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Topic: Is Your E-book reading up on you?

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Subject: Is Your E-book reading up on you?
Date Posted: 12/15/2010 7:45 PM ET
Member Since: 7/14/2007
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Here's an interesting little article off of NPR.  I don't know if it's a legit concern, paranoia, or what.


E-books are quickly going mainstream: They represent nearly one out of 10 trade books sold.

It's easy to imagine a near future in which paper books are the exception, not the norm. But are book lovers ready to have their reading tracked?

Most e-readers, like Amazon's Kindle, have an antenna that lets users instantly download new books. But the technology also makes it possible for the device to transmit information back to the manufacturer.

"They know how fast you read because you have to click to turn the page," says Cindy Cohn, legal director at the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation. "It knows if you skip to the end to read how it turns out."

Checking Someone's Alibi, Tracking A Device

Cohn says this kind of page-view tracking may seem innocuous, but if the company keeps the data long-term, the information could be subpoenaed to check someone's alibi, or as evidence in a lawsuit.

And it's not just what pages you read; it may also monitor where you read them. Kindles, iPads and other e-readers have geo-location abilities; using GPS or data from Wi-Fi and cell phone towers, it wouldn't be difficult for the devices to track their own locations in the physical world.

But it's hard to find out what kind of data the e-readers are sending. Most e-book companies refer all questions about this to their posted privacy policies. The policies can be hard to interpret, so Cohn and the EFF created a side-by-side comparison. It's just been updated to include Apple's iPad.

The privacy policies also leave important questions unanswered. For instance, how long do the companies store page-view data?

E-Reader Data Collection

Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Sony declined NPR's request for an interview about e-reader data. But some other companies, including Google and Apple, agreed to take a few questions by e-mail.

Here are some of the responses NPR received regarding data that's being collected by e-readers:

Google Books: Google recently started selling e-books that can be read on computers and third-party handheld devices. The company's system appears to save only the last five pages viewed to help the reader keep his place. But Google actually stores more pages than that behind the scenes for what it calls "security monitoring" ? to prevent the "abusive sharing" of books. A Google representative says these page views may be stored with a user's account for "several weeks" before being erased.

Apple's iBooks: The system used on iPads and iPhones sends information back to the company. But an Apple representative calls it "functional data." The spokesman says the data is "unidentifiable," and is used only to help Apple "understand customers and customer behavior."

?The FBReader: This free reader from Russia works on a variety of computers and also any handheld device running the Android operating system. It never captures any user data. The open-source programming code means "this fact is easy to check ? anybody can inspect [it]," says Nikolay Pultsin, one of its creators.

Amazon's Dominant Role

Amazon now dominates the e-book market, thanks to its popular Kindle e-readers. And many in the publishing business believe the company has built a vast database about the reading public, using information from the online store and reading data from the Kindle.

"[The Kindle] is just one more string in their bow," says author Scott Turow, president of the Authors Guild. "They could tell you with precision the age, the zip codes, gender and other interests of the people who bought my books. Now you can throw on top of that the fact that a certain number of them quit reading at Page 45."

A Kindle e-reader in someone's hands.
Mark Lennihan/AP

Many in the publishing industry believe Amazon has a vast database about the reading public, using information from the online store and reading data from the Kindle.

Turow believes Amazon is guarding the database closely and not selling or sharing it with other companies. Publishing consultant Brian O'Leary, the founder of Magellan Media, says that's a lost opportunity. He wishes Amazon were more open about its reading data, which could benefit the rest of the publishing industry.

"If people are buying books but not reading them, or they're quitting after a relatively short period of time reading the book, that ultimately tells you that the customer in this case is dissatisfied," O'Leary says. "Better understanding when people stop reading or stop engaging with your content would help you create better products."

A Future Of 'Social Reading'

Some in the publishing industry look forward to a new age of "social reading," in which devices allow readers to share their reactions with each other. And the author might be interested in seeing a graph of the page-turns of thousands of people as they read his latest novel.

"I wouldn't have a problem with looking, but I would probably ignore what I saw," says author Stephen King. "There's a thing about certain pitchers who all of a sudden can't find the strike zone and are walking a lot of hitters and giving up a lot of hits, and you'll hear the announcer say, 'He's steering the ball.' And writers can do that, too."

But King expects the data will continue to be collected, as book-lovers switch to networked devices.

"Ultimately, this sort of thing scares the hell out of me," King says. "But it is the way that things are."

Date Posted: 12/15/2010 8:07 PM ET
Member Since: 4/23/2007
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I only turn on the wireless when Im downloading a book. So Im not sure how they can track me with the wireless off...

Date Posted: 12/15/2010 8:12 PM ET
Member Since: 5/23/2008
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I agree Kathy.  

Date Posted: 12/15/2010 9:14 PM ET
Member Since: 8/13/2008
Posts: 13,147
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You don't think the 3G can track you? I am sure it can, just like a cell phone. Either way, it doesn't bother me. 

Date Posted: 12/15/2010 9:39 PM ET
Member Since: 11/24/2005
Posts: 5,638
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Of the 85,231 things I worry about, this would be about 85,117, plus or minus a couple. 

I get books from lots of sources. I estimate that half the books on my Kindle came from someplace other than Amazon. When I buy a book from Amazon, my recommendations immediately reflect the choice of that book. If I buy a book about a President of the US, any one of them, they start offering me any book that has ever been written about the presidency. I bought a cookbook and they offered me every cookbook in their inventory. Yet, when I bought and read a mystery from a different vendor, the recommendations from Amazon did not change to reflect that purchase and reading. I was given a book in a format that had to be converted and, being lazy, sent it to Amazon for conversion rather than doing it myself; my recommendations did not change based on the subject matter of that book. 

Your cell phone is already tracking you. So is the GPS in your car. So is your VISA card, in a different way, by your purchases. My city has cameras at busy intersections, theoretically to automatically ticket people who run red lights, but who knows what all else is tracked that way. I'm watched in every store I go into, either openly or by a camera hidden in that box of corn flakes. (Old people who dress in layers fit one of the profiles of shoplifters, so I usually have very friendly clerks offering me assistance very 3 feet.) 

Furthermore, when Amazon recently was challenged by some state to produce a list of books and other purchases made by people living in that state --- not a list of the total money involved, but the actual items -- supposedly so that state could impose sales tax retroactively (but in that case why care about the specific items), Amazon stared them down and it went away. 

I'm assuming B&N would be similar although I'm not aware of any test and I haven't looked at their recommendations for me, if they even do that. 

So while I agree that we're losing our privacy, or at least the illusion of privacy that we have enjoyed, (and don't even go there with me re Homeland Security) I'm not real concerned about my ereader ratting me out. Interesting article, though, and I thank you. 

Date Posted: 12/15/2010 10:23 PM ET
Member Since: 3/13/2009
Posts: 8,022
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I can be tracked by my cell phone already.  If I did purchase a new E-Reader with wireless capabilities, I would have it turned off most of the time, like I do my laptop, to save battery power.  So...doesn't really concern me.

Date Posted: 12/18/2010 1:54 PM ET
Member Since: 11/24/2005
Posts: 5,638
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From the Wall Street Journal: 


Few devices know more personal details about people than the smartphones in their pockets: phone numbers, current location, often the owner's real name?even a unique ID number that can never be changed or turned off.

These phones don't keep secrets. They are sharing this personal data widely and regularly, a Wall Street Journal investigation has found.

An examination of 101 popular smartphone "apps" - games and other software applications for iPhone and Android phones - showed that 56 transmitted the phone's unique device ID to other companies without users' awareness or consent. Forty-seven apps transmitted the phone's location in some way. Five sent age, gender and other personal details to outsiders.

The findings reveal the intrusive effort by online-tracking companies to gather personal data about people in order to flesh out detailed dossiers on them.

Among the apps tested, the iPhone apps transmitted more data than the apps on phones using Google Inc.'s Android operating system. Because of the test's size, it's not known if the pattern holds among the hundreds of thousands of apps available.

Apps sharing the most information included TextPlus 4, a popular iPhone app for text messaging. It sent the phone's unique ID number to eight ad companies and the phone's zip code, along with the user's age and gender, to two of them.

Both the Android and iPhone versions of Pandora, a popular music app, sent age, gender, location and phone identifiers to various ad networks. iPhone and Android versions of a game called Paper Toss - players try to throw paper wads into a trash can - each sent the phone's ID number to at least five ad companies. Grindr, an iPhone app for meeting gay men, sent gender, location and phone ID to three ad companies.

"In the world of mobile, there is no anonymity," says Michael Becker of the Mobile Marketing Association, an industry trade group. A cellphone is "always with us. It's always on."

iPhone maker Apple Inc. says it reviews each app before offering it to users. Both Apple and Google say they protect users by requiring apps to obtain permission before revealing certain kinds of information, such as location.

"We have created strong privacy protections for our customers, especially regarding location-based data," says Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr. "Privacy and trust are vitally important."

The Journal found that these rules can be skirted. One iPhone app, Pumpkin Maker (a pumpkin-carving game), transmits location to an ad network without asking permission. Apple declines to comment on whether the app violated its rules.

Smartphone users are all but powerless to limit the tracking. With few exceptions, app users can't "opt out" of phone tracking, as is possible, in limited form, on regular computers. On computers it is also possible to block or delete "cookies," which are tiny tracking files. These techniques generally don't work on cellphone apps.


And it goes on from there. Thought anyone interested in this discussion might find this article interesting. I did not have to sign in to read the full article. 

Last Edited on: 12/18/10 1:55 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 12/18/2010 1:56 PM ET
Member Since: 4/21/2008
Posts: 664
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Anything they want to track can be sent in the few minutes you do have your wireless on. But it seems like at this time it would be a burden on the Kindle software to keep up with much. Of course it does keep up with last page read, that's how you can sync up reading on different gadgets.


Date Posted: 12/18/2010 2:40 PM ET
Member Since: 10/30/2006
Posts: 8,426
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I appreciated this article and thread. Here's why:

My mom made me some new cushions for a chair and I took a picture of the chair with the Blackberry and emailed it to her with the new cushions on from my personal email off the web from the Blackberry. A few weeks later, my computer was in with my IT guy at work and guess what popped up in the jpeg section? My chair and cushions. Apparently when my Blackberry was synced with my work email, it also syncs the content so that things can be found off of either the laptop or the phone. My guy said he has seen some interesting pictures over the years that people have taken with their smartphones, having no idea a copy also heads to the work's laptop hard drive.

Now, how does this tie in? Well, up until I first read this article, I also had the Nook reader app for Blackberry downloaded on my phone. Some of the books in my B&N account are a bit naughty, certainly not ones you would want to explain to a CEO or an HR person within a business setting. I'll keep my Nook app on my Ipod and the ereader itself, but no way on anything connected with business- just in case. And I do believe I'll take in a little Christmas treat to my IT dept and have them sanitize up the laptop just in case.

Cathy A. (Cathy) - ,
Date Posted: 12/18/2010 3:08 PM ET
Member Since: 12/27/2005
Posts: 4,150
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As far as Amazon tracking Kindle books -- I just can't get excited about this. They already know I bought the book. They already know I got it for myself because they downloaded it to my Kindle that's linked to my Amazon account. It's hardly earthshaking news that I actually read the books I download. They don't need tracking to figure that out.

Even if I didn't own a Kindle, Amazon already knows a huge amount about me. They have my credit card number. They know where I live and where I work because I have packages shipped to both places. If they're paying attention, they even know that I changed jobs this year. They know what I like because I have past purchases and a wish list. They know who my friends and my relatives are because we send gifts to each others' homes and I look at their wish lists for gift ideas. They know how much I'm willing to spend on birthday and wedding gifts. They know what purchases I'm researching for the future.

I say more power to them if they can figure out how to get a huge marketing advantage out of knowing that I'm 27% of the way through my latest book and that I was reading on my PC for a while on Thursday before continuing from my Kindle on Friday. The convenience of being able to find my place automatically as I switch back and forth between devices is totally worth giving up that teeny little bit of privacy.

Date Posted: 12/18/2010 10:45 PM ET
Member Since: 7/14/2007
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I'm conflicted about it.  I buy online, etc. but I have an issue with anyone taking something of mine that they have no right to - even if it's just innocuous information.  Especially if they do it without disclosing that it will be done.

Whether I am or am not doing something that I would want others to know about, I don't live in a house with no blinds or curtains on the windows, and I don't carry my belongings in a see through purse.  There are areas where I have an expectation of privacy, and areas where I don't.  Knowing that I bought (or traded) a particular book online is one thing.  Knowing that I either skipped or lingered over the naughty bits is another.

Cathy A. (Cathy) - ,
Date Posted: 12/19/2010 10:59 AM ET
Member Since: 12/27/2005
Posts: 4,150
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The idea that Amazon collects information about how much time you spend in any one part of a book is total speculation. The entire news story is just saying "well it's possible to write software that figures out how many seconds you spent looking at locations 1037 to 1045, so maybe that's what they did." There's zero evidence of that. What we know for sure is that if you have networking turned on, then Kindle tells Amazon every so often what your current book is, what position you're at, and it uploads your bookmarks and annotations. We know it doesn't send your location information every time you turn a page, because if you switch devices, it often puts you a little way behind wherever you were on the last device. Everything about tracking where you are, what else you have on your device, how long you read it, which parts you reread, which words you looked up in the dictionary, etc. is just speculation.

I'm actually rather disappointed that EFF and NPR would report this. I did hear the original story on NPR as I was driving home one day last week, and I was shocked at how few facts there were in it. The quality of this reporting is much lower than I expect from these two organizations, both of which I respect. I haven't visited EFF's website recently, but based on this story, all they did was put some website privacy policies together and compare them. Neither they nor NPR made any effort to look at the actual data the devices are sending upstream and see what's in it. This is kind of hard with the Kindle 1, which uses cell phone networks, but they could have done it with a WiFi Kindle and a packet sniffer. That's the least I'd expect of real journalists.