NEW YORK (MainStreet) – When Amazon (Stock Quote: AMZN) announced its new Kindle Fire tablet back in September, one of the more intriguing features was the Silk Web browser, which promises to load pages faster by learning which sites you like to visit and pre-loading them for you.
Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) was intrigued, too. The longtime legislator is active on privacy issues, co-chairing the Congressional Privacy Caucus and authoring the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act back in 1998. So when he heard about a tablet that would collect its users' browsing data, he sent Amazon a letter asking what information it planned to gather and what it intended to do with it.
Last month Amazon replied to Markey with a letter of its own, but the congressman said Tuesday that he isn't happy with the company's response.
“Amazon’s responses to my inquiries do not provide enough detail about how the company intends to use customer information, beyond acknowledging that the company uses this valuable information,” he said in a statement.
While the company says that it will not sell the Web browsing information to third parties, it's vague on how it will make use of the data, only saying that “Customer information is an important part of our business and an important driver of customer experience and future invention.”
In other words: We're using it, but we aren’t going to tell you how.
Anyone who has used Amazon to shop knows that the company goes to great lengths to gather more information about its customers’ interests – simply view a product page, and when you return to the Amazon.com home screen you'll see several related products recommended for you. The concern here is that Amazon will use the Silk browser to expand that system, recording Web clicks on other websites to more fully build a profile of customer interests. Markey alludes to this possibility in his original letter, suggesting that the browser may “enable Amazon to collect and utilize an extraordinary amount of information about its users' Internet surfing and buying habits.”
For now the congressman has only said that he has requested more information from the company, so we'll wait and see what Amazon has to say. The company did not immediately return a request for comment.