Feeds

Amazon's Silk looks creepily Phorm-ulaic

Data-hoarding by proxy

Security for virtualized datacentres

Analysis A trick question for you...

What's the difference between Phorm's controversial WebWise system, and the kind of giant web proxy unveiled by Amazon yesterday? Technically, there isn't one. WebWise and Silk are doing exactly the same thing. Both intercept private web traffic – and massage it. Both also aggregate enormous amounts of private data and make behavioural inferences from this data hoard.

There are other differences, of course.

Phorm caused a furore because of the implementation policy. BT didn't inform its users they were guinea pigs in the Phorm trials – and planned to opt its users into the system.

Perhaps we have exceedingly short memories these days.

For 18 months, Phorm was the biggest UK technology story – and the bitter experience of the consumer backlash is branded into ISPs' memories. They'll be wondering this morning how on earth Amazon can get away with something so similar.

Privacy is like boiling the proverbial frog. We get accustomed to giving more personal information away, without objecting. But if the data aggregators turn up the heat a little too quickly, people notice. Phorm's stealth interception was brazen: a step too far for many users, as was Facebook's Beacon, Google's Buzz... it's a grim and growing list, is it not? But remarkably Gmail has continued to grow, despite reading your private exchanges and opening them for advertisements.

Amazon Silk has the potential to make WebWise look like a tiff in a teacup. As Sophos' Chester Wisniewski points out, the Silk privacy policy is complex and contradictory. It's far from clear whether a Silk user's HTTPS traffic is also intercepted, something Phorm declined to do. The device's MAC addresses will be discarded, along with other identifying information, after 30 days. That strikes me as a moot point: Amazon already knows who you are. After 30 days, Amazon will have all the behavioural data it needs.

"If you buy a Fire device, think carefully as to whether your privacy is worth trading for a few milliseconds faster web surfing experience," suggests Wisniewski.

Opera has such a system, an enormous one, that's growing faster than Google, that it calls (more honestly, I think) a "transaction cache".

Last year I quizzed them about how they planned to exploit it for behavioural information. Opera executives were quite clear: they weren't. And they don't need to. The Opera business strategy is a novel idea of performing arbitrage against competing ad networks, rather than data-mining the data itself for behavioural inferences. What makes Silk even creepier than Phorm, to me, is that it's already making those inferences – it anticipates the next page you'll visit by prefetching it. This makes the Kindle a data-collection tool for those "Customers who bought X also bought Y" nudges.

Amazon, like Phorm, is betting that you don't care enough about privacy to shop elsewhere. And from the gradual privacy ratchet, and the certain absence of opposition from rivals – nobody wants to poison the well – it may well succeed. ®

Business security measures using SSL

More from The Register

next story
Hey, Scots. Microsoft's Bing thinks you'll vote NO to independence
World's top Google-finding website calls it for the UK
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
Apple CEO Tim Cook: TV is TERRIBLE and stuck in the 1970s
The iKing thinks telly is far too fiddly and ugly – basically, iTunes
Huawei ditches new Windows Phone mobe plans, blames poor sales
Giganto mobe firm slams door shut on Microsoft. OH DEAR
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Found inside ISIS terror chap's laptop: CELINE DION tunes
REPORT: Stash of terrorist material found in Syria Dell box
OECD lashes out at tax avoiding globocorps' location-flipping antics
You hear that, Amazon, Google, Microsoft et al?
Big Content Australia just blew a big hole in its credibility
AHEDA's research on average content prices did not expose methodology, so appears less than rigourous
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.