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Amazon’s new Silk browser: More speed and less privacy?

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Along with the Fire tablet, Amazon introduced the Silk browser this week. Whereas most browsers allow your computer to connect to the server of a website, Silk routes everything through Amazon’s networks. Once your request is there, Amazon can rely on cached versions of that site that it serves up faster than if you had to wait for another server somewhere else. The difference will be usually measured in fractions of seconds but still, we all want faster speeds online.

Pai-Ling Yin is an assistant professor of strategy at the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She says that besides providing a fast connection to the site you want, Silk will be trying to figure out what you want next. “They’re going to collect all this data on other users’ behavior as well as your behavior and use that to predict what is the next page that you’re going to want to click on. Then they will cache that page or get it ready for you so they can quickly load it to your mobile device.”

Yin says, “There have been a lot of attempts to use all this data we find on the internet to help predict consumer behavior. But in this particular case, I think you have a value proposition to a consumer who really does want to have faster browser and might actually be willing to engage in allowing a large corporation like Amazon to collect data on their own browser behavior in order to produce that faster web browsing experience.”

An Amazon spokesperson told us that the data used to determine these predictions will be gathered and then aggregated and anonymized. Your name won’t be attached to it. Still, you’re letting Amazon be a middle man in your communications. Chester Wisniewski from the security firm Sophos says, “All of your communications will be sent through Amazon’s computers. That means that they will logging basically every website that you visit and would have ability to look inside of that traffic.”

As for what they could do with that, he says, “If they were requested by a court, they could actively capture everything you’re doing, including all the information in your bank account or your email.”

You can erase your browsing history on YOUR computer. Can’t erase Amazon’s computer. But again: Silk is fast. And now, says Bai-Ling Yin, you’ve gotta do some soul searching.

“For someone not concerned about privacy, this is great. Your custom browser is going to be optimized to be super fast, however for those who are more concerned, this is a little scary actually. So in those cases where people decide they don’t want to allow Amazon to look at their personal browsing history, they’ll be able to tell Amazon they don’t want to participate. In which case, Amazon will still be able to provide them with a faster web browsing experience. First of all, because they do have this dynamic optimization caching technology where they’re using the cloud and the device. But also because they’ll be aggregating over all the other users and trying to predict what you will do based on what other people like you will be doing.”

Also in this program, Aim High is a Facebook web series debuting next month. You’ll be able to give it access to your account and then see your name, your friends’ names, and pictures integrated into the show as you watch. If you want to.

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