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Congressman raises privacy concerns over Amazon Silk

One of the key features of Amazon's new Kindle Fire tablet is the Silk browser, which is already causing controversy on its own. Rep. Ed Markey has some questions for Jeff Bezos.

Amazon's anticipated tablet, the Kindle Fire, is still a few weeks away from release, and it's raising legal issues and questions in every direction.

Today the Fire's flames are being fanned by the Silk browser, which on the front end is touted as a much faster browser using cheaper hardware because all Web activity is filtered through Amazon's cloud-based Amazon Web Services.

But that has been a hot topic in the last few weeks because, essentially, the Silk Web browser can track everything a user does on the Web and keeps a permanent record.

Now Congress is getting involved, and this has already turned into a bipartisan issue. On Friday, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) penned and issued a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos explicitly detailing his concerns with Silk. ?Specifically, Markey is asking for Amazon to provide answers to the following questions (and likely more) by Friday, November 4: •What information does Amazon plan to collect about users of the Kindle Fire?
•How does Amazon intend to use this information? •Does Amazon plan to sell, rent or otherwise make available this customer information to outside companies? If yes, to which firms?
•How will Amazon convey its privacy policy to Fire and Silk users? Please provide Amazon's privacy policy covering the Kindle Fire, if available.
•If Amazon plans to collect information about its users' Internet browsing habits, will customers be able to affirmatively opt in to participate in the data sharing program?

At least Markey didn't mince words here. These are certainly questions that likely many consumers are pondering. Items like what Amazon will do with this data and the points about customers opting in vs. auto opt-in really speak to consumer concerns these days.

Amazon has attempted to sway concerns already on its FAQ section, arguing that Silk "does not diminish your ability to control your browsing choices. For example, you will be able to clear your browsing cache/history and cookies."

That's a start, but I think we'd all like to hear Bezos respond to Markey with clearer answers.

Amazon was slapped with a patent infringement claim lawsuit over the Kindle Fire earlier this week. That case is causing controversy considering that some of the patents have become the established norm for tablets in general (and not just the Kindle Fire), including the act of tapping an icon on the tablet's touch-sensitive display to perform an action.

UPDATE: Amazon reminded us that users can completely turn off the split-browsing mode and use Amazon Silk like a conventional Web browser.

This story was originally posted as "Amazon Silk privacy concerns causes controversy in Congress" on ZDNet's Between the Lines.