Amazon has announced it is dumping the lock-screen ads from its Prime Exclusive Phone program. Since 2016, the massive online retailer has been selling low-end Android phones loaded with ads and Amazon software at a discount of around $50 (and in one case, a $200 discount!). Now, the biggest advertising surface on the phones, the lock screen, is being scrubbed of advertising.
In its FAQ, Amazon spins the change as “Amazon being nice” by saying, “This change allows you to personalize your Prime Exclusive Phone’s lock screen and to more easily use your phone’s unlock technologies, such as facial recognition and fingerprint sensors.” The move is more likely related to Google’s recent ban on lock-screen ads from non-lock-screen apps, though.
In December, Google added a new rule to the Google Play Developer Policy saying, “Unless the exclusive purpose of the app is that of a lock screen, apps may not introduce ads or features that monetize the locked display of a device.” The goal of the rule as it is written seems to be not to outright ban all lock-screen ads but to stop apps from misleadingly displaying lock-screen ads without the user’s consent. As a user, it would be very hard to identify which app was displaying lock-screen apps, since any game or app would technically be able to take over the lock screen.
Prime Exclusive phones are shipped with pre-loaded ads, which could technically make them immune to the Play Store rules. But the apps are also updated through the Play Store, so the rules should apply to any updates. If Amazon made a lock-screen app and preloaded it, it would be allowed to show lock-screen ads again, but as it stands, the ads are made through the “Amazon offers” app, which would seem to be in violation of the Play Store rules. The obvious solution would be to make an Amazon lock-screen app with ads and pre-load that on Prime devices.
Existing Prime devices should receive an update to the Amazon offers app, which will wipe the lock-screen ads. There will still be ads in the Amazon Widget app, and the phone will still collect information about “your use of your device, including your device’s system and stability, applications and services on the device, and your device’s interaction with software, applications, and services on the device.”
The question now is: “What does the future of Amazon’s cheap phone program look like?” The company just lost the biggest revenue stream from these devices, and we’ve got to believe the current prices were set with that revenue stream in mind. So do Prime phones just become more expensive now? Will the ads pop up in other places? For now, this step seems like a band-aid, and Amazon will need a more permanent solution in the future.
Update: It’s not listed on the FAQ page, but an Amazon spokesperson told Digital Trends and some other outlets that the price of every Prime phone will be raised by $20. There’s also reports of Amazon offering refunds to people that paid to have lock screen apps removed.