Like many of Amazon’s devices this holiday season, the Fire Stick — the little gadget that can plug-and-play any TV into a smart TV — had a good year.
However, recent reports out of the U.K. indicate Amazon’s Fire Stick may just be having a good year for a bad reason: it is easily used by media pirates to seek borderline content on their television screens.
At issue is a program called Kodi, formerly know as Xbox Media Center or XBMC for short. Kodi at base is a media player, but is the result of an open source development project dedicated to creating customizable home theater software. What Kodi centrally does is create a single place where users can import all their media files on their desktop or mobile device.
That use is non-controversial — but Kodi, because it is an open source development project, has a large number of plug-ins and add-ons that are completely free, and in some cases kind of sketchy. Some of those plug-ins allow users to stream live sporting events, capture movies still in theaters as well as a host of other questionable, potentially copyright-violating activities.
Kodi can be used on Android devices, desktops and jailbroken (hacked) iOS devices, but not set-top streaming devices like the Apple TV or Roku. The Chromecast — Google’s TV smartening stick — can be hacked to work with Kodi, but the process is difficult and doesn’t always work smoothly.
But the Fire Stick? Apparently it works “like a dream” with Kodi. Amazon did try to block this by removing Kodi from their app store over piracy concerns but, according to reports, with a few quick downloads of third-party apps, it is pretty quick and easy to get the Android-based Fire Stick up and running with Kodi.
And, in the U.K. at least, pirates are catching on and buying up Fire Sticks like they are going out of style.
The article’s author did note that the Fire Stick is, of course, an independently popular product — but he did note three things that would indicate that it is a little more than regular popularity that would explain the shortages. The first is that the similarly featured Chromecast is widely available. The second is that a store clerk — when he went to try to buy a Fire Stick in person (after striking out repeatedly online) — told him they were sold out by referring to the device as “that thing you use Kodi with.” Third, he notes “fully loaded” Fire Sticks (for two and three times the price) have started popping up all over eBay — and selling.
And while Amazon is doubtlessly happy the Fire Stick is selling, if it is allowing people to stream more for free and less for pay (from Amazon for example), it is certainly not doing what they want it to.