Trading privacy information for discounts and special deals is not new. Now, with the introduction of the Amazon Kindle Fire, consumers will have yet another reason to give up personal information: the promise of faster access times when surfing the Web.
When a user surfs the Web using the Kindle Fire's Silk browser in cloud-enhanced mode, the content of Web pages “passes through our servers,” and loads more quickly than it would in “off-cloud” mode, says Paul Misener, vice president for Global Public Policy at Amazon.
The use of a “middleman” between the user and the site is now being called a “privatized merchant data-aggregation network.” In exchange for faster loading, users are handing over information on their web clicks, buying patterns and media habits. It is certain many other large retailers also will find this approach attractive. In fact, my guess is that the largest retailers with a cloud infrastructure service already in place -- such as Amazon -- most likely will sell this service to smaller online retailers.
However, Massachusetts Rep. Edward Markey in a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos questioned the ethicacy of tracking every Web click of its customers. In his letter, Markey said there are serious privacy implications to how Amazon gathers data.
In his response letter, Misener said Silk “temporarily” logs Web, IP or MAC addresses, a “key factor in driving Amazon Silk’s speed." Silk’s ability to cache Web pages as they are processed through the Amazon servers improves performance on subsequent payloads, according to Amazon.
Misener noted the browser information is not associated with customer identities, and that “customer information is an important part of our business.”
This last response is what drew fire from Markey, who said Meisener’s answer offered no details about how the company intends to use customer information, “beyond acknowledging that the company uses this valuable information.”
Misener also said users could opt out and use an off-cloud mode, which “cannot be as fast as with cloud acceleration turned on.”
As tracking technology gets better the temptation on the part of both retailers to use it and consumers to accept it for certain benefits will keep this issue alive for a very long time.