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Why you shouldn't buy the Amazon Fire phone

Mike Elgan | June 24, 2014
It's the most effective device ever sold for harvesting the personal data from its owner

The second is that without such a promise, they could turn on that capability at any time in the future.

And third, Amazon hasn't spelled out exactly how they prevent hackers and government spy agencies and third-party app makers from doing this.

Creating a device optimized for knowing exactly when your face is looking at the camera demands that Amazon be transparent about what they are and are not doing now and in the future.

Cloud storage

Amazon provides the unique service of unlimited cloud storage of photographs. Amazon says they don't do image recognition or other processing on personal photos uploaded to the cloud (unlike Google, which is really good at doing this on Google+).

Amazon hasn't, to the best of my knowledge, promised to never retroactively scan and recognize uploaded images.

One can imagine three years hence, when users are more jaded and worn down by massive and constant privacy invasions, that Amazon might choose to turn some killer future recognition algorithm on the pictures people have been taking and uploading for years in order to compete more effectively against other data-harvesting companies.

If Amazon doesn't promise to never do this, then they're just leaving that option open, and potential buyers need to be aware of this.

Silk browser?

Instead of using Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox or other browsers that are robust, popular and free, Amazon went to the trouble of creating its own web browser from scratch. And it didn't do it because it likes the idea of creating new code. And certainly wasn't done because of customer demand.

Amazon did it because browsers enable the harvesting of user data, which can be applied to custom advertising and relevant marketing.

Amazon's web browser is called the Silk browser. Silk was first shipped for Kindle tablets, but the Fire phone's got it, too.

The weird thing about the Silk browser is that it acts not like a web browser, but like an ISP. It caches URLs and web pages on Amazon servers, ostensibly to improve performance. That gives Amazon extraordinary abilities to harvest web surfing data far beyond mere cookie tracking.

The company claims that it harvests that data, but doesn't associate it with individuals.

The Silk browser is governed by Amazon's privacy policies, which are pretty upfront, saying: "We receive and store any information you enter on our Web site or give us in any other way." Your recourse, if you don't like this policy, is to "exit the browser and do not install, use, or access Amazon Silk."

But I think the fact that Amazon built and exclusively offers their own web browser is highly suspicious and demands far more transparency about what exactly they do with the browser data.

 

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