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Will users of Amazon's Silk browser be trading privacy for efficiency?

Amazon’s Kindle Fire’s cloud-based web browser, Silk, is already raising questions from security experts.

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"Amazon Silk also temporarily logs web addresses known as uniform resource locators ('URLs') for the web pages it serves and certain identifiers, such as IP or MAC addresses, to troubleshoot and diagnose Amazon Silk technical issues,” Amazon writes in its Terms & Conditions. “We generally do not keep this information for longer than 30 days.”

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“Every page they see, every link they follow, every click they make, every ad they see is going to be intermediated by one of the largest server farms on the planet,” writes one concerned blogger. “People who cringe at the data-mining implications of the Facebook Timeline ought to be just floored by the magnitude of Amazon’s opportunity here. Amazon now has what every storefront lusts for: the knowledge of what other stores your customers are shopping in and what prices they’re being offered there.”

Silk isn’t the first browser to use this controversial split browsing model. Google’s Opera Mini also sent traffic through company servers, drawing scrutiny for endangering user privacy and security.

And to be sure, very few people have actually used the Kindle Fire and its Silk web browser, so there are still questions about its features and about Amazon’s privacy policy.

But the revelations are enough to make many security experts wary. For now, potential Fire users should heed two pieces of advice: Amazon Silk’s default mode is cloud-based browsing, but the browser will come with an off-cloud mode, so people have the option of not sharing sensitive data. If you use the Fire, turn off cloud browsing.

With the Kindle Fire, and so many other products and services we use, it’s wise to remember these words from Chester Wisniewski, a senior security advisor at security firm Sophos:

"While most of us roll our eyes when confronted with long privacy policies and pages of legalese, privacy risks lurk around every corner. If you buy a Fire device, think carefully as to whether your privacy is worth trading for a few milliseconds faster web surfing experience.”

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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