Amazon’s new Kindle Fire tablet device lit up the tech world when it debuted on Wednesday. But like many an impulse shopper on the day after, that same tech universe is alive with second thoughts. Although it does not go on sale until Nov. 15, the Fire is already generating questions about security, privacy, and where the Amazon-centric device is taking the tablet trend.
Unlike any previous tablet, the Fire is seamlessly integrated with the powerful Amazon cloud computing service as a primary – and free – storage for users. And when the gadget turns on, the user is already logged into Amazon, turning this latest Kindle iteration into a powerful proprietary shopping tool above all other functions, say media watchers.
Shopping has never been simpler, says R. David Lankes of the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University in New York. He adds via e-mail, “no login to enter, no setup screens, just turn it on and consume.”
There is clearly a push to control everything that is happening on tablet devices, says Raj Dandage, chief technology officer of Appguppy Mobile in Brookline, Mass. With the introduction of its cloud storage, he says, Amazon is pushing its level of control even further. “The move toward such tight control over devices is extremely troubling,” he says. Not only does it raise privacy and security concerns to deposit all user activity in a vast digital repository, he says, but it also pushes consumption over innovation.
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“There is a general fear in the industry that we are shifting from an open Internet toward a TV-like environment, where a few content providers can drown out everything else,” he says.
Amazon’s new browser, dubbed Silk, redefines the privacy frontier, notes Tim Keanini, chief technology officer for nCircle, a network security firm based in San Francisco. “Silk is designed to retain an almost limitless amount of user data by storing it in the cloud,” he says via e-mail.
The potential reach of such data mining goes into the real world, says Douglas Lyon, chairman of the computer engineering department at Fairfield University in Connecticut. As consumers are out and about, items of interest – such as sales on things they are shopping for – “will be funneled into your electronic alert system,” he says via e-mail.
Looking for tires? Here is a coupon from Groupon for the store you are about to drive past, he says. “We know who you are,” he says, adding somewhat ominously, “We know your credit rating. We know what you drive. We know what you buy. We know who your LinkedIn/Facebook friends are. We know who you tweet with. We know who you call. We know who you e-mail. We practically know what you are thinking, and privacy is now an illusion.”
However, it is possible for users to turn off the split-browsing mode and use Amazon Silk like a conventional Web browser, says an Amazon spokeswoman. [Editor's note: This paragraph was updated to reflect information from Amazon that was received after publication.]
Still, many users have little understanding of the scope of the privacy intrusion, notes Mr. Keanini, and most are happy to trade some privacy for ease of use.
Technology consultant Patrick Gray suggests that the forces driving the Internet economy are not easily reduced to good or bad. “Each tablet manufacturer wants to keep you ‘locked’ into their environment to the extent possible (the tech folks use the euphemism ‘ecosystem’ and ‘walled garden’ to describe this concept),” he says via e-mail.
Google for example, gives away its phone and tablet software to the various hardware manufacturers under the assumption that users will use Google’s services, and hence drive ad revenue to Google, says Mr. Gray, who is president of the Prevoyance Group, located outside Charlotte, N.C.
It’s easy to shake one’s fist in righteous indignation about corporate dominance, he says, but this also works in the consumer’s favor – “usually through offering products or services for free, or more cheaply.” He adds, “There’s also the benefit of a product that’s easier to use, with only one place to point your finger when it breaks.”