Saturday, October 22, 2011

Privacy on Kindle Fire's Silk Browser

On September 28, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos introduced Kindle Fire. A very interesting feature of this device is the Silk browser.

Silk is a split browser that runs off of the tablet but the fetching and compilation of the web page happens at the Amazon cloud, known as "cloud acceleration" mode. Based on predictive analytics on where the user is going to navigate next, it can prefetch web pages on the cloud thus providing extremely fast browsing experience as the data is to be fetched from one source (Amazon cloud) which can deliver the content to the tablet using the fast SPDY protocol.

On one hand it seems like the right technological step in the evolution of browsing but on the other hand it raises severe privacy concerns as Amazon acts as the proxy thus being in a unique position to predict consumer patterns.

Electronic Frontier Foundation recently released a report that eases some of these concerns. First and foremost users will be able to turn off the cloud mode easily using the browser settings which will make the Silk browser act as a normal browser thus sending the requests directly to the website without Amazon acting as the middleman. Encrypted (HTTPS) traffic will not be intercepted by Amazon and will be directly routed to the origin server. This is good news as many popular websites including Google are making SSL as the default mode. The persistent SPDY connection that Amazon uses to transfer the content from it's servers to tablet is secured and does not contain any user identifying information. The only information that is stored is URL of the resource being requested, timestamp and session token. The information is only persisted for 30 days. The use of secure SPDY information is seen as a positive development which would thwart snooping on unsecured network.

Although most of the common concerns are addressed the report did highlight some concerns. First is the storing of URLs visited, including search queries, which can sometimes contain identifying information. Second, the content of the EC2 servers' cache might in some instances might contain information that could identify an individual. Other concerns include attractiveness of collective browsing data of Amazon's users for law enforcement agencies.

EFF recommends disabling the cloud acceleration mode to users who are concerned about privacy. I think users could alternately use HTTPS browsing wherever available, like Google Search, Facebook and Twitter.

Secure Google Search

Recently Google announced that its encrypting the search queries and the corresponding results page for users signed into their Google Account. Secured search is not new, in fact Google launched a secured search service at last year, the difference is this will now become the default behavior.

Why this change? Google says that it is just following the broader industry initiative like those of Twitter and Facebook. Google explains "As search becomes an increasingly customized experience, we recognize the growing importance of protecting the personalized search results we deliver. As a result, we’re enhancing our default search experience for signed-in users." For users who are not signed into Google Account can navigate to

How will it impact the users? This will protect the users against unwanted eavesdropping particularly when using unsecured Internet connection in a public setting. Since there is an additional step of encrypting the data, the browsing experience can be slower.

Not everyone is excited about this announcement. The Search Engine Optimization (SEO) industry experts argue that this is Google's attempt to sideline them. By securing the connection, digital marketers will no longer be able to see what search results lead users to a website. This is an important metric for them to improving a website attractiveness. The information however is available to Adwords advertisers who will see this data irrespective of the connection used, giving them the edge over the SEO firms.

As an end user I am very pleased with this announcement. Hopefully it will reduce some of those annoying ads that seem to follow me based on my prior searches.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Future of Mobile Advertising

Mobile devices are everywhere today from smart phones to tablets. The media is full of success stories of how different mobile devices break sales records every time a new one arrives, latest case in point is the Apple iPhone 4S with 1 million phones pre-ordered in first couple of days. According to Gartner, worldwide mobile advertising revenue is forecast to reach $3.3 billion in 2011, more than double the $1.6 billion generated in 2010. By 2015 it will reach $20.6 billion with search and maps delivering the highest revenue, while video/audio ads seeing the fastest growth.

What makes advertising on mobile special? Mobile devices seem to be much closer and personalized to the users so mobile ad targeting can be made very effective. In addition these devices can tell the exact location and movement of the user. User searches for product and services using mobile devices tend to be more focused and immediate thereby success rate of actually making a sale would be higher.

Traditionally the most common form of ads have been simple text, images and banners. This is hardly engaging but is changing rapidly. With mobile users spending more and more time on social networking, games and other interactive apps advertisers are getting more creative in getting their attention. Applications like Shopkick use user's location to provide them with real time incentives in terms of virtual cash, offers and promotions for visiting nearby stores. Augmented reality apps like Layar using the mobile phone's camera, GPS and compass feed are delivering the technology that can be used to provide more targeted ads based on what you are viewing. Wayin uses a clever gaming platform to allow the advertisers to gauge customer behavior by pushing entertaining real time polls, again rewarding the users by virtual points to vote. These are just few of the examples.

In next 5 years it is estimated that the online searches through mobile devices will trump those through the desktop. This indicates that mobile marketing space is crucial for companies in the coming years and we will see lot more innovations in how we engage the consumers.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

How green is iPhone 4S?

Apple iPhone 4S is official and the pre-orders seem to point to a blockbuster launch. I was curious to see how eco friendly is the new iPhone 4S.

We know that in terms of outward appearance Apple iPhone 4S shares the same form factor as the iPhone 4 so packaging should be the same as iPhone 4. According to the iPhone 4 product environmental report, the packaging of the current iPhone 4 is 14% lighter and consumes 14% less volume that iPhone 3GS. This means that more units now fit in a shipping container thereby resulting in fewer CO2 emissions. However there are some differences as compared to iPhone 4, the most alarming is the estimated greenhouse gas emissions for iPhone 4S over its life cycle. According to the iPhone 4S product environmental report, the estimated greenhouse gas emissions over the product life cycle for iPhone 4S is 70kg CO2 which is considerably higher to 45kg CO2 for iPhone 4.

So what changed? The two biggest components that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions are production and customer use. In case of iPhone 4, the production accounted for 57% or roughly 26kg CO2 whereas customer use accounted for 34% or roughly 15kg of CO2. In case of iPhone 4S, the production accounted for 69% or roughly 48kg CO2 whereas customer use accounted for 23% or roughly 16kg of CO2. That means the production of an iPhone 4S is generating more emissions single handedly than those generated by all activities combined for iPhone 4. Apple being so secretive about its product development and manufacturing, it will be hard to understand the exact reasons.

In terms of restricted substances, Apple boasts of arsenic-free display glass, mercury free LED-backlit display, BFR free, PVC free and use of packaging material made of post-consumer recycled and bio materials. The power adapter outperforms the ENERGY STAR specifications. Apple offers free recycling at 95% of locations where its sold.

Energy efficiency will get a get a boost with the introduction of dual core processor A5 chip which will be able to do more with less as compared to A4 in iPhone 4. The new chip can dynamically adjust its frequency to save battery life thereby providing more talk time.

Although not directly but with the introduction of a sharper 8 megapixel camera with 1080p video Apple may reduce the consumption of the point and shoot cameras which sure will help in reducing some of the CO2 emissions. The argument is similar to downloading a song to the device than buying a CD from a store or having one shipped by mail. The cloud-based services through iCloud may additionally consolidate some personal storage thereby reducing the energy footprint further.

Measuring the environmental impact of iPhone 4S features may be difficult but in terms of measurable features like the greenhouse gas emissions Apple definitely seems to have taken a step back.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Voting can be fun

Its always interesting to know opinion of other people on entertaining topics. Various news websites post online polls to gauge user sentiments about a certain headline. How about if you have the power to create and vote on a poll and have the ability to share it with a wider audience worldwide. Wayin attempts to do just that and in real-time.

Wayin is a startup launched by Scott McNealy, founder of Sun Microsystems. Wayin is a virtual sentiment sharing app available on mobile devices like iPod, iPhone, Android. Using the app users can create a post with image and question and share it with global Wayin community. The post is available instantly for other people to vote. The posts are intended to gauge user sentiment on variety of topics ranging from entertainment to sports. It also serves as a gaming platform where people can earn points by creating and answering posts. Here are some posts:

To learn more, here is a video from Scott McNealy about the service.

Check it out, getting started is very easy.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Automating web tasks

What comes to your mind as you read the title? Many of the techies like me out there would start to imagine a tool that one can program to perform some actionable operations on a webpage. Oh my god, yet another tool for web automation, what browsers will it support, what programming language do I need to learn to use it? Is it worth looking into?

Totally, it is very interesting and fun to use. I am talking about "if this then that" or in short ifttt - pronounced lift without the l. Ifttt promises to be a simple solution to connect two web services, it's event driven programming (if this then that model) for the masses. For example, by using an easy user interface you can customize which photos from your Flickr stream appear on your Facebook wall. This could turn into a very useful and creative exercise, you can create interactions between the different web services that the original owners never even imagined.

Ifttt calls each end to end interaction a task. A task connects one channel (web services like Facebook, Twitter, Email, Phone call) trigger with another channel action. Currently more than 30 channels are available for use. Users can create a recipe to share task with other people. Currently there are more than 3800 recipes, the most popular one automatically saves Facebook photos where you are tagged in to your Dropbox folder. Task can be switched on or off and task polls for new trigger data every 15 minutes.

The service is free for now.