Thursday, July 05, 2012

Kindle & Nook App Users: You Are Being Watched

Here's something I'm willing to bet that very few Kindle and Nook owners (and users of those applications on smart phones, iPads, and PCs) realize.  Amazon and Barnes & Noble are spying on you, guys - what you read, how long it takes you to read it, how you search for new books, how far you get on a book before giving up on it...they know it all, and much more.

According to the Wall Street Journal, "you do not read an e-reader, e-reader reads you." Some of what the companies learn is not particularly surprising.
Barnes & Noble has determined, through analyzing Nook data, that nonfiction books tend to be read in fits and starts, while novels are generally read straight through, and that nonfiction books, particularly long ones, tend to get dropped earlier. Science-fiction, romance and crime-fiction fans often read more books more quickly than readers of literary fiction do, and finish most of the books they start. Readers of literary fiction quit books more often and tend skip around between books.
Doesn't common sense say that "easier books" like crime fiction, romance, and much science fiction are going to be read more quickly and are more likely to be read to completion?  Frankly, compared to the more literary works of fiction they require less thought on the reader's part and can be gotten through in large, less fatiguing, chunks.  Frankly, I believe that readers of literary fiction are more adventurous readers (and are willing to take more chances on books choices) than readers of romance, thrillers, and other types of books that tend to be written to a standard formula.  That tendency leads, naturally, to more false starts and abandonment of reading choices on their parts.

Amazon, in particular, has an advantage in this field—it's both a retailer and a publisher, which puts the company in a unique position to use the data it gathers on its customers' reading habits. It's no secret that Amazon and other digital book retailers track and store consumer information detailing what books are purchased and read. Kindle users sign an agreement granting the company permission to store information from the device—including the last page you've read, plus your bookmarks, highlights, notes and annotations—in its data servers.
My initial gut reaction is to ask why we, as readers, allow an invasion of privacy of this magnitude?  Is it simply that most readers are unaware that this is happening (I certainly was)?  Why do we expect public libraries to keep this very same information private - an obligation taken very seriously by professional librarians everywhere?

EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) has pressed for legislation to prevent digital book retailers from handing over information about individuals' reading habits as evidence to law enforcement agencies without a court's approval. Earlier this year, California instituted the "reader privacy act," which makes it more difficult for law-enforcement groups to gain access to consumers' digital reading records. Under the new law, agencies must get a court order before they can require digital booksellers to turn over information revealing which books their customers have browsed, purchased, read and underlined. The American Civil Liberties Union and EFF, which partnered with Google and other organizations to push for the legislation, are now seeking to enact similar laws in other states. 
Do you really want someone to track every single book you ever begin to read?  I do not.  One more reason that I have cut way back on the number of e-books I read even while I am reading more books than ever before.


  1. probably also why YA is such a huge community and literary bloggers are in the minority and less popular!

  2. Oh, but I've been getting some really good ones from Net Galley recently!

  3. This is the way of the future, I'm afraid. All of our internet use is tracked too and the government tracks what library books we check out so it seems that big brother is watching what we do. Scary!

  4. My complaint about NetGalley, Jenclair, is that the files corrupt within a couple of months of downloading them. Seems the least a publisher could do was give a reviewer a complete file...especially of an ebook when there's no mailing cost involved. It irks me every time - and a couple of them went dead before I could write the review, making them unavailable for me to check facts.

  5. Kathleen, I think the government has to subpoena library records on a case-by-case least it was that way last time I heard anything about all of this.

    I don't like the government (or anyone else) knowing what I read in the privacy of my own home unless I choose to share that information. What if some joker in the government decides I'm reading something threatening to the Federal government?

  6. I think Amazon only stores information concerning books bought on their website. Is it not?

  7. Raquel, I do hope so, but I don't know that for certain. It would be easy enough for Amazon to track anything that is backed up to the "cloud." That makes me believe that they are just as likely to be tracking everything...even books not purchased through them but I don't completely understand the technology involved and might be wrong.