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Amazon Under Fire Over Kindle Privacy Practices

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Reports say the Kindle Fire’s Silk browser may give Amazon insight into the web clicks, buying patterns and media habits of Fire users. (Image: S. Roberto Bichara)
Reports say the Kindle Fire’s Silk browser may give Amazon insight into the web clicks, buying patterns and media habits of Fire users. (Image: S. Roberto Bichara)

BUSINESS

  • US congressman requests further information on Kindle Fire data collection
  • Device’s browser stores user data to speed up surfing
  • Kindle Fire sales high on Black Friday

Amazon is under increasing scrutiny over privacy protection with US lawmakers requesting more detailed information on how the company’s Kindle Fire tablet device collects user data.

Senior Massachusetts congressman Edward Markey said that an October letter issued by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos failed to address questions on what the company intended to do with the large quantities of information stored by its Silk internet browser.

In a statement, Markey said:"Amazon's responses to my inquiries do not provide enough detail about how the company intends to use customer information, beyond acknowledging that the company uses this valuable information.”

Is Kindle User Data Secure?

The incident dates back to October 3, six weeks before the device’s release, when the New York Times published a report saying the Kindle Fire’s Silk browser "may give Amazon unique insights into the web clicks, buying patterns and media habits of Fire users."

Markey requested a detailed account from Amazon over the matter, expressing his concern about the collection and use of information on internet users’ buying and surfing habits.

Paul Misener, Amazon’s public policy vice president, responded by saying the e-commerce giant takes several measures to protect user data and that information that could be used to identify users, such as Internet Protocol and Media Access Control addresses, were only stored in the event of a Silk browser crash.

Amazon's director of development for Silk, John Jenkins, had been asked by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based digital privacy protection organization, to provide details on the browser’s data gathering.

The EFF said discussions with Jenkins dispelled some of its concerns, but several serious issues still remain.

Cloud Collection

Factory settings on Silk connect the Kindle Fire to Amazon’s cloud service, which speeds up browsing through rendering and gathering content in advance to boost performance for the low-voltage processors they use in their tablets. That information is stored for up to 30 days in the cloud service and servers, giving Amazon full access to user data and browsing habits.

Misener maintained that Amazon does not link data back to specific users or search for browsing patterns, and that all Silk users have the option of disabling the could service.

Congressman Markey was not satisfied with Amazon’s response and called for the company to assume its responsibility towards users. “Amazon states 'Customer information is an important part of our business,' but it is also important for customers to know how the company uses their personal information,” Markey said. “Amazon is collecting a massive amount of information about Kindle Fire users, and it has a responsibility to be transparent with its customers."

The privacy issues were not enough to turn e-shoppers off the KindleFire, which proved to be one of the most popular items during Black Friday sales. Amazon said sales rose fourfold on the same period in 2010, but stopped short on giving exact figures.

Carter Nicholas, CEO of market research firm DataSource, estimates Kindle Fire sales at around 2 million since its November 15 release.

Key Statistics – Global Tablet Market (source: Gartner)

  • Apple’s mobile device platform iOS will have almost 69% of the global tablet market share in 2011. Forecasts for 2012 put market share at 63.5%, dropping back to over 47% by 2015.
  • Android is expected to grow from nearly 20% market share in 2011 to 38.6% in 2015.
  • Research In Motion’s QNX Playbook tablet OS will rise to 10% market share by 2015.
  • In 2015, Hewlett Packard’s webOS will be at 3% with MeeGo on 1%.

By James Mulholland for
James Mulholland is a Paris-based internet and broadcast journalist specializing in sports, current affairs and technology news, while also freelancing as a photographer.

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