Privacy in the World of Silk

One of the things I dislike most about Facebook, and a primary reason why I am not on Facebook, is the necessity to check privacy settings nearly hourly. Even then, I'm not convinced that Facebook is really adhering to any policy that affords users even a modicum of privacy.

That disease of controlling information keeps spreading. Now with Amazon's new Silk browser, which is part and parcel of the new Kindle Fire, the stakes have perhaps gotten higher. This may well be the first salvo in the conversion of Kindles from local control by the user to remote control by Amazon. I expect the day will come when to use an Amazon device, the device's wi-fi/3G will have to be on.

Silk, which is the Amazon-designed Internet browser that the Fire tablet uses, may have serious security and privacy issues. Silk pipes the user's online access -- and cloud access -- through Amazon's servers. There is no way to access the Internet without going through Amazon. This gives Amazon the capability to follow user Web clicks, buying patterns, and media habits.

With this capability, Amazon now has what every retailer lusts after: knowledge that cannot be gotten any other way. Silk and Amazon servers will enable Amazon to watch where you shop and what prices you are offered.

I know that many Amazon fans think they will welcome this capability because it may well mean lower Amazon prices or an instant special offer from Amazon to beat a competitor's price just for you. But is that what we really want? Do we really want Big Brother watching our every online move?

Our response appears to be a generational one. The younger the user, the less concerned about privacy the user is. This has become evident by who is exposing what on places like Facebook. Many people of my generation are aghast at the willingness of younger people to expose everything online. Younger users appear not to be overly worried about who will see their escapades or the ramifications their actions.

The lack of privacy seems to expand daily. Is there a line that cannot be crossed with impunity? By forcing users to the cloud, Amazon is saying there is no privacy line that cannot be crossed. I keep seeing visions of Minority Report with Amazon and Facebook in the role of the precogs except that unlike the precogs, their role is not for the social good.

I admit that until Amazon starts gathering the data and begins using it, we do not know how far Amazon will go or whether Amazon will misuse the data collected. Amazon fans will jump on this to downplay privacy concerns.

But the real issue isn't whether Amazon will misuse the data; rather, should Amazon be collecting the data in the first place? Why is it that we will protest warrantless searches and seizures by the people we hire to protect us from evil, but not a similar, if not same, disregard for our privacy by outfits like Amazon and Facebook? I find it troubling that we think we are able to create a distinction that is meaningful to us between the two. Corporations are as ruthless in the pursuit of power and money as are the politicians and police forces we hire to safeguard us.

Sadly, it is nearly impossible to teach someone the value of privacy until they have been the victim of a privacy abuse. Experience is the only acceptable teacher. But now that we are beginning to see corporations creating methods of stripping our privacy bare, perhaps we should think more about what limits there should be. The longer we permit ourselves to be stripped, the more difficult it will become to correct course.

And that is the problem with Amazon's new Kindle Fire and its Silk browser: The process of privacy intrusion will be slow, deliberate, and evolutionary. By the time we recognize how invasive the process is, we may no longer be able to do anything about it. Isn't that the case with Facebook? Will that be true, too, of Amazon? No matter how much we like the bargains and service Amazon provides, we do need to step back and consider the ramifications of Amazon's moving millions of people to its cloud, enabling it to data harvest without impediment.

reposted with permission from  An American Editor blog

image by Hanoi Mark

10 Comments on Privacy in the World of Silk

  1. Good points about Amazon. Soon we may have to wrory about Google as well (if it is not too late).

    Regarding Facebook: things are not going to change to the better as YOU are the product.

  2. I admit I’m an Amazon fan; and I do get your concerns; but I’m falling back on a point I’ve heard you (or someone else) make: with Google and Facebook I’m the product, with Amazon I’m the customer. I don’t think Silk changes that, even the SO Kindles don’t change that–there is a traditional customer focus there you don’t get with Google et al.

  3. I can see Amazon now.. They bought Shelfari, but I and a lot of people use Goodreads. If they are watching how they surf will they jump in to buy out these companies also to have even more control?

    The Privacy thing is the only thing that has stopped me from pulling the trigger. I probably will get it buy I keep thinking to myself, I don’t want a record of where I surf held by Amazon, but I bet you there is already a record, if not Amazon or Google then your ISP. I doubt there is really true privacy on the net anymore. Some are just more hidden then others.

  4. Even if you believe Amazon won’t “mis” use this info, who’s to say it won’t ever be cracked by someone who will?

  5. If you have a Facebook account, you already gave up the privacy battle. As K H Acton says above, at least with Amazon, I’m not the product, and I can turn off the “split-ness” of the Silk browser. I decided to trust Amazon a long time ago with a lot of personal information: they know more about my buying habits than anybody else does. However, their business model is predicated on keeping that information secret, not selling it.

    Before I make the decision to trust an internet company (and you have to trust some in order to use the internet), I ask myself, what are they selling? what is their business model? how likely are they to crater, and what happens to my information if they do? what information are they storing today, and how is it likely to change over time, given their business model? what value am I getting for it?

    (BTW, I don’t have a Facebook account, because I chose not to trust Facebook. I generally don’t like being the product, and their business model made it clear that privacy was not a concern to them.)

  6. @Syn, I am on Shelfari but I refuse to link my accounts and it was a concern after they bought it for me. If I ever was forced to link them, then I would stop using it.

    I do use Facebook but I only use it to keep in touch with classmates since I don’t live near where I grew up. I also have a dummy account so that I can look at my account and make sure non friends still can’t see my stuff. I only post a few pics and not much real world information on there.

    @Rich Admin, great points!

    • But what about your friends? and your friends’ friends? Do your friends ‘tag’ you in any photos? Send you invitations? Or oops, Facebook left a few cookies around to track your web usage of third party sites after you logged out. There is no ‘only’ with Facebook, and even if you’re careful with your information, you can’t control whether your friends are careful with information about you.

  7. I just don’t get all these rants about privacy. Seriously, if you are concerned with privacy, delete your Facebook account and start actually communicating with your friends in real life. If you’re concerned with silk, opt out, or install a free mobile browser – mobile Opera is wonderful, for example. If you’re concerned with Amazon having your personal documents, load them via usb cable.
    The thing is: for most people privacy isn’t worth enough to stop using facebook or Silk or Whispernet.

    Moreover, I think all these privacy rants fail to do one very crucial thing: distinguish between really private information (like, you contact info, health records, who you sleep with etc.) and your web-browsing/buying habits.
    While I see why I wouldn’t want anyone to have an access to the former, I certainly don’t understand how anyone would be able to misuse the latter. And the funny thing, no article about online privacy has cared to provide me an example of that so far.
    Suppose, Amazon (or whoever for that reason) knows that I like to buy things with huge discounts and I like cashmere sweaters. What’s the worst thing they can do with this? Sell me a cashmere sweater that I would like for a price lower than anywhere else? I’m in, oh evil buying-habits-info-misusing service! I just don’t see how that could hurt me the least. (if you have a good example, DO share – I’d be actually interested).

  8. Simon Southgate // 9 October, 2011 at 6:23 am // Reply

    I have been reading many people over the past few weeks complain about the way in which Amazon will have the facility to harvest every piece of information that you put through Silk.

    I personally won’t own a Amazon tablet as I have an iPad which I am very happy with. However, I have family who are interested in one, and I say to them, read article akin to this one, and see what you think.

    It would be massively naive of me to think that the information that I put through my iPad is instantly erased and not stored anywhere, but what choice do I have. Not use the internet. I think that most people would agree we are well beyond that point.

    It is becoming increasingly hard to keep internet data private, which then leads me to think the following…

    Do I actually care if people harvest my data?

    Amazon will, I suspect use it to try and sell me things that it thinks I might like. Well, quite frankly whats the issue in that? I may well have google’d them the very next day anyway, Amazon are just doing the searching for me. They may well show me something that I wouldn’t have found, and then I realise I cannot live without it.

    I don’t search the internet for anything I shouldn’t. If you are ashamed of certain non illegal but socially frowned upon searches, simply – don’t do them, or don’t be ashamed.

    If you do search for the basis of illegal activities, surely this then helps the ‘good’ and ‘innocent’.

    I guess if I even have a point to get across, is that as soon as the internet was made popular, companies were always going to want to know what you are looking for. If they don’t/can’t do it now, you can safely say they will in the future.

    And finally, if you aren’t doing anything wrong, why does it matter?



  9. If I have no personal info in my Facebook account and the required info is false, have I given up anything?

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