Amazon recently unveiled a new entrant to the tablet marketplace — the Kindle Fire. One of its notable features is a new “cloud-assisted” web browser, Silk, which promises to improve web browsing by funneling web traffic through Amazon’s powerful cloud computing servers. Silk’s design should help render web pages more quickly. However, this cloud-assisted browsing could give Amazon access to a tremendous amount of new information. Amazon has yet to formally answer some important privacy questions.
Silk works its magic by positioning Amazon’s servers between its users and the web. Amazon’s servers then optimize and accelerate the delivery of web content. For example, if you visit a news website, Amazon might have many of the images and other assets cached and ready for immediate delivery, speeding up the loading of the page. Amazon’s servers will even make predictions based on the sites it renders to predict where users might go next.
This technology may well improve web browsing performance. However, it requires users to trust Amazon to be the gateway for all of their web traffic. In its Silk Terms and Conditions, Amazon likens itself to “Internet service providers and similar services that enable you to access the Web.” Given Amazon’s significant computing capacity and familiarity with sophisticated machine learning algorithms, the company could conceivably gain even more insight into your online behavior than your ISP.
This is a sea change in Amazon’s relationship with its users, one which demands great transparency about its practices.
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