You can buy it but you can't own it. Digital goods remind us of this fact all the time. But physical goods? Those should be ours. But somehow, they often aren't, especially if the company behind the product is trying oh so hard to lock customers into a closed ecosystem.
Amazon's entry into the streaming device market is the Fire TV, a dense black block that puts its Prime library on your TV, as well as providing access to other popular streaming services (Netflix, Hulu) and a (smallish) assortment of games. But what it won't do -- at least not anymore -- is allow purchasers to root their devices in order to play media stored on USB devices or force it to play nice with Google's Play Store to expand the limited selection of "native" games to justify shelling out $20-40 for the optional gamepad.
Techdirt reader techflaws sends in this link to Amazon's Fire TV firmware updates, hosted at AFTVNews, a site dedicated to (and run by) Fire TV aficionados. Alongside the expected bug fixes and features list is the following warning:
“Self destruct” eFuse added to kernel which gets triggered if an older bootloader is used. This means Fire TVs that update to stock 126.96.36.199_user_514013920 can never be downgraded, even if a method to root them is discovered.
So, if you try to make Amazon's Fire TV behave the way you
want it to, your device will be irrecoverably bricked. The tripped eFuse won't even let you roll it back to when it worked. For most Amazon TV purchasers, this update came and went without any noticeable effect. But for those making the most of their purchases, this came as a shock. After all, the Fire TV runs a modified version of Android, itself an ostensibly open system. Not only that, but Amazon seemed to encourage this sort of experimentation and modification by making the source code freely available
. But its updated firmware took away all of that, locking the gate of its ecosystem and tossing the key -- along with some previously working devices -- into the proverbial sewer grate.
, a very active member of XDA Forums, was the one who first made others aware of the issue
, finally narrowing it down to malicious firmware. Intentionally malicious firmware
From what I can tell, they did 2 things. First, they added an extra service to the kernel ramdisk that blows an efuse which prevents the old bootloader from working. Second, they modified the bootchain to use that fuse (or maybe a second, I'm not sure) to prevent downgrades. So once a box gets 188.8.131.52 stock, it can never be downgraded.
So, while there are workarounds available now (as well as custom firmware developed by the enthusiasts at XDA Forums), there's been nothing official released by Amazon. The message is clear: play within the walls of our garden or GTFO. With most users opting for automatic updates, the firmware has made the final decision for them. Those who wish to stay rooted will have to do without any critical updates, added content selection, security fixes, etc. that Amazon may provide if they're not fortunate enough to find fixes that work from third parties who are kind enough to unbrick devices that have been forcibly neutered by the proprietor of the walled garden.
Notably, this decision hits hardest the people Amazon should most want on its side: the diehard hobbyists who push the limits of prefab products and show developers the possibilities inherent in their offerings. Equally terrible, it sends the message to purchasers that they don't own their purchases. Car manufacturers (there are exceptions
, of course) don't send street teams by to tear off the ridiculous spoiler and neon undercarriage you bolted onto your stock sedan, no matter how ridiculous it makes their product look. They don't remove the tachometer you forced into the dashboard array when you bring it in for an oil change. But for some reason, certain companies still think that they can force your purchased products to play by their rules, long after turning the products over to their new "owners."