By Christopher Williams
The new web browser designed by Amazon for its Kindle Fire tablet has sparked concerns that the firm will be able to track users’ every move online by acting as a middleman between them and the web.
The new browser, Amazon Silk, uses the firm’s network of giant data centres to pre-load web pages before they are delivered to the device.
According to Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO, this “split browser” approach will offer “ultra-fast” mobile web access. It will reduce the computation required from the Kindle Fire’s processor, which is lower performance than that of Apple’s iPad 2.
But it also means that Amazon’s systems will keep a record of every single web page that Kindle Fire users visit, which could be used to profile their interests for advertising and other commercial purposes. The records will also be subject to data requests from police and intelligence agencies, as the relatively limited data held by broadband providers.
The browser will even aim to predict your next move in its effort to shave milliseconds off loading times, by learning how users tend to browse individual websites.
“All of your web surfing habits will transit Amazon’s cloud,” said Chester Wisniewski, of the British computer security firm Sophos.
“The system brings with it a need to reassure people that their privacy is being protected,” said Pål Unanue-Zahl, Opera’s communication manager.
The terms and conditions announced for Amazon Silk provide no such reassurance.
“We generally do not keep this information for longer than 30 days,” the Amazon Silk terms and conditions say.
For Kindle Fire owners who do not want Amazon to act as a middleman between the web, it will be possible to turn off Amazon Silk’s pre-loading function.
“If you buy a Fire device, think carefully as to whether your privacy is worth trading for a few milliseconds faster web surfing experience,” said Mr Wisniewski.