October 18, 2011, 3:06 PM — A Massachusetts congressman has asked Amazon.com to spell out whether and how its upcoming Silk browser will collect information from users when the retail giant launches its Kindle tablet next month.
U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the co-chairman of a congressional caucus focused on consumer privacy, last week asked Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to answer four questions about Silk and data collection.
"Consumers may buy the new Kindle Fire to read '1984', but they may not realize that the tablet's 'Big Browser' may be watching their every keystroke when they are online," said Markey in a press release last Friday.
Markey cited a story in the New York Times earlier this month that stated Silk "may give Amazon unique insight into the Web clicks, buying patterns and media habits of Fire users."
The browser, which is based on the open-source WebKit engine -- the same engine that powers both Google 's Chrome and Apple 's Safari browsers -- will by default connect to the company's cloud service, which will handle much of the work of composing Web pages, pre-rendering and pre-fetching content, and squeezing the size of page components. That, claimed Amazon, will speed up browsing and let low-powered processors like those in the Fire render sites faster than other mobile browsers and devices.
"This makes Amazon like your ISP," said Aaron Brauer-Rieke of the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), a Washington-based advocacy group, in an interview last month. "Every site, everything you do online [through Silk] will go through Amazon. That's a new role for someone like them, and I don't think it's at all clear that Amazon can step into that, or that it will be apparent to consumers."
In his letter to Bezos ( download PDF ), Markey expressed his privacy worries.
"I am concerned that such a combination will enable Amazon to collect and utilize an extraordinary amount of information about its users' Internet surfing and buying habits," Markey said.