Are Airport Scanners Making Kindle Carrying Risky?

This time of year travel is anything but rare and chances are good that at some point a delay will have you sitting in an airport with nothing to do.  The obvious solution is to bring your Kindle along for the ride.  Reading is always a pleasant way to kill time, of course.  The problem comes in deciding whether or not this is safe to do.

There have been numerous reports of airport security causing Kindle screen failure in the past and it continues to be an issue.  Amazon denies that the usual sort of security scanners employed in airports have any chance of harming their eReaders.  Even leaving aside my own personal anecdotes involving extensive holiday travel having failed to do anything to a Kindle, they’re obviously correct.  The radiation being used in these scanners is simply far too weak to manage to do any real harm to E INK displays, even over the course of repeated scane.

Where it gets tricky is in the associated mechanisms.  Naturally, to speed up the processing, belts are employed to feed baggage through scanners.  We’ve all seen or used them from time to time.  These long rubber belts, constantly in motion, have the potential to build up a significant charge.  Some estimates have indicated it could easily reach or exceed 100 volts.  In instances where this discharges through a Kindle, of course it is going to freeze the E INK permanently in place.  Of course, that sort of thing isn’t particularly good for just about any piece of electronics.

While it seems unlikely that this phenomenon alone is sufficient to account for all of the reports of travel damage, keep in mind that it is travel damage.  Tight bags, rough handling, and not infrequent jostling in crowds and tightly packed planes inevitably takes its toll.  Given that the Kindle line makes use of display technology that is notoriously brittle, it is to be expected to some extent.

In order to ensure safety for your favorite Kindle, especially the eReader models since the Kindle Fire has proven extremely resilient, there are a few things you can do.  The simplest is packing carefully.  Make sure that your Kindle is in a good protective case or at least not in a position to be supporting any weight or accepting any major pressure.  This won’t be particularly helpful if you are one of the rare cases of airport scanner damage, but for general hits it makes all the difference.

If you are particularly concerned about the scanner, keep in mind that the damage likely to be the result of static discharge.  They make cheap protective products for help with that.  Many people employ antistatic bags to protect data storage devices in transit and they should work just as well for the Kindle.

The overwhelming majority of the time, you have nothing to be worried about.  What people remember are the rare exceptions and that tends to make for some rumors being blown out of proportion.  Fortunately, even if you should end up with problems all reports indicate that Amazon has an unofficial policy of replacing airport-damaged eReaders.  Enjoy your travel, bring your Kindle, and good luck with your travel this holiday season.

Kindle Fire’s Silk Browser Raises Security Concerns

Amazon’s Kindle Fire does a few things that surprised people when it was announced a couple weeks ago, but probably nothing shocked people more than the inclusion of the new Amazon Silk internet browser.  The idea behind it is sound, allowing most of the work for web browsing to be done in the cloud so that the user experiences vastly reduced loading times and a generally superior browsing experience.  Obviously, however, the fact that the processing is being done by external computers raises some concerns in terms of privacy that need to be addressed.

Some have worried that Amazon would use customers’ browsing habits to customize sales pitches.  Others are concerned that once acquired this user data becomes a commodity that Amazon can hope to turn into profit.  Enterprise IT is definitely concerned with the presence of the Kindle Fire in the workplace this November for a variety of reasons.  Even Congress has gotten involved, making the assumption that Amazon would be collecting as much data as humanly possible about everything going through their servers.  In response to these concerns, Amazon has released some information to the Electronic Frontier Foundation regarding what data will be collected and how it will be used by the company.

The biggest concern for many people, especially those focused on their online privacy, is being forced to use the Amazon Cloud acceleration.  Worry no more: You CAN turn it off at any time.  In addition to opting-out by the user, anything encrypted will be routed from your Kindle Fire directly to the origin server.  This means that anything going on over HTTPS will remain totally off limits for Amazon by design.

In terms of what data is being stored, each session will be logged individually for 30 days.  This log will contain nothing more than requested URLs and timestamps.  In no way will names or user accounts be connected to these logs, nor can they be according to Amazon representatives.  Data may in some instances be even more secure than it would otherwise be since the connection to Amazon’s servers is always going to be encrypted regardless of what you are doing.

Is there still some reason to be concerned?  Of course.  Mostly, however, it requires far fetched scenarios.  Since each session is logged individually, it is unlikely that search history could be used to identify the user from logs.  That doesn’t mean impossible.  Amazon will also suddenly have access to a vast amount of information about browsing habits in general which could be used to inform future business moves.  There is even the chance that law enforcement will find ways to coerce the company to provide cached information for one reason or another.  In terms of individual user safety, however, it seems that things are looking pretty good.  Being singled out is all but impossible.

If you are still concerned, just remember that you can tell your Kindle Fire not to use this feature.  Even without it on, the Silk browser is reported to deliver a speedy experience.  It’s always better to be aware of what information you are letting out about your habits on the internet, however mundane those may be.  Overall, though, Amazon seems to have gone out of their way to avoid intruding on your privacy.