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: android, benchmarks, encryption, mobile encryption, oems, privacy
Companies: google, motorola, samsung


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 10:47pm

    Walmart

    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?

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