Tips & more

Ebooks: convenience vs privacy (chart)

Many readers turn to ebooks mainly because digital books are extremely convenient to read. The ability to sync the content between user’s all devices is one of the most convincing features.

On the other hand, if you end up reading a book on a tablet in a certain location, and open on your e-reader exactly in the same location, it means that a piece of data was accessed by the digital content provider. To be precise: not only accessed, but also stored.

We’re concerned about privacy on Facebook, but we should also be concerned about privacy when it comes to ebooks.

Social networks are meant to share info. Books are different. Books are meant to be a personal pleasure. It’s not exactly what’s happening when we switch to digital reading.

Since 2009 Electronic Frontier Foundation tracks privacy policies of major ebookstores, including Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google Ebooks, Sony, Overdrive, Indiebound, Internet Archive, and Adobe Content Server.

While syncing the latest-read location seems to be justified, some other areas raise the question: why do they need this information? Some data won’t be directly used to improve the user’s experience. For instance, why do ebookstores monitor what you read and how you’re reading?

The chart below answers the following questions:

  • Can they keep track of searches for books?
  • Can they monitor what you’re reading and how you’re reading it after purchase and link that information back to you? Can they do that when the e-book is obtained elsewhere?
  • What compatibility does the device have with books not purchased from an associated eBook store?
  • Do they keep a record of book purchases? Can they track book purchases or acquisitions made from other sources?
  • With whom can they share the information collected in non-aggregated form?
  • Do they have mechanisms for customers to access, correct, or delete the information?
  • Can they share information outside the company without the customer’s consent?

Please make sure to visit the EFF blog post for more details. The chart was prepared by Cindy Cohn and Parker Higgins, with the help from Hannah Bloch-Wehba.

Electronic Frontier Foundation: E-reader privacy chart

E Reader Privacy Chart - 2012 Edition - Electronic Frontier Foundation

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