Hack removes ads from Kindle ‘Special Offers’ hardware

We figured it wouldn’t be long before someone figured out how to remove the ads from the ‘Special Offers’ versions of the Amazon Kindle hardware. There are two things that made this obvious to us, the huge flaw that lets code be easily run as root, and the MP3 tag forming that makes it possible to unlock the device.

[Pat Hartl] knows his way around a *nix shell, so once he gained SSH access to the device he started a search for the ad images that make up the special offers feature. He found them in a few different places, making backups of the files in an alternate location, then removing them with some simple commands. He even rolled the process into a one-click installer like the Jailbreak package. It makes us wonder if Amazon has a way to tell if your device is not longer pulling down content for these offers?

At risk of sounding preachy, Amazon does offer this hardware without ads for a one-time fee. Circumventing the unobtrusive ads may lead to higher hardware prices in the future, and [Pat] mentions that. He pulled off this hack to show the holes in Amazon’s security, and hitting them in the pocketbook is a powerful way to do it.

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Comments

  1. soxymora says:

    No big deal.

    You can do it even simpler by :

    mv /var/local/adunits /var/local/adunits.old && touch /var/local/adunits

  2. me says:
    • Pat Hartl says:

      The articles for making the .assets folder not writeable and such are all over the place, so I tried it on a KT and you still got the generic “Please connect to wireless to download special offers” so I used the jailbreak to do some poking around in the root filesystem, found those placeholders, and replaced them. I believe the KT’s work like this because of the Kindle OS5.

      • Robotic says:

        Can you expand on what you did to remove the “Please connect to wireless to download special offers” banner and default screensaver? I’ve been trying to replace my screensaver for ages but I can’t seem to find the location of the file to replace.

  3. UpToNoBueno says:

    Just wanted to say kudos to you guys for pointing out the realistic reasons for why widespread use of these types hacks by everyone that just wants (but doesn’t necessarily NEED) to save a couple bucks could be harmful to everyone else.

    Awesome hack, and awesome explanation about its implications.

  4. keystoneclimber says:

    News flash… Ad support has zero to do with people viewing ads. It has to do with companies paying for ads. The “supported” devices get supported whether or not people view the ads. Billboards still get paid for even if no one looks at them. TV commercials still get paid for even if someone mutes the TV and leaves the room to get a snack. Cut the guilt trips already.

    • The Cageybee says:

      Well, ads are charged per click, if there’s no ad to click there’s no revenue for amazon.

      Internet advertising is not analogous to traditional forms of advertising.

      • mad_max says:

        ^this

      • N0LKK says:

        In general terms internet advertizing isn’t all that different, both depend on ads creating revenue for the advertizing companies with those delivering the ads getting a cut to pay their costs. Not enough clicks to pay Amazon for the discount, and reasonable interest, and if the clicks don’t increase revenue for the advertizing companies, the product subsidies will disappear. Not enough clicks and sales resulting from ads on hackaday could mean that the hackaday staff will be forced to find better paying ways to spend their time. Ad supported content, and delivery began in earnest with broadcasting, and has created a nation of freeloaders or freeloading expectations.

      • cuvtixo says:

        Nowhere in the agreement is there a requirement to ever click any ad, and I believe the number of people who ever do is very small. The exact mechanism for ad revenue is entirely separate from the morality of blocking the ads.

    • N0LKK says:

      Good grief. True that because an ad is delivered doesn’t mean it will be viewed, particularly the barely intrusive manner the ads on the Kindle try to be, but ad support has EVERYTHING to do with people seeing the ads, and then purchasing the advertized product. When a company doesn’t see a return on their advertizing investment in one venue, they will go to another venue.

  5. Guy says:

    Why should we have to look at ugly ads on your site, blah blah- just kidding!

    I used to use Ad Blocker Plus, but decided I’d rather you guys get paid than save myself some scrolling. While keystoneclimber is correct, people don’t need to look at ads for company-x to make money, the ads do need to be downloaded and “displayed” for the advertiser to pay. I support you guys, and am all for ads. Keep the web free (using ads.)

  6. pablo says:

    I just turned off my adblocker for hackaday – I tend to forget that I have it on.

  7. N0LKK says:

    Well Mike; I don’t have to remember to to turn of the ad blocker when visiting hackaday, because I have never bothered installing and ad blocker. Not that I don’t find ads annoying sometimes. I figured out that they are the small shit not worth sweating. The day ads on the web stop paying the bills is the day all the “free” content on the web comes to screeching halt. Lot of the content will disappear as people become selective to what they purchase, if they purchase anything at all. [shrug]

  8. Yifan Lu says:

    Hi, it’s the guy who jailbreaked the Kindle Touch. I just want to say that I personally am against removing ads from Amazon. However, I cannot stop what people do with their own device. It’s not a legal reason, but an ethical one. Amazon gave a $40 discount in exchange for some non-intrusive ads. It doesn’t matter if I don’t want to see it or if it is of no interest, if I hate it I can pay them $40 to remove it.

  9. WARNING: The ad removal method provided in the linked article writes to the root partition in a way that alters and deletes files. This will break the kindle so that it cannot receive future updates and bug fixes from amazon. Factory reset DOES NOT undo these permanent changes.

    YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

  10. Oops. I just looked closer and I see that it IS making backup copies. Warning not so important. But changing the root partition is not good unless you really know what you are doing.

    It is still violating your agreement with amazon, which you agreed to in exchange for the reduced price.

    • Philpax says:

      Last I checked, Hack a Day was all about doing things with hardware and software that you’re not supposed to, and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible and legal; I can see where you’re coming from, but this website is dedicated to hacks just like this!

  11. therian says:

    oh stop this guilt trip, billionaires tears dont matter to me

    • Reggin says:

      You do realize that when the billionaires lose money, they react by firing employees, or shutting down a bleeding company…right? Or do you think that any transaction between [user] and Amazon was a simple bartering between you and Mr. Bezos…

      The inability for geeks to apply real-world knowledge astounds me. This is why you will never manage a company, and only spend your time making money and ideas for others.

      • keystoneclimber says:

        I’ve realized that when billionaires lose money from a flawed business model, these days they expect to be bailed for their failures. It astounds me that these people have the gall to try to shift the blame to the consumer/market for the inadequacies of their business models. For some reason beyond my understanding, the engineers that design, test and implement the products that they sell and the systems that run their company are, in minds of these folks, incapable of designing a more sustaining model based on selling tangible products. These are the same folks that will pay a site for the clicking of ads that they display, but will get upset when they discover that those clicks came from a bot and not a human surfer. Just another flawed business model.

      • cuvtixo says:

        the might be merit to this argument if “billionaires” (let’s just say large employers) rewarded employees with proportional profits. That is one of the problems with the economy today. Many corporations are doing well, even breaking records for profit, but they are not hiring or opening new facilities and generally not rewarding the employees at the bottom. Have you seen the Infinit commercials where the twenty-something girl gives her boyfriend an Infinity car? Not only will I likely never be able to afford an Inifinity, and very much like to block this insulting ad, but I wish great harm on the people who created and approved of airing these ads.

  12. Dra says:

    On one subject, for google adds to pay to websites like hackaday, the adds actually have to be clicked on. Otherwise they MIGHT get a fraction of a cent per view.

    While I can understand the desire to hack a kindle to get rid of the adds just to see if you can, I don’t much see any point. The adds are highly unobtrusive. If you were replacing them with some function you actually enjoy, like user chosen wallpapers, or better still, a snapshot of the last page of text.

    The only reason I’d do one of these mods is to change it so it never goes to an actual screensaver image. It seems kind of pointless to me to have “screen saver images” at all. Why doesn’t the device just power off without changing the screen at all?

  13. Right... says:

    This hack is unnecessary unless of course you intend to defraud Amazon by telling them you want to view ads and then hacking your device to not view them. Either way once Amazon figures out what you did expect to be billed for the cost difference between subsidized and unsubsidized hardware.

    ————————–

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=200671290

    Unsubscribing from Special Offers
    You can unsubscribe from Special Offers at Manage Your Kindle.

    Amazon is able to offer Kindle models at a subsidized price by delivering Special Offers and Sponsored Screensavers.

    By unsubscribing, you will be charged for the price difference between your Kindle model and the corresponding Kindle with Special Offers model if your device was originally purchased at a subsidized price.

    Locate your Kindle device in the Manage Your Devices section and click the plus icon to display more information. In the “Special Offers” column, click “Edit” and follow the instructions to unsubscribe from Special Offers. Turn wireless on, and the next time you connect your Kindle device wirelessly, it will complete the process of unsubscribing your device from Special Offers.

    You’ll receive an e-mail notification that will confirm your payment for unsubscribing from Special Offers.

    • pppd says:

      I agree, this hack is nothing else but abusing the terms you agreed to when purchasing a reduced price device.

    • GuyWithAKindle says:

      I would love to see them try to bill someone for this. I’m sure that would go over well in the court of public opinion, let alone with the credit card company.

      Next think you know, The Gap will start billing people extra for wearing Gap t-shirts inside out, so you can’t read the Gap logo, and baseball teams will send people bills for wearing ballcaps acquired on free hat day after they’ve removed or covered up the team logo.

    • Flyinby says:

      A Google search turned up this page, and at first I thought “great, might as well get rid of the ads”. Then I got to thinking, there IS a way to do it “properly”, and for $40, if I want an ad-free Kindle that bad, I think I’d rather spend the $$.

      When I bought the Kindle, it was made VERY clear and understandable about the ads, their unobtrusiveness wasn’t exaggerated, and I haven’t seen anything annoying or offensive.

      By choosing the discounted Kindle, I agreed to the ads, no arm-twisting or sales pitch, so I’d feel like a cheat hacking them off. If they got in the way, slowed things down, made noise, appeared before or while reading, I’d probably get rid of them, but I just can’t see why it’s even worth it given that I agreed to accept them, and the fact they bother nothing.

      Not meant to be a criticism of discovering or publishing the hack…it’s a challenge and should be expected to happen. But really, now that it’s figured out, why bother? I’d rather feel that I accepted the conditions voluntarily, and kept my word. If Amazon changed their tactics and started popping up annoying ads while reading, with sound, we’d all gripe, but they have kept their word, perhaps we should do the same.

  14. Jazz says:

    You’re right, turning off adblock @ hackaday as we speak!

  15. jamdis says:

    I would have no ethical problem with doing this hack or encouraging others to do so.

    Simply put, I do not believe that the commercial viability of advertising supported media is an ethical issue for me to sort out. It’s a marketing issue for Amazon (or Hackaday) to sort out.

    I do not believe that my “obligation” to follow EULA’s to the letter is an ethical issue either. I’m simply going to weigh the likelihood of anything bad happening if I do.

    Hackaday: I think that a core part of your message is that one shouldn’t give too much thought to how the creator of a device envisioned its use. This goes doubly for non-physical texts. I like you guys and I wish nothing but good for you, but I’ll read your site in any manner I choose, thanks.

    • Caleb Kraft says:

      yep. I feel you bought it, do whatever you want with it. I also can’t make you read our site any specific way. I can, however, remind you that it helps us if you don’t use adblock. I know you’ll do whatever you want after that fact.

      • jamdis says:

        Caleb,

        Thanks for clarifying that. I do think that “do what you want but we’d prefer this” is importantly different from “here’s what’s allowed,” especially in this present era of uncertainty around users’ rights regarding information and property.

        For what it’s worth, I don’t use an adblocker with this site, not because I feel like I owe you guys a favor, but because your ads are unobtrusive enough that the annoyance of seeing them is less than the annoyance of setting up and configuring ad blocking software across the various computers and browsers I use throughout the day.

        I suspect for most readers / consumers this is what will influence their behavior, not guilt trips from authors/publishers/manufacturers. Convenience tends to win over imposed “ethics”. This is kind of sad, but it’s also the reason why Amazon (and I suspect Hackaday) aren’t in too much danger from the minority of folks who go out of their way to defeat ads.

  16. Kemp says:

    Amazon gave you two options. If you don’t want ads then choose the option with no ads. Owning a Kindle without ads is not a right anyone has unless they’ve paid for that right.

    This is very much in the same vein as people who justify trying to avoid paying train fares because “the service sucks anyway”. People seem to think that if something exists then they automatically have a right to it, and if they don’t like how it has been provided then they shouldn’t need to bother paying for it. It says a lot about people really…

  17. Eldorel says:

    I spend a good part of my week removing viruses that are delivered through advertisement networks. (flash and java ads are the worst, but by no means a requirement)

    Until advertisements stop being a serious vector for infections, I will continue to run adblock and flashblock on EVERY system I use or support.

    Advertising is a two way street. If you want to get paid for my views, do you part to insure that your advertisement networks are static, non-obtrusive, and most of all SAFE.

    (note: hackaday gets an exception rule to adblock, but I still have you blacklisted in flashblock)

  18. GuyWithAKindle says:

    I look at it this way:

    The ads in a magazine or newspaper subsidize part of the cost (and much of the profit) of these periodicals. No one can argue that fact. In this, the ads in a periodical are roughly the same in terms of effect as the ads on a Special Offers Kindle.

    So if I buy a magazine for the lower price it bears because it’s ad-supported, and then I proceed to rip out or cover up all the ads in it, then according to the moralists in this thread I’m “stealing” from the publisher.

    Frankly, I think that’s ridiculous. Implying that I can’t alter my Kindle because I got it cheaper is just plain idiotic. Amazon got paid for the advertising space, and passed the savings on to me. They’re not suffering, and the fact that I choose not to look at the ads doesn’t not change how much money Amazon makes by renting out the space to advertisers. They don’t keep track of whether or not I’m looking: Only whether or not I posses a Kindle that will act as ad-space for the advertisers that buy ads from them.

    And let me tell you, I would have been fine with the ads if they were just “special offers” from Amazon and partners, but they’re not. They’re also advertisements for products or services that I personally don’t wish to promote on my device.

    I don’t want TWILIGHT on my Kindle. I don’t want to support AT&T or other advertisers, either.

    Same way for shirts– If I get a free T-shirt from Coca-Cola, and I for some reason don’t want to promote Coca-Cola, I am NOT “stealing” if I rip off or cover up the Coca-Cola logo on the shirt.

    Removing the ads is NOT immoral… Not any more so than skipping commercials on TV or blocking ads on the Internet.

    • MrMeem says:

      You are wrong; Amazon does recover the loss they’re taking on the lower priced devices by tracking the views, click-thrus and purchases each individual makes on each and every ad. This is trivial, normal, and absolutely essential to an ad-driven revenue model.

      But it’s convenient to rationalize “Hey, I’m not stealing from company A, I’m stealing from nameless/faceless/potentially evil company B!”. Either way, it’t just a lack of integrity and shortsightedness to take the discount and then circumvent it. These things always come back around to impact the rest of the consumers who end up paying more to subsidize dishonesty.

      • cuvtixo says:

        You’re wrong on many counts. First, Amazon recovers their loss (and a great deal more) ON THE SALE OF EBOOKS. Which is substantial. It is not a old conventional ad-driven model you describe. It is more like selling a razor and profiting on the blades. Especially they offer a no-ads alternative. They may be hoping that the ad revenue recovers the $20 difference, but not any other losses on the sales of that ONE SPECIFIC Kindle model.
        Now for the “rationalized dishonesty”- You have already described a revenue model that doesn’t exist- you basically made up the scenario, and that makes your reasoning suspect. Then a truism “these actions always come back around…” How will Amazon ever find out if any person is not looking at ads? Not buying things maybe, but again that’s separate from whether you look at the ads. If you know what the ads are and you are certain you will never buy the products… – I don’t see any consequences to hacking the Kindle one way or another. You might consider You get a discount for having to disable the ads yourself, and Amazon simply charges $20 extra for the privilege of them doing it for you.

      • MrMeem says:

        Sorry, cuvtixo, but you’ve made it painfully clear you have no clue what you’re talking about, and have no concept of the revenue model of digital advertising, and this one in particular. The fact is, Amazon gets paid every time a customer views and/or clicks thru an advertisement on the device, and this “hack” thwarts that, thus abusing the terms of the sale. Whatever else they might sell is completely beside the point. Your argument is like saying it’s totally ok to steal oranges because the store sells apples too. Just silly.

        However, I do appreciate the first-rate example you’ve made of rationalizing dishonesty. Just because you have a theory, doesn’t make it accurate, however convenient it might be for your unethical behavior.

  19. rsp2k says:

    Your ads suck. Really, how much does it cost to run a WordPress site built on user submitted content. The ads are ridiculous.

  20. le hack says:

    the best solution that is drop dead simple is to:
    1. copy the contents of the documents folder to your computer
    2. go to settings/restore defaults on the Kindle 4
    3. select the language and then connect the USB connector – do not do anything else with the setup wizard.
    4. copy the documents folder contents back to the Kindle 4 – overwrite any files it prompts.
    5. set your OS to view hidden files and system files
    6. in the systems folder on the Kindle 4 create an empty file called .assets – set it to read only
    7. remove the Kindle 4 from the computer
    8. complete the setup wizard
    9. enjoy ad free awesomeness.

    • Win says:

      Will this still display the “Please connect to wireless” dialogue? I replaced the .assets directory with a text file, same name, and ads are gone but I still (70% of the time) get that message.

  21. bbneo says:

    I think that it is interesting that the beautiful sequence of screensavers that is one of the things that my wife loves about her year-old Kindle has been transformed into a platform for kitty litter ads. Seriously?

    I like the Kindle platform, but I am not fully at ease with Amazon ruling my bookspace yet.

    Whether Kindle will “replace” books as we know them, or just become one of a variety of handheld media players… only the epic battles of the digital elite will determine.

  22. kapu says:

    For me, “Hacking” is not about losing all morals and running amuk. It is about mastering technology. Because I can do it does not mean I will. I believe the author is ok stating his opinion on whether this should be done.
    I will not do this to my kindle, but, I very much enjoy knowing how to.

  23. Endboss says:

    After the update a couple days ago the hack is working (no ads are shown) but i can’t get rid of the banners (Please connect wirelessly…) anymore.. any ideas?
    It was working without the banners before the update.

  24. Anjello says:

    A “moral” way to get rid of the ads was found by an user:
    1. when done reading, close cover, slide power switch off.
    2. when ready to read, slide power switch on
    open cover and start reading where you left off

    At no point in this process are the screensavers visible to you. Enjoy

  25. eraserhead27 says:

    You can block the ads by using the domain blocking feature in your wifi router. I have been experimenting and think the domain that serves ads to the kindle is s3.amazonaws.com

    Use the log feature of your router, let your wifi sit still for a while, then turn on the kindle and wifi then tell it to Sync and Check For New Items. It hits a few servers, this is the only odd one. Searching for the domain amazonaws.com says this is the commercial arm of amazons hosting service which would make sense that this is where the ads come from, since the ads themselves probably come from an independent sub-unit of the amazon parent company.

    • Matt Shirley says:

      You really don’t want to do this. Blocking “s3.amazonaws.com” will affect many sites and services you use, as Amazon S3 is just a storage service and CDN that serves up files. The idea of blocking a more specific URL serving the ads is not a bad one though.

  26. EL ROV says:

    Jeez what a bunch of crybabies in here.

    People should be able to do whatever they want with hardware they purchased. I think the courts agree too, as we’ve seen with iOS.

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/trending/2012/10/26/jailbreaking_it_s_legal_to_unlock_your_iphone_but_not_your_ipad.html

    Apple.. the biggest crybabies on the planet. SAMSUNG is stickin it to em

  27. thankgodforspellcheck says:

    the ad discussion is interesting moral discussion, or at least that hackaday posters consider the moral ramifications of what they do as important as how to do it is interesting. No ads=no clicks= no ad revenue= higher hardware price. So what is my obligation to keep stuff cheap for my fellow lovers of technology. Are some of you saying if I buy the discounted oneI have an obligation to read the ads too? The thread also speaks to hackaday posters’ sophistication of things technical and moral but maybe not not economic.
    Here’s another theory: Amazon is practicing a profit maximizing strategy independent of the ads. It’s based on price discrimination from the market segmentation arising from the subtle distinction and self selection of customers attitudes toward ads (I.e. third degree price discrimination) . See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Price_discrimination

    Nobody likes ads but Amazon can get an extra $15 from some people because they have enough money not to care about the difference in price. They could have charge $20 extra for a white one hoping some snob effect would be enough to partition the market but that would required stocking two models- and doubt that would have worked as well. Only some of us are snobs and nobody likes ads. Yeah, and of course they get a little ad revenue too. And profits from amazon prime, and books and maintain their market position as the dominant ebook seller and keep profits in the tablet market down enough they somewhat limit the competition which keeps in the long term game.

  28. Moral schmoral. The hack only works for about 24 hours now. Eventually the ads turn back up.

    It’s only $20 now to remove the ads on the basic Kindle. Small price to pay.

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