Blog Post

(Amazon) Silk or a spider web?

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.

51 Responses to “(Amazon) Silk or a spider web?”

  1. you are already giving this information to everyone anyway. the only difference is this company has actually said this is not our information its yours so we aren’t going to touch it. but if they go back on their word thats when it becomes a story at the moment its just people worrying someone could tell their wife they have been on big tits dot com…

  2. Onofre Pouplana

    Aggregate data of thousand users, could be interesting enough. The consumption-graph and products-affinitys that amazon is already tailoring whitin their ecosystem will benefit from this, therefore offering better recomendations, not personal ones, but segmented at least. Curation and segmentation for a retail service whit millions of products IS really a must-have to remain in top.

  3. In this era of technology where everyone is providing its users with high quality of services its not possible to give a site high preference so you can’t say that face book or Google are more better than Amazon everyone can offer best options but who take the initial step is more important.

  4. Brad Koehn

    I think the service is ill-conceived, but more from a technical standpoint than a privacy one.

    The primary reason Amazon wants Silk is for performance. Not network performance, really (it doesn’t run over 3G, only Wi-Fi), but processor performance. They need this boost as a way to overcome the lower-end CPUs they needed to put in the Fire to hit their price target.

    But CPU performance improves along Moore’s law, from which one can reasonably conclude that in a year or two a service like Silk won’t provide any performance enhancement at all. But will Amazon shut off the service when it’s not helping user’s performance, or will they continue to aggregate the data, and discover their customers’ buying preferences?

  5. Amazon feels greedier. Google offers tons of free services, they need advertising dollars to pay the bills. Amazon already makes lots of money with online retail already. With Google, I’m not a customer, so I’m a product, fine. With Amazon, I’m already a customer, it just feels greedy they want more from me.

  6. Most of the people won’t use “off-cloud mode”. Way more than 90 % of ordinary people (sans tech-savvy people, don’t have a reference at hand) don’t change settings at all and stick which what has been the default when they got the device.

    And because the cloud has to render the page, Amazon has access to every single piece of information which is displayed in your browser. Your bank account, company e-mail, love letters etc. pp.

    Not a scenario I’m looking forward to.

  7. I’m not exactly clear what the benefits of Silk are. Over wifi, the only noticeably slow browsing experience I’ve had on my iPad is JavaScript interaction, and I don’t see how Silk will speed that up significantly.

    Surely Moore’s Law, 4G and better-optimised websites will render this moot in a few years?