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Technology

What is Amazon Silk?

80beatsBy Veronique GreenwoodSeptember 29, 2011 11:21 PM

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http://youtu.be/_u7F_56WhHk What's the News: Along with a whole passel of new Kindles, Amazon yesterday announced a new browser to accompany them, named Silk. And it's got some unusual characteristics that have some crowing about the next big thing in mobile browsing and others wondering about privacy implications. How Does It Work:

  • Silk, according to statements by the company (check out the video above), is a browser that uses Amazon's massive cloud computing resources to relieve the processing burden on its Kindle Fire tablet, resulting in super-fast page loading.

  • When you go to a webpage on the tablet, Amazon's remote servers, rather than the processor on the tablet, go forth and assemble all of the pictures, style sheets, HTML, and other gear that your browser usually needs to go track down by itself. Then the servers send that information to the tablet, accomplishing the task much quicker than a normal browser.

  • Silk also keeps track of where you tend to go and caches images, style sheets, etc., so frequently visited pages load faster on the device.

  • For a detailed-yet-accessible rundown of Silk's backend, check out Ryan Paul's piece at Ars Technica.

Haven't We Heard Something Like This Before?

  • Indeed we have. The Norwegian software company Opera released a mobile browser in 2005, Opera Mini, that does the same basic thing, although it compresses the pages when sending them back to the device. Opera is also the company that pioneered tabbed browsing.

  • An Opera spokesperson had some wry remarks congratulating Amazon for 'catching up' when he spoke to TechRadar after the release:

"You know, we're a huge player in this field," Opera's Phillip Grønvold told TechRadar. "With more than 128 million users each month using Opera Mini it is clear the market for cloud based computing is in rapid growth. Each month we are adding millions of users who are participating in the Web and we feel good that other big time players like Amazon are catching on to the idea."

What About Security:

  • Hmm, a browser that watches everything you do, recording your habits and putting them on a cloud belonging to the largest online retailer? That sets a few people's alarm bells ringing, especially since security is a serious bugaboo in cloud computing.

  • The best exploration we've seen of what Silk means, both in terms of tech and in privacy, is at the Talking Points Memo Ideas Lab, which spoke to Rebecca Jeschke, media relations director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. One of the primary concerns, at least from early media reports of what the browser does, is that Amazon would seem to have more access to user data than even ISPs do.

“They key here is that Amazon appears to be keeping a record of everything you do online,” Jeschke explained, “Web surfing habits say a lot about you; what your family situation is like; what your health situation is like. It is pretty intimate information about your life. And if someone is collecting it, there’s always the chance someone going to see it, whether that’s justified or not, whether it’s accidental or on purpose.”

  • But not very many people have gotten a chance to poke around in Silk's guts yet, so a deeper analysis will have to wait.

The Future Holds:

  • The Kindle Fire, with Silk installed, will start shipping on November 15th. At that point, we'll hear more on what people think of the browser---and what security concerns there might be.

  • So far, Silk is only available on the Fire, but there are some hints that it may make its way to other devices, according to some detective work by Christopher Mims and others. Buried in the Fire's privacy notice is this line:

If you use Amazon Silk on a Kindle device, your device will automatically send Amazon Silk crash reports to Amazon. You may choose to send these reports when using Amazon Silk on other devices. Crash reports help us diagnose problems with the browser and improve its performance.

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