The Wall Street Journal today has a report on how the e-book industry is paying close attention not only to what books people read, but how they are reading them. Do readers skim the intro, skip around in the chapters? Do they read straight through? What are readers’ favorite passage to highlight and share? This kind of data mining is happening now, even on your iPad.
Should we be worried?
The data mining that is possible with our new e-book technology is fairly astounding. Consider the following:
It takes the average reader just seven hours to read the final book in Suzanne Collins’s “Hunger Games” trilogy on the Kobo e-reader—about 57 pages an hour. Nearly 18,000 Kindle readers have highlighted the same line from the second book in the series: “Because sometimes things happen to people and they’re not equipped to deal with them.” And on Barnes & Noble’s Nook, the first thing that most readers do upon finishing the first “Hunger Games” book is to download the next one.
That’s fairly specific information, right? Do you want publishers to know that about you? How about your kids or grandkids?
Privacy is something we all take for granted when it comes to reading books. With e-books, however, that line is blurred, perhaps even erased. Some privacy experts think that is a bad thing.
“There’s a societal ideal that what you read is nobody else’s business,” says Cindy Cohn, legal director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). “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.”
The EFF, a consumer rights and privacy advocacy group, has pushed for legislation to keep e-bok sellers from passing along reading data to law enforcement without a court order, a very real concern if you’re reading e-books on sensitive topics. In fact, it might prevent people from buying books in digital form on those very topics.
Whether you buy your e-books through Apple’s own digital bookstore and iBooks, or read with a Kindle or Nook app on your iPad, chances are you’re contributing to this data. We truly have no idea whether such data is tracked on an individual or aggregate level from these apps or devices. In a society increasingly able to watch our every move, shouldn’t we have a say in what and how much is tracked?
Let us know what you think in the comments below.