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Cloud Privacy The Internet Your Rights Online

Amazon's Silk: SaaS Is Closing the Net 95

Posted by Soulskill
from the how-many-gardens-can-fit-in-an-internet dept.
jfruhlinger writes "Much of the initial reaction to Amazon's Silk browser was interest in how it uses the cloud to speed up browsing. But at what cost? There are privacy concerns, of course, as Amazon will have a record of your browsing; but in a larger philosophical sense, Silk is of a piece with Facebook and Apple's iOS walled garden, an intermediary between you and the Internet."
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Amazon's Silk: SaaS Is Closing the Net

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  • Except that Silk is supposed to leverage Amazon's EC2 to greatly speed up the browsing experience. Facebook just pilfers your data because they can.

    • by tech4 (2467692) on Sunday October 02, 2011 @08:24AM (#37582754)
      Yep, other browsers like Opera have had this feature for a long time. How does it even close internet? It just speeds up your browsing.
      • by MightyYar (622222) on Sunday October 02, 2011 @09:11AM (#37582872)

        Opera Mini has destroyed the internet.
        </sarcasm>

      • by bmo (77928)

        Redundant?

        In the second post?

        Really?

        Mods. Crack. And obviously a mod that never heard of Opera Mini.

        Protip for Opera mini: you can use it as a quickie proxy for internet shenanigans. That's because that's what it is.

        --
        BMO

      • by Ash Vince (602485) *

        Yep, other browsers like Opera have had this feature for a long time. How does it even close internet? It just speeds up your browsing.

        Firstly, what happens if the page you try and visit doesn't exist? Maybe you get a 404 page showing you some other sites you might like to visit instead (ie - 404 page loaded with amazon paying adverts)

        But more dangerously, what happens if the Amazon have some reason to block the site you are visiting. Do amazon let you visit the page? You are going through their cloud, maybe they decide to show you a different page instead that is one of their choosing.

        A proxy can do some amazing things, but if you have on

        • Firstly, what happens if the page you try and visit doesn't exist? Maybe you get a 404 page showing you some other sites you might like to visit instead (ie - 404 page loaded with amazon paying adverts)

          But more dangerously, what happens if the Amazon have some reason to block the site you are visiting. Do amazon let you visit the page?

          If only you could turn the feature off completely and render all content locally. Oh yeah, you can!

    • by wwphx (225607)
      What I'm curious about is how gracefully the browser fails if the cloud ever fails. Oh, silly me! The cloud NEVER fails! EC2 has five 9's uptime, doesn't it?

      So say we all.
      • by stevedog (1867864)
        Why couldn't they just bake in the standard Android browser technology as an invisible fallback?
        • by jgagnon (1663075)

          The "cloud" portion of Silk is supposedly optional and can be shut off by the user. I'd imagine this is true mostly so people can still browse when a portion of their Silk tech goes apeshit (which it will at some point). They wouldn't want to stop people from shopping, now would they?

      • by Fnord666 (889225)

        What I'm curious about is how gracefully the browser fails if the cloud ever fails. Oh, silly me! The cloud NEVER fails! EC2 has five 9's uptime, doesn't it?

        It falls back to just being a normal mobile browser, doing the heavy lifting itself. You might see a slowdown in page rendering, but that should be it. From what I understand you can turn Silk off if you want to.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I wonder how this automatic man in the middle handles SSL connections? Does it pass that traffic though? Does it open a new connection and handle the SSL handshake in the cloud?
    Sniffing people's bank accounts is a great service, would bring 1 click buy to a new level.

    • by JordanH (75307) on Sunday October 02, 2011 @08:58AM (#37582842) Homepage Journal

      I wonder how this automatic man in the middle handles SSL connections? Does it pass that traffic though? Does it open a new connection and handle the SSL handshake in the cloud?
      Sniffing people's bank accounts is a great service, would bring 1 click buy to a new level.

      0 click buy!

      • by Chrisq (894406)

        I wonder how this automatic man in the middle handles SSL connections? Does it pass that traffic though? Does it open a new connection and handle the SSL handshake in the cloud? Sniffing people's bank accounts is a great service, would bring 1 click buy to a new level.

        0 click buy!

        That's the worry. Zero click buy. delivery to an address in Nigeria.

        • by ynp7 (1786468)

          Amazon doesn't ship to Nigeria.

          • Amazon doesn't ship to Nigeria.

            OK, Trenton, New Jersey then. Happy?

    • Likely same way Opera Mini always did - by skipping the proxy server and going directly to the target.

  • It is SAD.... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Ok I have not actually read the article, but the intro make me think that we are entering a updated phase of AOL. When the net was new most people had their internet experience filtered through AOL. Now are we returning to a time where people want their experience filtered through amazon, or facebook?

    • We are panicking because Amazon has the potential to do nasty thing, not that they are doing it. Why do we buy an ISP and not worry all the time that your ISP will monitor and record all your traffic. Or the guys who own the wires they have been in trouble for spying on us in the past...

      Unlike AOL or Facebook Amazon isn't filtering anything. Unlike AOL where you had access to AOL approved content then you had that scary rest of the web to deal with.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Why do we buy an ISP and not worry all the time that your ISP will monitor and record all your traffic.

        Because we're paying them money.

         

        • by big-magic (695949)

          I agree. Either you are the customer, or you are the product.

          If you aren't giving them any money, it's obviously which is true.

      • Re:It is SAD.... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by icebraining (1313345) on Sunday October 02, 2011 @09:30AM (#37582946) Homepage

        Silk does MITM of HTTPS connections. My ISP doesn't.

        We will establish a secure connection from the cloud to the site owner on your behalf for page requests of sites using SSL (e.g. https://siteaddress.com./ [siteaddress.com.]

        Emphasis mine.

        • by purplie (610402)
          You mean, you don't *think* it does. Ask yourself, how many opportunities are there for your ISP to inject some form of evilware onto your system? That said, yeah, it probably doesn't.
          • No, they don't. The certificate I get matches the one I get in other places/ISPs, so it's almost impossible for them to be MITMing me.

      • by Patch86 (1465427)

        I was under the impression that Silk had a "conventional" mode too; at the click of a button, you can run it locally, without using the EC2 service.

        As long as this remains the case, I can't really get excited about it in an apocalyptic "end of the internet" sort of way. For those of us who care (and for everyone, if Amazon start acting restrictive), it can just be turned off.

  • The comparison to AOL is probably more apt than the one to Apple. I get that Apple walls its garden when it comes to available apps for the iPhone, but that doesn't limit the ways you can access the internet. (Though I think it bears exploring about the ways those apps limit, for good and for bad, limit access.) Amazon is also repeating Apple's play in this regard. Does that mean Amazon has more walls? Taller ones? Ah, the limits of metaphor.
  • ... Amazon starts selling premium space on its servers to those sites who want to provide fast access to their viewers? Good-bye akamai....
    • You mean like EC2?
      • Indeed, Amazon specifically mentioned that in their press release. No secret, just a helpful, useful option for businesses and mutual customers.

    • Good-bye akamai....

      Sorry I don't have mod points for you.

      More generally, Amazon is showing some seriously large gonads in all of this.

      They are simultaneously treading on various different territories which were [separately] once the exclusive province of Google, Apple, Facebook, Blackberry, Akamai, and many, many others [anyone remember the Sears & Roebuck catalog?!?].

      It will be very, very interesting to see how all of this plays out.

      It certainly shows that, if nothing else, they aren't satisi
      • by paiute (550198)

        Steve Ballmer, are you paying attention?!?

        Was he ever?

      • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

        Good-bye akamai....

        I think this is a good thing.

        If we're going to have services walling us in and massaging our internet experience, at least let's have a lot of companies doing it, not just one or two.

        My fear is that there will be more and more of the "strategic partnerships" which is corporate-speak for "more efficient ways to screw consumers". Those strategic partnerships have very seldom meant more freedom, more competition. They usually just mean instead of three choices, you now have two.

    • by rnswebx (473058)

      Amazon already has a CDN; it's called cloudfront [amazon.com]. Since Amazon is already in the CDN business, I can't see how your question makes any sense. Are you suggesting people will flock away from limelight and akamai just because they want to serve some kindles faster? lol....

  • this is a catch-all argument for just about any product with a high potential for nefarious purposes or something which is a complete POS. a cluster computer for internet browsing? are you friggin serious?

    • It is what the customer want...
      The problem is lately all the arguments and complains are about the potential for something to happen not that it actually happens.

      Complain when they start doing it. Not when there is a potential why is our economy slumming lately? Because everyone is spending their time Poo-Pooing on any new technology or idea that comes out poisoning themselves with the fear of all the evil potential that this could cause, and dismissing the benefits...

      Here are some examples?
      Hydrofracking:

      • by ultranova (717540)

        Complain when they start doing it.

        It's too late to complain about censorship once it's implemented, because your complaint gets censored.

        Not when there is a potential why is our economy slumming lately?

        Removing regulations from the commercial sector caused a huge bubble to form, and once it burst so many people went bankrupt it dragged the economy into a tailspin. At the same time, long-running trends of outsourcing and increasing income inequality had weakened the economic security of the middle and work

  • Enough with the paranoia.

    ObAnalogy: an elevator does not "close" the stairwell. And they often even have cameras in them.

    • Uh, no ..not at all .. they even get to break SSL .. a proxy server doesn't get to look at https traffic.

  • by arielCo (995647) on Sunday October 02, 2011 @08:56AM (#37582834)
    Quoth TFA in its fifth sentence:

    Before I get accused panicking, let me emphasize that I am fully aware that Silk will let you opt out of this feature, and use the browser without EC2 participation.

    By the end of TFA, The Fine Author forgot it:

    Rather than try to contain the Internet, SaaS providers are trying to get between us and the Internet. And they're doing it with slick and catchy ways that slowly ensnare us before we even know what's going on.

    Privacy, security, and unlimited access to data are all at risk here. This is why efforts the Open Knowledge Foundation and Open Cloud Initiative are so important. These and other similar organizations represent different ways to keep access to our data limited to just who we want to have it, and no one else.

    It comes down to this: will these SaaS vendors be our partners in using the Internet, or our captors?

    Oddly, there wasn't so much fuss over Opera's compression service [operamini.com], which is opt-in for Opera Mobile and always on for Opera Mini.

    • by Graftweed (742763)

      Oddly, there wasn't so much fuss over Opera's compression service, which is opt-in for Opera Mobile and always on for Opera Mini.

      The issue here is one of scale and reach. Opera didn't have as many users under their umbrella as Amazon does, nor did it have a massive database on their purchasing habits, just waiting to be cross referenced with their newly acquired browsing history.

      • by arielCo (995647)
        So turn it off.

        Before I get accused panicking, let me emphasize that I am fully aware that Silk will let you opt out of this feature, and use the browser without EC2 participation.

        Did you really expect the service to be 100% free, nothing in it for them ? More like tit-for-tat. That said, I still don't know how Opera benefits with their very similar service (good will and publicity?).

        • by hkmwbz (531650)

          That said, I still don't know how Opera benefits with their very similar service (good will and publicity?).

          Various services tied to the browser, such as the Google search which Google pays for. Simple, really.

      • I can see the equatable defense.

        Jeez your honor, it's not like I'm a school teacher.
        I only had access to my sisters kid.

        yeah, that should make it ok.

      • by hkmwbz (531650)

        Opera didn't have as many users under their umbrella as Amazon does

        I don't know... Opera has more than 200 million active users. How many does Amazon have?

    • Oddly, there wasn't so much fuss over Opera's compression service, which is opt-in for Opera Mobile and always on for Opera Mini.

      Probably because the three people who use Opera Mobile and the two that use Opera Mini are an insufficient crowd to create a fuss.

      Obviously, I exaggerate; but go ask a bunch of random net users how many have heard of Opera and how many have heard of Amazo. Opera is not a significant player.

      • by hkmwbz (531650)

        Probably because the three people who use Opera Mobile and the two that use Opera Mini are an insufficient crowd to create a fuss.

        I'm not sure what you are looking at, but Opera is the #1 mobile browser globally.

        Obviously, I exaggerate; but go ask a bunch of random net users how many have heard of Opera and how many have heard of Amazo. Opera is not a significant player.

        Without a representative sample, your questions to people are useless. Opera is a significant player indeed in the mobile market. Not onl

      • by arielCo (995647)

        Many "feature phones" come with Opera Mini bundled, especially in networks with crappy GPRS/EDGE service. It lightens the load a lot and creates a better impression.

        OTOH, I'd be truly puzzled if there weren't enough Opera Mini users among the technically savvy people (I've been using it for the last 6.5 years) to make a fuss, and it's well known how vocal we can be ;)

  • The same sort of scenario might be imagined for a lot of "delivery systems".

    A lot of these systems where the "paper is free" are trying to suck in users so they earn advertising dollars. Physical books and libraries are normally an exception, but even author's sites and libraries seem to have at least one ad on them.

    It seems to be the price of progress that people are exposed to seductive forms of content with the intention of separating them from their cash. Sort of like the old yearly "Carnival" that arr

  • Please (Score:3, Insightful)

    by koan (80826) on Sunday October 02, 2011 @08:59AM (#37582848)

    Call them what they are, attempts to completely control your access to content such as "they" had back when it was just TV, and the music/film/media companies controlled every aspect of the industry with an iron fist, that is what "they" want again, complete control.
    The Internet took that away from them, so with tireless lobbying, copyright laws, and campaigns of terror (suing children and single mothers) they have sought this control again, and they are beginning to see how to turn the Internet into a Television set so people go back to drooling.

  • by airfoobar (1853132) on Sunday October 02, 2011 @09:15AM (#37582898)
    that Amazon can see what I'm shopping for online and at what locations and adjust their pricing accordingly? For example, they can make me the highest possible counter-offer based on what other shops I've checked out, that is still equal or lower to the prices I'm already aware of. Totally sounds feasible to me, and totally anti-competitive as well...
    • Re:Does this mean (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Warwick Allison (209388) on Sunday October 02, 2011 @09:29AM (#37582942) Homepage

      Yes, they could. Similarly, a shopkeeper could look at you're clothes and tell you "that'll be an extra $5, Mr Fancy Pants". Do you think that would be smart business practice? Maybe somewhere in a backstreet in Hong Kong. Smart businesses learn to respect their customers if they ever hope to have them back. Repeat customers are the lifeblood of small-transaction online vendors. TFA prefers to invent malice to attract one-off readers, since every idiot visitor is an Ad impression.

      • Smart businesses learn to respect their customers if they ever hope to have them back

        ROFL. Smart businesses rape their customers and get away with it.

      • by knarf (34928)

        Variable, customer-specific pricing has been around for quite a while. Amazon has been doing it for a long, long time [wired.com] given that the linked article is from 2000...

      • Yes, they could. Similarly, a shopkeeper could look at you're clothes and tell you "that'll be an extra $5, Mr Fancy Pants". Do you think that would be smart business practice? Maybe somewhere in a backstreet in Hong Kong.

        Actually, segmenting your market by ability to pay is, assuming you can find a way to do it that works tolerably well, a pretty effective way of maximizing income, and is used by basically every vendor that can find a way to do it, not just in the backstreets of Hong Kong.

    • You know how it pre-fetches webpages? .. doing so, it may inadvertently pre-click on "purchase" links.

      Let it be known I was the first to point this out.

      • by ynp7 (1786468)

        Do you really think Amazon would do such a thing? The following lawsuit would be immense, even if anyone there were stupid enough to think it a good idea.

  • "Privacy is dead. Get over it" -Steve Rambam
  • Back in the day, people on AOL weren't surfing the internet, they were surfing AOL's cached crap. This is just AOL again, what's old is new again. I prefer to interact with the internet in real time and have the content I see under my control as it were.
  • Does a proxy server really speed things up much?
    Instead of going to, say, the NY Time website you are going to the proxy. You still have to fetch the content to your device.

    • by Fnord666 (889225)

      Does a proxy server really speed things up much? Instead of going to, say, the NY Time website you are going to the proxy. You still have to fetch the content to your device.

      It can have an impact, particularly on image or video heavy sites. Also realize that is not just a generalized proxy but a specialized one that is serving a very specific client which it knows inside and out.

      Consider a hypothetical case where a device can only display 256 colors and it is retrieving a page that includes graphics with millions of colors. The proxy could convert the graphic in real time to match the capabilities of the device. Now instead of downloading a 3MB file you are downloading

      • by hey (83763)

        Good point. But I would think that a modern tablet would be able to display millions of colors. And its dimensions and other capabilities would be about the same as a low-end PC.

  • How exactly is Safari in iOS an intermediary between you and the internet? It's just a browser. A normal, full-featured(*) browser. Now when we talk about iOS apps, clearly Apple has built a walled garden. But for web access, iOS is wide open.

    *Flash support is a bug, not a feature.

    • But for web access, iOS is wide open.

      Does Safari for iOS provide bindings for a JavaScript program on a web page to request the user's permission to use a device's camera and microphone yet?

      • by sribe (304414)

        Does Safari for iOS provide bindings for a JavaScript program on a web page to request the user's permission to use a device's camera and microphone yet?

        I don't know--that has nothing at all to do with web access.

        • by tepples (727027)

          [Lack of camera and mic access in Safari] has nothing at all to do with web access.

          Giving native applications access to certain features of a device while denying them entirely to web applications discourages the use of web applications in favor of site-specific apps from the App Store.

  • by Animats (122034) on Sunday October 02, 2011 @01:27PM (#37584006) Homepage

    Now this is something Slashdot readers need. Slashdot, with its incredibly inefficient Javascript that sometimes goes into a compute loop, can now be outsourced to an Amazon server. Not that this benefits anyone; Slashdot's code isn't doing anything useful with all those cycles.

    This is a generic problem. Since everybody went "Web 2.0", page bloat has become insane. I've seen pages from major news sources with over 4000 lines of HTML, only 70 of which had anything to do with the story. CSS was supposed to make pages shorter. It didn't. With some "content management" systems, every page has its very own page of CSS. So there's no gain in caching.

    Entire companies have gone out of business because of this. "RushmoreDrive.com" (a search engine, part of the Barry Diller media empire) had a 7-second page load time for their home page. They'd loaded it up with so much "social" stuff that it became useless.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I agree. There's whole sections of the web I won't visit anymore as it's just too great a risk to the browser (spinning beach balls, crashes) and too great a loss of time. I don't think Slashdot is on the very bad list here but there is room to lean down.

      Don't much care for Google dictating the terms of the web, but at least the penalties on slow pages are pushing web development back onto a diet.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...but I was distracted by the real-time sidebar panel listing the usernames of people who were joining the site and had commented on the article.

    What were they saying about privacy on the internet again...?

  • There are privacy concerns, of course, as Amazon will have a record of your browsing; but in a larger philosophical sense, Silk is of a piece with Facebook and Apple's iOS walled garden, an intermediary between you and the Internet.

    OK, sure, we all know that Facebook's business is to collect & sell your personal info & connections.

    iOS? That makes no sense. I suppose you could say that specific apps are "intermediating", but the apps are not the OS. Also, every iOS device has a generic web browser. If you're concerned about intermediation, it should be from your service provider...AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, etc...not from the os.

    What really surprises me here...is that Google is rarely mentioned in these lists of "intermediarie

  • by batwingTM (202524) on Sunday October 02, 2011 @09:04PM (#37586502) Homepage

    Having read the article, and the comments I have noticed that people love to drag "insert company name here" into arguments based on what they provide. Android is, above all, a method of getting Google a market position on all mobile devices (yes, Google's motivation isn't about just making your life better). It does this by giving handset manufactures an OS that they can 'freely' use and modify (of course, that is another can of worms) Apple provide, in their words "A user experience" and their approach reflects that. Sure, they limit what can be installed in their environment, but they have not made a move (as yet) to track everything that their users do. but Google, Apple, Microsoft have fallen afoul of lot of users of late, and you know what, of course they have.

    We do need to be aware of EVERYTHING that is going on. So much of what is out there for mobile access is convenient, but that always comes at a cost. I had a friend rave last week about how awesome this Kindle Fire was going to be and how it will break out of Apple's walled garden approach...

    Yeah, sure it will. Here is a news flash everyone, these companies are out to make profit, that's all. They will do so by providing the user with what they want in the most cost effective way possible, and that will usually involve data collection to better market and understand what the user is doing. It's not malicious, it just is. Amazon are just the latest addition to the club

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