Silk, Fire and Another Loss for Privacy

Our privacy is slowing eroding, at least in the sense that what we do is less private then it used to be. We’ve all know for some time that the phone company tracks all of our phone calls and that ISPs know something about our internet traffic. We accept that web servers record what pages we visit and when we visited them.

In the last couple of months we’ve learned that Facebook can track your habits across sites even after you log out, and mobile phone companies can track not only who you call but where you were. And it wasn’t secret that the OnStar system can track your vehicle’s location, speed and even whether you are wearing your seat belt, but only after complaints did they reverse part of the decision to sell that data to the highest bidder. At least you have to agree to their terms of service to be sold out.

Another chip out of our privacy was buried in the announcement of the Fire tablet. There are a number of things to like about the device, and much of the press is positive, but the what makes the Silk browser unique is also what disturbs me most. Here is what the Amazon themselves said (from the video):

The browser observes aggregate user behavior across a large number of sites. Our browser is capable of detecting these aggregate user behavior patterns and actually requesting the next page your are likely to need before you even know you need it.

OK, I get caching and how through pre-fetching pages and optimizing images the browser will be a better performer, but that also means Amazon will be able to paint the clearest picture yet of what you’ve done on the web. Silk requires you to go through the AWS service which will reconstruct the page and all of its elements for you, so even connecting to a proxy server isn’t going to hide anything.

I hope Amazon allows users to opt-out of this part of the service, but I doubt it.

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