Privacy Concerns Over Kindle’s Silk Browser, and How Corporations Use Internet Data

There’s a lot of hype surrounding the Kindle Fire.  Some are labeling it “iPad’s first true competitor.” Others point to how it is changing the tablet market.  Most just want it.  You don’t?  Steve Rosenbaum offers 5 reasons to like it.

Whether you plan on making the purchase or not, it’s clear the U.S. Internet population is at least interested in it, as shown above in our normalized count of users who searched for “Kindle” September 11th – October 29th. Users searching for Kindles were then taken to top outgoing destinations such as Amazon, Youtube, and various news and blog sites.

Perhaps the most interesting article I’ve read on the Kindle Fire, though, is this summary of the privacy concerns associated with the use of Kindle’s Silk browser.  If you’re one of the 5 million planning to buy a Kindle Fire this holiday season, you should know that “you are trusting Amazon with an incredible amount of information.”

The short of it is that the Silk browser on the Kindle Fire sends all of your browsing information directly to Amazon.  The company uses your data to predict which sites you might visit, and then preloads those sites into your device.  This increases browsing speed.  It also places your data directly into the hands of a large corporation.

Does that worry you?

As a dataminer at Compete, I query the same sort of data to match the interests of a variety of corporate clients, so while I can’t speak to what Amazon will do specifically, I can give you an idea of what corporations do and don’t want from your data.

Ideally they would like to know everything about you, with a few very important exceptions.  If they think you may be a potential buyer of their product, they want to know where you go on the Internet and why, who you do and don’t trust as sources of information, what you have purchased in the past, and how long it took you to do it.  They also want to know about your life offline.  They want to know if you gave birth, so that they can sell you diapers.  They want to know if you got divorced, so that they can sell you subscriptions to dating services.  They want to know if you’re constipated, so that they can sell you laxatives.

But here’s the kicker:  They don’t want to know who you are.  They don’t care, because knowing who you are is entirely nonessential to selling you more stuff.  And when it comes right down to it, all they want to do is sell you more stuff.

Also, you’re much more interesting in aggregate.  So while it’s great that Amazon can see your particular preferences and load your particular predicted sites of interest into your particular Kindle, it’s not worth much to them unless they can see everyone’s preferences and load everyone’s predicted sites of interest into everyone’s Kindles.  In fact, their predictions probably are based on their aggregated data, since those are much more likely to be accurate than predictions based off of your data alone.

If you think that by purchasing a Kindle you’ll give your information up for the first time, you’re very much mistaken.  Maybe no corporation has all of your Internet browsing behavior, but many have a little.  And as creepy as it is to think about, it sure is nice to get those personalized recommendations, selected just for you by a friendly algorithm and a nice big set of computers.

The debate over the Kindle Fire’s browser is just one chapter in the overall struggle over Internet data.  As a society, we’re still trying to strike the right balance between privacy and personalization.  I don’t have the right answers, but I can tell you that the more I see this sort of information put to use, the more comfortable I am giving some of mine away.

About Jody Schechter:
As an Analyst for Compete, Jody manipulates data to address the information needs of our Online Media and Search clients. Outside of work, her interests include arts and crafts, developmental economics, Scrabble, and dance. Jody has a Bachelor of Science in Economics, with minors in Mathematics and International Studies, from the University of Michigan.