Amazon's Silk Browser To Be A Data Mining Jackpot

from the is-there-an-encryption-app? dept

We’ve already discussed whether Amazon’s Kindle Fire ‘Silk’ browser is a copyright lawsuit waiting to happen, for the way it apparently is going to cache and modify content from its own AWS servers. It seems that people are realizing some other potential issues with it as well. Keith Dawson points us to a couple of interesting stories looking at the data mining implications. The first, by Chris Espinosa, summarizes the issue succinctly:

The ?split browser? notion is that Amazon will use its EC2 back end to pre-cache user web browsing, using its fat back-end pipes to grab all the web content at once so the lightweight Fire-based browser has to only download one simple stream from Amazon?s servers. But 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 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. What?s more, Amazon is getting this not by expensive, proactive scraping the Web, like Google has to do; they?re getting it passively by offering a simple caching service, and letting Fire users do the hard work of crawling the Web. In essence the Fire user base is Amazon?s Mechanical Turk, scraping the Web for free and providing Amazon with the most valuable cache of user behavior in existence.

So there’s that. Of course, there are a few caveats here. In theory, your ISP could have much of the same info — though you can get around it with encryption. Furthermore, your ISP isn’t caching everything, so there are some limitations there. Of course, on the flip side, the Silk browser is only on the Kindle Fire, meaning Amazon is only getting such data based on what people surf over that particular tablet device and its 7-inch screen. It might be interesting to see some data here, but I’d bet the sort of browsing done on such a device is not representative of how people surf the wider web.

Of course, things could get more interesting if Amazon decides to enter the browser wars in a bigger way… such as by releasing Silk as a desktop browser as well. That theory is posited in another article highlighted by Dawson, this one by Joe Brockmeier, which delves deeply into the implications of the Silk browser on a variety of fronts. He’s the first person I’ve seen bring up the idea of Amazon entering the larger desktop browser wars:

But does it seem likely that Amazon will put that much emphasis on Silk just for the Fire? I don’t think that’s likely. Amazon has several jobs posted for Silk engineers, and while mobile is mentioned, it’s not exclusive. I strongly suspect that Amazon is going to be releasing a Silk desktop browser eventually. Probably not in the near future ? Amazon needs to make sure that its infrastructure can handle the onslaught of all the Kindle users before trying to scale to an unknown number of desktop users.

Remember when people said the browser wars were over and Microsoft had won? Yeah. Anyway, Brockmeier’s article also notes that Amazon won’t just have all this aggregate info, but in theory can tie the info specifically to the Amazon account holder:

Each Kindle is tied to an Amazon ID, which gives Amazon a great deal of information about you already. Introducing Silk into the mix and Amazon is going to be in a position to know a great deal about your Web browsing habits along with your buying habits and media habits. Now Amazon is in a position to know what books you buy, what shows you watch, the Web sites you visit and much more.

Perhaps it’s not just copyright lawsuits that Amazon will be facing with Silk.

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Companies: amazon

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Comments on “Amazon's Silk Browser To Be A Data Mining Jackpot”

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32 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

They are freaking out because now they are becoming aware of what is happening, which it didn’t happen before.

Did you know that any business can know what you had for lunch?

http://www.ehow.com/about_5057507_credit-check-information.html

But that is not all they collect, they also can access your creditcard report and see what you bought, Criminal Records, Background Checks, Tenant Background Checks, and Driving Records,Landlord Credit Check.

That information you if not a business owner or self employed cannot access it or change be able to challenge it for accuracy, do you feel comfortable with such databases?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Here is a scenario for you.

You apply for a job and have your application denied, then somehow you discover that the reason you were denied employment was because someone found out that you surfed pr0n in while you were at home.

Now imagine employers denying employment to democrats or republicans readers?

Could the police start investigating you after they you visit a few websites?

You think it can’t happen?

The more datapoints you collect the more people can infere about your habits and psychology profile that means more and more people in positions of power will make use of that does that makes you comfortable?

tracker1 (profile) says:

Re: Eventually

The new tablet doesn’t have an SD card slot, and may not have an android debugger host mode, or support ROM uploads via that debugger. We can hope, and wait, but I’m passing on this first round. At least the B&N tablet was supportive, or at least non restrictive in terms of third party roms, even so far as to boot from the SD slot first, before the host memory.

Anonymous Coward says:

This isn't a big deal

It’s not a big deal for a couple reasons. One, is that the Kindle users can opt out. They don’t have to use the Amazon proxy service, if they would rather have the privacy than the increased performance.

Two, this is nothing unique to Amazon. Any company could set this up… Opera does something similar, in their mobile browser. It’s simply a service that some customers will use and others won’t.

Brendan (profile) says:

What about secure connections?

Maybe I’m missing a piece of the puzzle, but how will this browser work for encrypted/secure pages?

I see two possibilties — one that’s boring, and one that’s scary:
1) Silk split browser enhancements do not function for HTTPS pages to preserve the security of the connection. This means theincreasingly large portion of web services only useful with a login will see minimal improvements. Or,
2) Amazon will be injecting themselves as a man in the middle, using the decrypted data to provide performance enhancements to encrypted pages just as well as unencrypted ones. This would mean Amazon could scrape my bank account balance in addition to prices I see while shopping. If its linked to my account, might they try to charge me more if they see a tidy bundle in my chequing account?

I really do want to know which way this goes…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: What about secure connections?

Amazon and others have no reason not too.

Report: “Internet companies increasingly co-opted for surveillance”
http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/09/30/us-internet-security-idUSTRE78T2GY20110930

HTTPS is not secure when the problem is in one of the end points.
e.g.:
http://praetorianprefect.com/archives/2010/03/xss-flaw-on-paypal-com/

It is also getting old and it is starting to show.
http://news.netcraft.com/archives/2004/04/27/attackers_use_ssl_exploit_to_target_australian_banks.html (2004)
http://www.darkreading.com/security/vulnerabilities/221600523/index.html (2009)
http://searchsecurity.techtarget.com/tip/SSL-vulnerabilities-Trusted-SSL-certificate-generation-for-enterprises (2010)
http://www.securityweek.com/researchers-exploit-flaws-browser-ssltls-encryption (2011)

Every year people find a new problem with it.
The latests was not fixed yet.

David Cortright (user link) says:

AOL had this too

AOL was one of the original walled gardens, and had the ability to do this too. Maybe they just really sucked at exploiting it. Or maybe, if you care about your customers like Amazon seems to, it’s not worth it to try to eke a bit of value out of this at the cost of a potential huge backlash (e.g. the recent OnStar debacle).

out_of_the_blue says:

What happens when ALL your browser choices work like Chrome and Silk?

Sure, there’ll be a few who hang on to shreds of imagined “privacy” and a few browsers that don’t work this way, but trend is clear, unidirectional, and no known factors to even slow it. So long as money can be leveraged by selling your info, it will be.

Hmm. This may seem the opposite of my usual “advertising will die, web will collapse” thesis, but it’s not contradictory, just part of that process. In short term, there’ll be MUCH more advertising, to beyond saturation and revolt.

This trap closes slowly so the prey isn’t starled and escapes. Many of the prey refuse to see that ALL corporations have the same interest in gatering data, especially those that rely on “laws” for mandatory buying. As Obamacare requires. It’s already pretty comprehensive. Just try buying insurance or banking without divulging the location of every last mole on your rear. We’re all being numbered and traced as effectively as with tattoos om the back of the neck. Those who try to opt-out will stand out as troublemakers.

walterbyrd (profile) says:

Maybe we should use tablets instead of eReaders?

The Lenovo IdeaPad A1 is going to be a 7″ tablet for $199. It may not be available in the US right away, but it shows where things are going.

With a tablet, you can read any format, and install any application. You are not vendor locked. Plus tablets have things like sim slots, cameras, 3G, and usb ports.

Might to hurt to grab the eInk Kindle for $79, to have something to read in bright sunlight, or whatever. But for LED devices, maybe we should wait a few months and buy an actual tablet on black friday, or whatever.

DannyB (profile) says:

Any other browser could, in principle, do the same thing

If Google really wanted to, it could have a caching / optimizing service that its Chrome browser could use.

It is not just Amazon and Opera that could do this.

Mozilla could make FireFox use a Mozilla hosted caching / optimizing service.

Apple could do it with Safari.

Microsoft could do it with IE.

In fact, any of them might just follow suit and do it.

In order of evilness I would expect the ordering to be:
* Apple and Microsoft tied for #1 spot
* Google
* Mozilla

alternatives() says:

"people" saying "things"

Remember when people said the browser wars were over and Microsoft had won? Yeah

Many times when ‘people’ say ‘Company X has won’ – they are spokes’people’ for Company X.

Years ago, “people” claimed ‘the OS Wars are over – with NT getting POSIX, Microsoft will be a better UNIX than UNIX’.

I’d like to know who these “people” are.

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