back to article Three questions that could put out Amazon's Fire

A US congressman is pushing Amazon for details of its cloud-based browsing, Silk, specifically asking what data the company is gathering and how it intends to make use of it. In an open letter (2-page PDF/263KB, short and to the point) Congressman Edward Markey asks Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos specifically what information is …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I suppose one of the differences is that it's a "feature" announced from the start and you don't have to purchase a kindle fire if you don't want one, where as it's pretty hard to not go to the internet via bt wholesale.

    Also the whole phorm thing was done in secret and was very underhand, if they'd gone "we're going to do this, you can opt out here if you like" instead of turning it on for x number of folks and not telling anybody, there'd probably have been far less outcry.

  2. Evil Weevil

    And we all know the Senator's real concern is .........

    "When Phorm started collecting data, there was uproar. When Amazon announced the same thing, it seemed as if no one cared.

    But at least one US congressman does,"

    <read between lines>

    I don't want Amazon to help me find my porn stash more quickly.

    </read between lines>

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You misread between the lines....

      But at least one US congressman does

      <read between lines>

      I have close relationships with Apple Inc and they have told me to block this at all costs.

      </read between lines>

      1. Euchrid

        @ Evil Weevil & AC

        Ed Markey, the congressman in question, has form when it comes to online privacy – and he’s cropped up in El Reg reporting previously.

        Earlier this year, there was quite a bit of coverage when he wanted answers Facebook, Google and Apple. e.g. Rep. Ed Markey wants privacy answers from Steve Jobs (again) -

    2. Tom 13

      Nah. He's a D from MA

      so that would actually sort of be a selling point in his home district.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Downvote the coat

      every time, no matter the content.

  3. DT

    as long as it doesn't change my "reccomends" list....

    normally users don't get anything in return from having their clicks mined, at least in this case they're supposedly getting a improved browser experience

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    maybe he wants a nice holiday home?

  5. Patrick O'Reilly
    Paris Hilton

    Reach for the stars

    I'd disagree with your reach statement, Opera Mini is the largest mobile browser with 20% market share worldwide.

    Paris, because you loves Steps

    1. cloudgazer

      Opera's reach is mostly in less valuable markets, it's only at 3.7% in the USA.

  6. Oninoshiko


    and admittedly I haven't been following this product, but why would I even want to browse on the cloud? Given that it's an awfully bizarre thing to want to do, why would their spying matter?

    It sound to me like the someone has too much free time. Maybe they should do something about some of their REAL problems...

    1. Old Handle

      I don't know the exact details but they pre-process web pages before sending them on to your phone, the net result is faster browsing. It's a technique that has been used successfully before.

    2. XMAN


      It's all about speed. Instead of having to download a media heavy 500kb page that's meant for a desktop with a proper resolution, your Kindle Fire will tell Amazon what page it wants and Amazons powerful cloud network will collect that page and then compress it down to a more manageable size for your mobile device. This saves you bandwidth and CPU processing, speeding up and generally improving your browsing experience.

      I wouldn't be comfortable putting all my traffic through their servers but I can certainly see the benefits. Disabling it for HTTPS would be a start.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Bandwidth shouldn't be an issue

        As far as I know, the Fire is WiFi only, so bandwidth isn't an issue. CPU utilization might have an impact on battery life, but I imaging blocking flash would be a far more effective way to save battery power

    3. Growler

      You don't browse "on the cloud", you browse the internet.

      Amazon's servers "in the cloud" go fetch the page you want, e.g., make notes about it so Amazon can sell you more fluffy bunny related items, then compress it and squirt it down to your device.

      If you don't mind that, fine. If you do, either don't buy a Kindle Fire or make damn sure you turn it off before you hit that Go button.

  7. Peladon

    And how does thisview and approach...

    ... stand (or sit - or lie) behind, beside or on top of the Verizon story on this self same page? Or, if this self same page has morphed due to activity - here:

    Of course, I suppose I should go and cross post to the Verizon entry, asking the same thing about this page here - but I'll be good :-P.

  8. Eddie Johnson

    Notice the Different Verbs

    >>When Phorm started collecting data, there was uproar. When Amazon announced the same thing, it seemed as if no one cared.

    "Started" and "announced" are 2 completely different things. I'm just as concerned and appreciate being informed as this is enough to prevent me from purchasing one.

  9. Nights_are_Long

    Ah so this is why the UK launch was delayed, to be honest I am not a tablet person but I liked the idea of a semi kindle with video playback functionality.

  10. Keith Starsmeare

    And Phorm promised to give the user what exactly?

    Silk aims to give the mobile user an improved surfing experience, one you can opt out of if you're worried about your privacy. Phorm was designed to snoop and push targeted ads at you. So it was no wonder they were secretive about it, as no-one in their right mind would opt-in to such a "service".

    1. AdamWill

      laugh a minute

      "Silk aims to give the mobile user an improved surfing experience, one you can opt out of if you're worried about your privacy. Phorm was designed to snoop and push targeted ads at you."

      You really don't think Amazon is at all interested in using all that lovely Silk data to snoop and push targeted ads at you?

      1. Anonymous Coward

        His/Her point is...

        that at least Silk offers some user benefit. Phorm offers (offered?) none.

      2. Rob Moir

        Absolutely. But Amazon give you several chances to avoid being snooped on - starting with whether or not you purchase the device, they make it clear enough how their browser works, and they give you an improved service in return.

        I'd say that's somewhat different to the phorm model, myself.

      3. Sirius Lee
        Thumb Down



        Imagine you are Jeff Bezos, owner of one of the most successful brands in the world (and a money spinner too). One of the products you think you can sell are e-books. They've a good margin because there's no physical media to ship. Punters who are willing to part with $100 or more are likely to be avid readers and, so, buy lots of books - probably more than $100/year. So by providing a device you know you've found your target market (something marketers love) when someone buys one. You realize this quite slow device can offer a better service by using some of the massive computing power you have on-line so you include a different browser able to use some of this huge computing power and hope that by improving the user experience more users will buy the device (or existing users upgrade) and fork out another $100 and buy some more books.

        Then you think this is great. I can screw my $billon brand built up over 15 years and alienate all those avid readers by capturing their every click to flog advertising earning an extra $2 and push unwanted products at them. Sounds like a plan.

        1. AdamWill


          I'd say that just about sums it up, yes.

    2. Drew V.

      If it was really about getting pages to people faster, they could have gone with Opera Mini or another already existing mobile browser, instead of building everything from the ground up. Much cheaper.

      Of course it is about snooping on people.

  11. Dave Bell

    The USA is different

    The USA does have some laws covering the same territory as the Data Protection Act, but there is far less legal protection than there is in Europe. I've seen a couple of instances of people in the USA exploiting this lack of protection: one involved somebody who was still banned from using computers after being convicted of an internet-based fraud. The company whose services he was exploiting took a long time to take any notice that he was gathering personal data on their paying customers.

    I don't think it's a coincidence that the big data-theft stories come out of the USA.

  12. Christian Berger

    Difference Phorm and Silk

    Silk is an opt-in service, you need to deliberately buy usage rights to a closed source system you are not supposed to own. You have no reasonable expectation of privacy.

    Phorm interfered with your network traffic without you knowing.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Amazon Fire users are opted-in already. Amazon Fire tabets have Silk turned on by defaut, so users must opt-out.

      And Silk keeps a full record of all traffic, so it can better "help you shop". Webwise did a sneaky trial but didn't plan to intercept https, anonymized data, then threw it away.

      Compare that to Amazon.

      Phorm was evil but Silk is far, FAR worse than Phorm.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Agree completely with C Berger. I do not particularly object to me (or anyone else) volunteering to buy a Kindle or iPhone or Nexus and - in return - having data/consumer habits monitored by Amazon or Apple or Google. People can choose not to use those products/services from Amazon, Google or Kindle.

      However, I do object to having all my (low level) network traffic DPI'd, for the benefit of Phorm (or BT or another ISP or advertisers) without my consent (and without benefit) - especially when all I want from my ISP(!) is a dumb-pipe internet connection (preferably without any advertising no matter how 'relevant').

      I suppose the author, as "Head of Enabling Technology" for O2 may have other interests and stakeholders to consider....

  13. Paul 139

    I must be confused .. Silk's a web-proxy, enabled by default but can be turned off by users, not unlike the setup of most corporate and academic networks and some ISPs. Did I miss something?

    1. Alan_Peery

      You missed the "https" angle

      Yes, they are supposedly going to terminate https traffic inside the Silk servers as well as http. This means (for instance) that your session with the bank is now no longer secured between your browser and the bank.

    2. David Evans

      @Paul 139

      Yes, you missed the massive DPI initiative sat on Amazon's EC2 and C3 servers. NB. While I think you can turn off Silk's compression and fetching, I don't think you can actually avoid going through Amazon's proxy servers completely without rooting the device.

      I rather like the Fire and its price point (not that its coming to Europe anytime soon) but I can't say I trust Amazon not to spy on me, so I won't buy one; which is what makes it different to Phorm, I had a choice.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Previous AC

    BUT nobody is forcing you to buy a Fire! Everyone who had a BT connection would have had their traffic snooped by Phorm...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      are you seriously saying "if you want new technology you have to let them exploit your data"?

      Because if this sort of thing isn't stopped, pretty soon you won't have a choice between products that track and products that don't. you choice will be tracked or nothing.

  15. John Rose

    Fire looks like a great value tablet. Therefore, it's worth buying it and immediately replacing Amazon's no-doubt-rubbish-and-advert-infested Android with another e.g. Cyanogen.

    PS I'm a Firefox user who has yet to figure out how to get the thumb-down & thumb-up icons into my message. I've tried dragging them with the result that it shows their filenames as text. I've tried clicking on them. Please advise me how to do it.

  16. Jim Murray
    Big Brother

    Not quite like Phorm

    As one of the faces behind the anti-Phorm campaign I think there a few differences between what Amazon is doing and what Phorm tried to do.

    Amazon is NOT imposing this on existing users. It's a feature of a new product developed by Amazon, not something bolted on later with no advance notice to users and no real consent. If you buy a Kindle Fire, you are, by definition, consenting to Amazon's use of this system. If you don't want to , either opt out or better yet don't buy a Kindle.

    Do I think it's right - no I don't.

    I don't see that it's necessary to 'pre-process' content in the modern computing environment. I suspect the whole thing is one big data-profiling excercise for the benefit solely of Amazon. I won't buy a Kindle, mainly because I don't like Amazon's business practices but to accuse them of 'doing a Phorm' is unfair - they have at least been open about what they are doing and why, the choice lies with the customer as to whether it's acceptable to them.


    1. BTUser

      Try the other equally important Commercial Angle! :(

      @Jim Murray

      I suggest you also look at this from the Website Owners perspective.

      Amazon is one of their competitors and they are ANONYMOUSLY and STEALTHILY profiling their Website and commercial details and prices almost certainly helping them to undercut the offers provided on said Website!

      Put this into a Global Commercial context and it does have far reaching anti-competitive and anti-small business Website competition problems! :(

  17. Tom 13

    When reporting on US Congresscritters,

    it is customary to note their Party and State like so:

    Congressman Edward Markey (D, MA)

    so that readers can more readily determine what and how biased the Congresscritter is.

    Admittedly, this does also tend to reveal what and how biased the author is. But given that this is El Reg, I don't see where that ought to be a problem. I expect biases, I just want to know what they are. None of this "impartial observer" crap that has so perverted the LSM on our side of the pond.

  18. Charlie van Becelaere
    Big Brother

    So this fellow may be right?

    I tend to take opinions at that site with a few grams of NaCl, but the Silk post and their Ritchie RIP were spot on.

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