(Amazon) Silk or a spider web?

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Updated on Sept 29 at 9.20 am PST: Of all the announcements from Amazon today, the most audacious one is the one that involves Silk, a hybrid browser that essentially pre-fetches the web, caches it and then serves it up to Fire owners. I was pretty intrigued by it the moment I read about it. It reminded me of Skyfire. However, it was later when reading this post by Chris Espinosa, I realized the implications of it:

…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 privacy and 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.

Woah! That is a pretty big deal. I tried to get more clarification from Amazon’s spokesperson, who emailed me back that “Usage data is collected anonymously and stored in aggregate, thus protecting user privacy” and pointed me to the FAQ page. I still don’t get it, and I am waiting to chat with Amazon (tomorrow) to get further information.

Updated on Sept 29 at 9.20 am PST: A spokesperson for Amazon just pinged me back:

“Is Amazon able to peer into its customer usage behavior and use that to offer services based on that data. For instance if you see thousands of your customers going to buy SeeVees shoes from say a store like James Perse at a certain price, can you guys use that data to specifically tailor the Amazon store and offer up deals on those very same pair of shoes?” – the answer is no, as you can see in our terms and conditions, URLs are used to troubleshoot and diagnose Amazon Silk technical issues.  Moreover, you can also choose to operate Amazon Silk in basic or “off-cloud” mode.  Off-cloud mode allows web pages generally to go directly to your computer rather than pass through our servers. As a reminder, usage data is collected anonymously and stored in aggregate, and no personal identifiable information is stored. It’s also possible to completely turn off the split-browsing mode and use Amazon Silk like a conventional Web browser.

I asked David Ulevitch, founder and CEO of OpenDNS, an Internet security and managed DNS service, for his impressions. Here is what he had to say.

I think it’s brilliant. Not sure if people are wary of Amazon doing it since they will see all your traffic but SOMEONE should be doing this. Performance is one reason, but security benefits could be added too. Ultimately I think the idea of decoupled browsing makes a lot of sense. I’d rather a remote exploit run in a VM in the cloud instead of compromising my mobile device and rooting my phone.

But the caveat is that this is Amazon. People hand over all the cards to Google but they feel the exchange of value is worth it. But it took nearly a decade for people to even recognize they were giving something of value to Google. Armed with that savvy that exists now, consumers now know they are giving something to Amazon — so the burden is on Amazon to say how it will use the data or make the benefits so compelling that consumers don’t care just as Google does. It’s worth remembering that Google is open in many areas, but none of their openness is in the areas that matter.

So what do you guys make of Silk? Is the privacy concern for real or overblown? Love to get your thoughts.

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