been the outcome if Apple hadn't brought data privacy issues to the fore (and if Amazon hadn't announced its support for Apple in the encryption fight, placing itself in a hypocritical position). The fact that Amazon has now decided to shift course on an issue that it apparently thought few people would care about suggests that the Apple case may finally have definitively shifted stances on privacy.
Going forward, vendors may not be able to get away with the poor security and privacy practices they have traditionally peddled to users who, in the past, paid little attention to these things.