Disappointing: Google Not Yet Requiring Phone Makers To Encrypt By Default

from the get-things-up-to-speed dept

Well, this is disappointing. Back in September, we were happy to see both Apple and Google announced that their mobile platforms would be encrypted by default (for local storage, not for data transmissions), which has kicked off something of a new round of Crypto Wars, as law enforcement types have shoved each other aside to spread as much possible FUD about the “dangers” of mobile encryption (ignoring that they also recommend mobile encryption to keep your data safe).

However, as Ars Technica reported earlier this week, it appears that while Google is encrypting by default on its own Nexus phones that have the latest Android (Lollipop), it slightly eased back the requirements for its OEM partners such as Motorola and Samsung who make their own devices. Default encryption is now “very strongly RECOMMENDED” rather than required. And even with that “very strong RECOMMENDATION,” it appears that neither Samsung or Motorola are enabling default encryption on its latest devices.

While some will likely jump to the conclusion that law enforcement pressure is at work here, a much more likely explanation is just the performance drag created by encryption. Last fall, Anandtech did some benchmarking of the Nexus 6 both with encryption on and off, and as the site itself says, the results are “not pretty.” Given the competitive market, there’s a decent chance that the big phone manufacturers didn’t want to get bad benchmark ratings when phones are compared, and those made the decision to go against the “very strong recommendation.”

Hopefully this gets sorted out quickly, as phonemakers can optimize new phones for encryption. And, honestly, as the Anandtech report itself notes, these benchmarks are basically meaningless for real world performance:

The real question we have to ask is whether or not any of these storage benchmarks really matter on a mobile device. After all, the number of intensive storage I/O operations being done on smartphones and tablets is still relatively low, and some of the situations where NAND slowdowns are really going to have an effect can be offset by holding things in memory.

But, it appears, while mobile phone makers don’t want to take the chance of bad benchmarks hurting their reputation, they’re less concerned about leaving consumers’ data exposed.

It’s disappointing that this is where things are today, after so much focus on default encryption just a few months ago, but hopefully it’s just a temporary situation and we’ll get to default encryption very, very soon.

Filed Under: , , , , ,
Companies: google, motorola, samsung

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Comments on “Disappointing: Google Not Yet Requiring Phone Makers To Encrypt By Default”

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Kal Zekdor (profile) says:

Disappointing is the word.

The main performance bottleneck on encrypting these devices is caused be the lack of a dedicated hardware encryption chip. That costs money, and necessitates a major hardware redesign. So they tried software FDE, which has performance costs. The performance drag was too great, so they complained to Google.

Google quietly backpedaled their encryption requirement. Not permanently (at least according to them), but just an extension to give the manufacturers more time to meet the requirement.

So… disappointing is the word. Especially how Google loudly boasted about always on encryption, but was nearly silent about pushing back the requirement.

Anonymous Coward says:

What they should have done is spent resources in creating/improving the encryption to reduce the “cons”, ios manages it by doing it at the hardware level, and if thats what it takes for default encryption, then quite frankly, thats what i expect from anyone whose SERIOUS about advancing the right to privacy………or, you know, ……dont

lfroen (profile) says:

Nothing "disappointing" here

Google do a right thing here – leave a choice in hands of those who care.
Did you ever saw a door manufacturer that _require_ to use a lock? Did you ever saw such a car?

So why the hell my phone should be different? Can I please choose by myself whether to use encryption, what kind of encryption and what to actually encrypt?

People don’t expect that car/house/suitcase will somehow lock itself. And people know how to turn protection on a phone too. My 9yo daughter somehow knows.

So let the Google write software and let those who care make decisions.

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Re: Nothing "disappointing" here

“Did you ever saw a door manufacturer that require to use a lock?”

Yes, just about all of them. Exterior doors are pre-drilled at the factory for both a knob and a deadbolt.

If you do NOT want either or both, you have to special order the door. Which usually adds about 50% to the cost, especially on steel-sheathed doors.

Anonymous Coward says:


Some big companies these days are all too eager to subvert their customers safety and security.

Walmart sells some Android tablet models specially tailored for them and marketed under the RCA brand from which they have completely removed the encryption option from the operating system. Kind of lets you know where Walmart stands on the issue, doesn’t it?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Walmart

Some big companies these days are all too eager to subvert their customers safety and security.

You mean “allow customers to decide their own saftey and security”. Hell, some, though a vanishing few now, governements allow their citizens to do the same.

Walmart sells some Android tablet models specially tailored for them…

And some Walmart customers CHOOSE to buy them. Or should those customers not be allow to CHOOSE to buy something they can control? Should Walmart be FORCED to only sell the phones that you think are “safe” to their customers?

Mr. Oizo says:

Nothing unexpected

I believe I mentioned something about Google’s show all being theater. Sad that I was right apparently. Mind you, this would not be the first time that Google in a blitz-PR effort tries to convince everyone that they are the ‘good’ guys. Maybe you should just consider that they might be an obvious part of the NSA program.

Ed (profile) says:

It is easy enough to tell if your Android device has hardware or software based encryption available. Go to the Settings > Security and see if the encryption is listed as “hardware” or “software”. My HTC One M8 says “Hardware-backed”, so the system does have dedicated encryption hardware. My old MyTouch 4G Slide, however, says “software”, so that phone did not have the hardware to do it and relied upon the OS for encryption.
I don’t have the encryption activated on my M8 because I choose to not have a locked phone. I live alone and it is simply unlikely that my phone is ever out of my site or possession, so I’m not worried about it. The convenience of not having to enter an unlock code every time I open the case overrules any benefit I might get from encrypting the phone. But, that’s just me. I can understand others might want and need that added security, and it is available to them should they choose it.

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