The Electronic Frontier Foundation has found that the new Silk browser in Amazon’s forthcoming Kindle Fire tablet, which speeds browsing by routing users’ traffic through Amazon’s cloud servers, does not pose a privacy threat to users.
“We are generally satisfied with the privacy design of Silk, and happy that the end user has control over whether to use cloud acceleration,” said EFF technologist Dan Auerback in a statement.
The finding couldn’t have come at a better time for Amazon, which was facing some tough questions from Capitol Hill. Last week, Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey sent Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos a letter demanding to know what the company will do with data collected from Silk users. And at a privacy hearing on Thursday, Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX) expressed outrage at the thought of Silk collecting user data.
“My staff yesterday told me that one of our leading Internet companies, Amazon, is going to create their own server and their own system and they’re going to force everybody that uses Amazon to go through their server and they’re going to collect all this information on each person who does that without that person’s knowledge,” he said. “Enough is enough.”
Barton’s staff, however, must have been misinformed. In its investigation, EFF found that Silk users will not be forced to use its split browsing mode.
“Cloud acceleration mode is the default setting, but Amazon has assured us it will be easy to turn off on the first page of the browser settings menu,” Auerback said. “When turned off, Silk operates as a normal web browser, sending the requests directly to the web sites you are visiting.”
Additionally, Amazon will not intercept any encrypted traffic, so any communications over HTTPS–popular on Gmail, Facebook, and Twitter, among other services–will not be recorded.
The EFF did say that as companies create innovations that push more of our data to the cloud, it’s important that laws keep up with the technology, and they advocate an update to the 25-year-old Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Hopefully Congress’s fears about Silk will be allayed and they can get working on those reforms.