eBook publishers are spying on us

More and more people are enjoying the convenience of books in electronic form, whether you use dedicated devices like Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s Nook, or software solutions like Google’s reader. Indeed, Forrester Research has said that sales of eBooks has surpassed that of printed books in the first quarter of 2012. If you use these electronic solutions, the Wall Street Journal wants to remind you that companies are gathering data about you.

When reading a physical book, publishers have no idea what passages you enjoy, how long it takes you to read, or what you do once you finish the book. Now that many people are reading digital books, companies are acquiring a plethora of data that can be mined in order to gain better insights into what people want. As an example, Barnes and Noble now knows that the first thing most people do after finishing the first Hunger Games book is to go online and buy the second book.

This information, while helpful to publishers and marketers, has a negative side as well. More personal data is being collected about individual than ever before and with the advancement of data mining and big data tools, the ability to boil behaviors down into simple mathematical numbers is becoming easier and easier. Because of this, many people feel that companies should not be allowed to record book reading habits. Cindy Cohn, legal director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said, “There's a societal ideal that what you read is nobody else's business. Right now, there's no way for you to tell Amazon, I want to buy your books, but I don't want you to track what I'm reading." There’s also the legal aspect to consider. Right now, law enforcement can demand the reading history from any customer without court approval, something that EFF wants to change.

Technology does a great job giving us information at our fingertips, but it’s been at the expense of personal privacy. It remains to be seen whether convenience or privacy will win out in the long term.

Source: Wall Street Journal

Image via: Anne K. Albert

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15 Comments

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With the ability to get your hands on free eBooks (just like trading paper or hardback books) there is almost no reason to purchase an eBook. Personally since buying a Kindle several years ago and having Calibre cannot see any reason for buying books on line (again trading is a great way to get books just as it as been for music). . .

Sometimes I just think people like to find ways to scare others. Online business regardless of what there business is gathers information on all those who purchase from their web sites. If you want to remain invisible then don't buy on line (that is anything).

Pam14160 said,
Sometimes I just think people like to find ways to scare others. Online business regardless of what there business is gathers information on all those who purchase from their web sites. If you want to remain invisible then don't buy on line (that is anything).

But isn't there a difference between knowing what book you bought compared to knowing how long it took you to read it, how long you spent on each page, what passages you highlighted, what you did right before and right after reading the book, etc?

Well there IS a problem with this method, it means that although the known good content is upfront, the less well known and new publications are buried.

Hum said,
I hope they can't see me reading naked

Yes we can actually and that mole on your scrotum that you keep scratching should really be checked out and PUT SOME CLOTHES ON

Paper books >>>> digital books by miles

If you have to pack light or are in a hurry (can't go to the bookstore shortly before going on a trip) or can't find a good place to buy books, digital wins clearly though.

GS:mac

Boohoo. Why do people care, if they can recommend me better books by automatically and apersonally analyzing how I read, go ahead.

Ambroos said,
Boohoo. Why do people care, if they can recommend me better books by automatically and apersonally analyzing how I read, go ahead.

And this argument always comes up, it's basically the "I've nothing to hide" argument. Thing is, what if someone decides that Book X is now on a watch-list? Oh, you're suddenly on it!

nik louch said,

And this argument always comes up, it's basically the "I've nothing to hide" argument. Thing is, what if someone decides that Book X is now on a watch-list? Oh, you're suddenly on it!


Yeah, reminds me of rumours that people were getting in trouble for dowloading "The Anarchist's Cookbook".

Edit: Wikipedia tells me that in the UK one guy in possession of the book was arrested, but turned out to be a prankster (and also a muslim), and another guy had the book and was manufacturing Ricin, so fair play.

Edit2: I'm probs on a watch list now that I've started reading Wikipedia's Anarchism Portal

Ambroos said,
Boohoo. Why do people care, if they can recommend me better books by automatically and apersonally analyzing how I read, go ahead.

I guess it really all depends on how exactly the data is being gathered. If you are given an anonymous code number, that cannot be tracked down to an individual. I find that this is acceptable and is a good middle ground. But when you have a case where the data can be tracked down to an individual, that's when things start to get scary.

One problem that I think is also fuelling people's anxiety is the fact that it seems that Western governments are starting to become more... Desperate. When it comes to control, especially over the Internet. If someone has a digital copy of, lets say, the anarchist cookbook. And there is a law somewhere which states that this book is outlawed and possession is a legal. Then all it will take is one look in a database to see who to go and arrest for being in possession of illegal contraband.

People are worried because of the potential of abuse. Also, what if they get hacked and all that personal information is leaked? Having personal identifiable information sent to numerous different people is a bad idea in my opinion. It's all about choice. Some people would like to be a little more cautious because were concerned about the practice, while others don't really give a dam or see a problem with it and let them carry on on their merry way.

Ad Man Gamer said,

I guess it really all depends on how exactly the data is being gathered. If you are given an anonymous code number, that cannot be tracked down to an individual. I find that this is acceptable and is a good middle ground. But when you have a case where the data can be tracked down to an individual, that's when things start to get scary.

One problem that I think is also fuelling people's anxiety is the fact that it seems that Western governments are starting to become more... Desperate. When it comes to control, especially over the Internet. If someone has a digital copy of, lets say, the anarchist cookbook. And there is a law somewhere which states that this book is outlawed and possession is a legal. Then all it will take is one look in a database to see who to go and arrest for being in possession of illegal contraband.

People are worried because of the potential of abuse. Also, what if they get hacked and all that personal information is leaked? Having personal identifiable information sent to numerous different people is a bad idea in my opinion. It's all about choice. Some people would like to be a little more cautious because were concerned about the practice, while others don't really give a dam or see a problem with it and let them carry on on their merry way.


Okay, I think that's reasonable. But this raises another question for me. Do they track all content on the devices, or just what's bought through the official channels? If they only track what's sold through official channels there should really be a problem. I can't imagine Amazon offering books that are potentially illegal.

I'd also be surprised if Amazon tracks what other things I read. They could perfectly do that of course, especially since every Kindle has a GSM connection built-in. But I don't think they do.

For example, I won my Kindle in a competition and it was shipped to me from the UK. I did a full reset and deregistered it, updated it once over WiFi and then disabled any sort of wireless connection. The only books I put on it are epubs converted to .mobi with Calibre since I don't have a credit card and can't buy eBooks from the Amazon store. I can't imagine Amazon doing any tracking on me. Again, they could easily do it with Whispernet, but do you think they do?