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Published on October 2nd, 2011 | by Richard Cartwright

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Why is the UK being left out of the Kindle Fire and Touch?

A few days ago Jeff Bezos unveiled three new additions to the Kindle family. However, it looks like two of them will not get to visit England’s green and pleasant land, not to mention anywhere else in the UK or the European Union any time soon.  Amazon is not saying why only the new entry level Kindle is getting a UK debut, but the reasons seem to be due to a mix of commercial and governmental roadblocks centering around the Silk browser accelerator, the “X-Ray” feature in the reader application, and content rights.

Two of the key attractions of the Kindle Fire are the ability to consume Amazon instant video and movies and the Silk browser which provides for a cloud based accelerated browser experience.   Right now Amazon has an extensive library of streaming movies and television shows that can only be streamed in the US.  Until such time as Amazon is able to license worldwide rights, the Fire loses its allure as a content consumption device.

The main barrier to a UK and EU release of the Fire is the superfast Silk web browser.  Amazon makes Silk work in part by acting as a trusted “middleman” with browser information taking web site data and optimizing it for the Fire. In fact, you will actually be getting a cached version of the web content you request hosted from Amazon’s servers that has been optimized for the Silk browser.  A necessary part of this process has to be the retention for some period of time of individual browser data.  That period of time is specified in Amazon’s terms of use as thirty days for web data.

Anyone who uses Amazon regularly should not be surprised that the company keeps information on its users, as the customer suggestions have to come from somewhere.   The issue here is a conflict between the European Union’s privacy regulations and the United States anti-terrorist inspired Patriot Act. Even if Amazon did its best to insure that any data derived from any EU Kindle Fire resided on EU based servers, as a US company, Amazon would be obligated to turn over any information that could be traced from an EU tablet to a US data center. Apparently Amazon is not willing to risk possible EU sanctions for privacy breaches so, for now at least, the Silk browser will keep the Fire firmly on American shores

What about the Amazon Touch? The situation here is not nearly as clear, but in all likelihood has to do with the “X-Ray” feature.  When reading on the Kindle Touch, one can, according to Amazon;

“… explore the “bones of the book.” With a single tap, readers can see all the passages across a book that mention ideas, fictional characters, historical figures, places or topics that interest them, as well as more detailed descriptions from Wikipedia and Shelfari, Amazon’s community-powered encyclopedia for book lovers. 

Amazon built X-Ray using its expertise in language processing and machine learning, access to significant storage and computing resources with Amazon S3 and EC2, and a deep library of book and character information. The vision is to have every important phrase in every book. “

The fact that Amazon uses its S3 and EC2 storage and processing  resources coupled with the policy of Amazon to retain notes and marks for Kindle books probably has similar privacy issues as Silk does. The question does remain as to why a UK/EU version of the Touch without the x-ray feature can’t be sold. Again, this could be a digital rights issue, as American copyright law has a “fair use” exemption that can allow for access to other literary resources that is unavailable in the United Kingdom.

Amazon could make all this clear, but for right now continues to remain mum.


About the Author

Richard Cartwright is the American correspondent for Mighty Gadget (because let's face it-it's pretty bloody late in London when a lot of the good gadget announcements are made in the US) He is a OG (original Geek) who has been interested in gadgets before most of his readers were born.



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