The software on the Kindle Fire includes a new web browser called Silk, designed by Amazon. It is designed to use Amazon’s online computing resources to speed downloads for users. Sounds good.
However, this also means that every web page a Kindle Fire user accesses goes through Amazon computers. This gives Amazon the ability to track (and analyze) the detailed browsing history of Fire users.
Another way the browser aims to speed things up is by predicting the future. Silk uses machine learning to predict browsing patterns and pre-load pages that the user is likely to request next. Just as Amazon can guess which books and other products you’ll be interested in, it can also figure out which pages you’re likely to navigate to on the Web.
“The browser observes aggregate user behavior across a large number of sites,” said Jon Jenkins, Silk’s director of software development. “For instance, we might notice that people who view the New York Times homepage, often go to the New York Times business page afterwards. Our browser is capable of detecting these aggregate user behavior patterns and actually requesting the next page you’re likely to need before you even know you need it.”
Consider carefully the privacy implications of a retailer accumulating such data.
Update: More from Chris Espinosa.
The “split browser” notion is that Amazon will use its EC2 back end to pre-cache user web browsing, using its fat back-end pipes to grab all the web content at once so the lightweight Fire-based browser has to only download one simple stream from Amazon’s servers. But what this means is that Amazon will capture and control every Web transaction performed by Fire users. Every page they see, every link they follow, every click they make, every ad they see is going to be intermediated by one of the largest server farms on the planet. People who cringe at the data-mining implications of the Facebook Timeline ought to be just floored by the magnitude of Amazon’s opportunity here. Amazon now has what every storefront lusts for: the knowledge of what other stores your customers are shopping in and what prices they’re being offered there. What’s more, Amazon is getting this not by expensive, proactive scraping the Web, like Google has to do; they’re getting it passively by offering a simple caching service, and letting Fire users do the hard work of crawling the Web. In essence the Fire user base is Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, scraping the Web for free and providing Amazon with the most valuable cache of user behavior in existence.
And from Naked Security:
Fortunately Amazon will support an “off-cloud” mode for Silk. This lets users opt-out of the benefits of using EC2 while retaining the traditional privacy benefits of connecting directly to remote web sites.
While most of us roll our eyes when confronted with long privacy policies and pages of legalese, privacy risks lurk around every corner. If you buy a Fire device, think carefully as to whether your privacy is worth trading for a few milliseconds faster web surfing experience.