Amazon bricks long-standing Fire TV apps with latest update


Enlarge / The Fire OS home screen advertising Ford.

Amazon has issued an update to Fire TV streaming devices and televisions that has broken apps that let users bypass the Fire OS home screen. The tech giant claims that its latest Fire OS update is about security but has refused to detail any potential security concerns.

Users and app developers have reported that numerous apps that used to work with Fire TV devices for years have suddenly stopped working. As first reported by AFTVnews, the update has made apps unable to establish local Android Debug Bridge (ADB) connections and execute ADB commands with Fire TV devices. The update, Fire OS 7.6.6.9, affects several Fire OS-based TVs, including models from TCL, Toshiba, Hisense, and Amazon’s Fire TV Omni QLED Series. Other devices running the update include Amazon’s first Fire TV Stick 4K Max, the third-generation Fire TV Stick, as well as the third and second-generation Fire TV Cubes and the Fire TV Stick Lite.

A code excerpt shared with AFTVnews by what the publication described as an “affected app developer,” which you can view here, shows a line of code indicating that Fire TVs would not be allowed to make ADB connections with a local device or app. As pointed out by AFTVnews, such apps have been used by Fire TV modders for abilities like clearing installed apps’ cache and using a different home screen than the Fire OS default. Other uses include advanced tweaks, like console emulators, as How-To Geek noted.

Ars Technica asked Amazon why it decided to block Fire TVs from making local ADB connections and what, if any, specific security concerns were related. A spokesperson responded with a company statement reading:

We implemented a software update to protect customer security. We are aware of reports that some apps have been impacted by a recent security update. If developers have questions, they can contact their Amazon Fire TV Appstore representative, or visit https://developer.amazon.com/support/contact-us.

This suggests that Amazon’s changes are connected to security concerns. But it’s unclear what Amazon is claiming to protect users from as the company declined multiple requests for comments on the specific security risk.

Further adding to the confusion around the “security” update, Amazon Fire TV devices can still make ADB connections to external devices, like computers. And numerous devices with stronger security concerns, like Android phones, support local ADB connections.

Home screen suspicions

While Amazon is vague about its reasons for the update, aside from security concerns, it provides Amazon with at least one benefit: Apps that enabled people to use Fire TV devices without seeing the Fire OS home screen are no longer working. As explained by AFTVnews, “apps commonly used by the Fire TV modding community will often use local ADB connections to detect remote button presses. That detection allows the use of alternate home screens.”

It’s not hard to see why people might want to avoid the Fire OS home screen nor why Amazon would want to force users to see it. Like many TV vendors, Amazon is trying to drive long-term revenue from TV sales by including ads into the TVs’ OS, allowing Amazon to sell ad space and insight around ad engagement. Fire TV streaming devices and televisions have made names for themselves with low prices. But since Amazon debuted Fire TV in 2014, it has updated Fire OS to include more ads and has plans to increase ad revenue further as it works to build the generative AI version of Alexa.

We’ve previously seen what Amazon is willing to do to protect Fire TV-related ad revenue. Last year, Amazon broke Remapper, a free app that made Fire TV remotes programmable. Remapper was a revenue threat since companies pay Amazon (and other companies with TV OSes, like Roku) to put their streaming service buttons on remotes, which drives subscriptions.

Other broken apps

Beyond breaking apps that let users skip the Fire OS home screen, the update has reportedly bricked other apps.

For example, since the update, TDUK APP Killer, which closes all background apps with one click, and TDUK APP Cache Cleaner, which clears app caches with one click, haven’t worked. AFTVnews reported that Amazon originally told the apps’ developer that Fire TVs no longer supported the apps because the apps were showing error messages during testing. However, testing wasn’t performed on Fire TVs, the only type of device that the apps claim to support. Eventually, the developer was told via email that, “because your app overrides the native user experience (e.g., with a lockscreen or widget), it has not been published on Amazon devices,” AFTVnews reported.

The change has possible implications for how Fire TVs’ app ecosystem might look in the future, when Amazon has even more power, as it’s planning to ditch its Android-based Fire OS in favor of its own OS. Codenamed Vega, the upcoming OS is expected to be based on Linux. It’s unclear how Amazon might use its in-house OS to control the Fire TV experience further, including whether it will continue to allow sideloading apps.



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