View Full Version : Kindle Privacy


readingaloud
11-21-2007, 10:03 AM
I'm attracted to the Kindle, but I'm really alarmed at the idea that the device is going to report back to Amazon, apparently in considerable detail, about what I'm doing with it. Amazon already knows a lot about what books I favor (at least the ones I've bought from them), but the Kindle apparently is going to tell them how much time I spend reading them, where I put bookmarks, what notes I make--all sorts of things that I find really intrusive.

Now, I can see why Amazon wants at least some of this information. And, up to a point, I'm OK with it--if Amazon can make more nuanced recommendations based on knowing more about how and what I read, we both benefit. But the rights they're claiming are breathtakingly broad, and I think we should all be worried about what they might some day decided to do with this information that they're accumulating.

The only gesture Amazon has made in the direction of reassuring us that the information will not be abused is to say that it's subject to their privacy policy. But, if you read that policy, you'll see that it's not very limiting. It says, for example, that they're not in the business of reselling customer information, but not that they won't decide to get into that business at some point. And the privacy policy can be changed whenever Amazon wants to change it.

I think we need something more from Amazon. Let me suggest that they commit themselves, now and in the future, to some sensible limitations to how they use the information harvested from Kindle:

(1) Amazon should have the right to use and distribute statistical aggregatations of the data for any purpose, but this right should be strictly exclude any aggregations small enough to risk the identification of individual users.

(2) Amazon should have the right to use individual data any way they like for the purpose of enabling the algorithms that suggest additional purchases. But this right should specifically forbid them from making the reading history of an identifyable individual customer available to any person other than the customer himself or herself. With the approval of the customer, this information can also be displayed to a customer-service representative working on a service request initiated by that customer, and Amazon can even refuse, when necessary, to provide certain sorts of customer service to those who do not consent.

I think these two rules strike a reasonable balance between Amazon's legitimate interest and the reasonable privacy rights of the customer.

Further, I think that Amazon should structure it's databases so that these limitations will be, to the greatest possible extent, self-executing. By this I mean that I want Amazon to be able to say, truthfully, that it's simply not possible for them to honor information requests that violate these strictures.

I'd like, for example, Amazon to be able to tell the Chinese government that they simply cannot provide a list of the reading materials used by a Chinese expat living in the U.S. I don't want to rely on their assurance that they would not honor such a request, because the day may come when they have to make a choice between honoring such a request, or losing access to the huge Chinese market. It's better for all concerned, including Amazon, if they're able to say that providing this kind of information is not just against company policy, but that it simply can't be obtained. And I want Amazon to be able to give the same answer when the request comes from the U.S. Justice Department.

Similarly, I want to be assured that no rogue Amazon employee will ever be able to snoop into my affairs--not just that they'll be told not to, but that it won't be possible for them to do it.

Now, I can imagine that I've overlooked some important element here--that I'm not allowing for some reasonable use of the data, or that there are other limitations that ought to be imposed. This is meant to start a conversation about the proper rights and limitations of Amazon with respect to the data.

--Readingaloud

TadW
11-22-2007, 04:01 AM
You raise some important points, Readingalout. But I doubt Amazon will listen. They are big and they are all-present, and they use this advantage to do what they think is right. They can always claim that you were not forced to purchase the Kindle device; if you don't agree with us, don't buy it.

I think traditionally Europeans are more concerned about privacy issues than US Americans. Check out this NYTimes article (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/07/weekinreview/07dash.html?_r=1&oref=slogin):

More fundamentally, these two systems for dealing with data arise from a cultural divide over privacy itself. In broad terms, the United States looks at privacy largely as a consumer and an economic issue; in the rest of the developed world, it is regarded as a fundamental right.

In the United States, said Trevor Hughes, executive director of the International Association of Privacy Professionals, debates over the privacy of personal data generally occurs piecemeal, when a particular abuse causes harm. "In Europe, " Mr. Hughes said. "data is just protected because it is data - information about you."

As long as the Kindle is exclusive to the US, I don't think you'll ring any alarming bells.

HarryT
11-22-2007, 04:27 AM
Hmmm. If you regard your reading list as "personal information" perhaps you'd be better off sticking to paper books?

readingaloud
11-22-2007, 08:58 AM
I absolutely do regard my reading habits as personal information, and to tell you the truth I'm a bit surprised that other people don't. You are what you read.

I once ordered a book on poker from Amazon, and for some reason their recommendation engine seems to have fixated on this--every time I visit, the site tries to sell me more poker books. Now, this is a minor annoyance to me, and not very productive for them, seeing as I'm quite unlikely to buy another poker book.

But I can imagine how this might become more than an annoyance. Suppose, for example, that my name were to appear on a list of people known to be avid gamblers. And suppose I'm nominated for a (richly deserved) federal judgeship in the U.S. Those who would oppose my nomination, perhaps because I'm known to be an advocate of privacy, would love to be able to cast doubt on my character by suggesting that I have a gambling problem. (If you think this is far-fetched, I suggest you learn more about the politics of judicial appointments in the U.S.)

I do read mostly from eBooks, these days, and I'm not terribly concerned about the privacy aspects. But that's because most of the books I read I buy in paper, cut away the bindings, and scan the book for use on my iLiad. This is not, obviously, a thrifty habit, as I need to actually buy a paper book, and also have a good deal invested in the cutting tools, computer equipment, and software that allows me to do this. And it's not convenient, either, though I'm getting pretty good at it--I can iLiad-ize a paper book of average size in about 15 minutes.

The key to the success of eBooks is to make them convenient enough so that the people who aren't willing to fuss with them as much as I do (which is almost everybody) can still enjoy them. And, as the privacy problems are a little remote and the pleasures of e-reading quite apparent, eBooks may indeed by pushing us in the direction of thinking that reading lists are NOT personal information. And that, in turn, may create an environment in which we need to consider, before we read a book, whether there's anyone who might think less of us for having read that book.

I agree that Amazon is unlikely to change its tune unless it's forced to do so. Three cheers, then, for the E.U. privacy laws. I only hope that Amazon decides that it can't afford to ignore the European market indefinitely, and that they really do have to mend their ways when they come over here.

--Readingaloud

Sparrow
11-22-2007, 09:18 AM
Hmmm. If you regard your reading list as "personal information" perhaps you'd be better off sticking to paper books?

Will Amazon also log your Kindle Wikipedia searches, and what blogs you subscribe to as well?

HarryT
11-22-2007, 09:31 AM
I like the fact that Amazon knows what I buy because it gives me very helpful recommendations. Eg, I buy all the new BBC TV "Doctor Who" DVD releases and find it very helpful that Amazon e-mails me to tell me when a new one is announced.

slayda
11-22-2007, 09:36 AM
I absolutely do regard my reading habits as personal information, and to tell you the truth I'm a bit surprised that other people don't. You are what you read.

I once ordered a book on poker from Amazon, and for some reason their recommendation engine seems to have fixated on this--every time I visit, the site tries to sell me more poker books. Now, this is a minor annoyance to me, and not very productive for them, seeing as I'm quite unlikely to buy another poker book.

But I can imagine how this might become more than an annoyance. Suppose, for example, that my name were to appear on a list of people known to be avid gamblers. And suppose I'm nominated for a (richly deserved) federal judgeship in the U.S. Those who would oppose my nomination, perhaps because I'm known to be an advocate of privacy, would love to be able to cast doubt on my character by suggesting that I have a gambling problem. (If you think this is far-fetched, I suggest you learn more about the politics of judicial appointments in the U.S.)

I do read mostly from eBooks, these days, and I'm not terribly concerned about the privacy aspects. But that's because most of the books I read I buy in paper, cut away the bindings, and scan the book for use on my iLiad. This is not, obviously, a thrifty habit, as I need to actually buy a paper book, and also have a good deal invested in the cutting tools, computer equipment, and software that allows me to do this. And it's not convenient, either, though I'm getting pretty good at it--I can iLiad-ize a paper book of average size in about 15 minutes.

The key to the success of eBooks is to make them convenient enough so that the people who aren't willing to fuss with them as much as I do (which is almost everybody) can still enjoy them. And, as the privacy problems are a little remote and the pleasures of e-reading quite apparent, eBooks may indeed by pushing us in the direction of thinking that reading lists are NOT personal information. And that, in turn, may create an environment in which we need to consider, before we read a book, whether there's anyone who might think less of us for having read that book.

I agree that Amazon is unlikely to change its tune unless it's forced to do so. Three cheers, then, for the E.U. privacy laws. I only hope that Amazon decides that it can't afford to ignore the European market indefinitely, and that they really do have to mend their ways when they come over here.

--Readingaloud

If you're afraid that your "possible" gambling will cause political problems for a judgeship, shouldn't you be very concerned to admit, in a public forum, that you "habitually" violate copyrights by scanning in pbooks? :knife: I personally would not hold that against you but I would think that your political opponents would have a field day with it.

tsgreer
11-22-2007, 10:22 AM
I....I do read mostly from eBooks, these days, and I'm not terribly concerned about the privacy aspects. But that's because most of the books I read I buy in paper, cut away the bindings, and scan the book for use on my iLiad....

Dude, I'm all for supporting your right to wanting privacy. I'm not a fan of "the man" myself, but wow, you go to a LOT of trouble to be private. I guess I don't really care if people know what I read. :unafraid:

But I hear what you are saying. I just view it as a cost of convenience. Sorta like long lines at an airport--just the cost of doing business in the modern world. I can fight it, but sometimes it's easier to just pick my battles and privacy isn't one of them.

Now refusing to use the gas station down at the corner because everytime I would buy a soda there, it's lukewarm--now that's a fight worth fighting!:2thumbsup

Sparrow
11-22-2007, 10:27 AM
Data privacy is a sensitive issue in the UK, following our government's recent gaffe:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7103828.stm
"HM Revenue and Customs has lost computer discs containing the entire child benefit records, including the personal details of 25 million people."

The general advice seems to be 'trust no-one'.

Rocketime
11-22-2007, 11:34 AM
Data privacy is a sensitive issue in the UK, following our government's recent gaffe:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7103828.stm
"HM Revenue and Customs has lost computer discs containing the entire child benefit records, including the personal details of 25 million people."

The general advice seems to be 'trust no-one'.

This is the privacy issue we should be most concerned about. Stolen information is a global issue happening way to often. Somebody with my reading habits is far less dangerous to me than my personal information.

igorsk
11-22-2007, 12:08 PM
If you're afraid that your "possible" gambling will cause political problems for a judgeship, shouldn't you be very concerned to admit, in a public forum, that you "habitually" violate copyrights by scanning in pbooks? :knife: I personally would not hold that against you but I would think that your political opponents would have a field day with it.
Um, how is scanning books that you own for personal use a copyright violation?

HarryT
11-22-2007, 12:22 PM
Um, how is scanning books that you own for personal use a copyright violation?

Depends where you live. I understand that it's legal to do so in the US, but it's not in the UK. Of course, if it's strictly for personal use, nobody's going to give a damn whether you do it or not but - technically - in the UK it's not legal to scan even books that you're bought. You're restricted to copying one chapter of a book, or one article from a magazine.

igorsk
11-22-2007, 12:30 PM
Depends where you live. I understand that it's legal to do so in the US, but it's not in the UK. Of course, if it's strictly for personal use, nobody's going to give a damn whether you do it or not but - technically - in the UK it's not legal to scan even books that you're bought. You're restricted to copying one chapter of a book, or one article from a magazine.
Okay, maybe so. But readingaloud is from Switzerland and slayda is from USA, so it should be legal for both of them.

nekokami
11-22-2007, 12:33 PM
You can convert a book in 15 minutes? I'm very impressed! I wonder if you could offer a service to people with older books (not valuable, necessarily, but out of print) to convert them?

Alisa
11-22-2007, 12:56 PM
I thought about this for awhile before ordering the Kindle and I came to the conclusion that if I need a particular reading choice to be private I better buy a paper copy for cash. If I download it or pay for it with a credit card I run a risk. We have already seen how corporations cave to the government and hand over our information without warrants. We know that they already intercept a lot of online communication.

readingaloud
11-22-2007, 01:38 PM
I did spend some time to confirm that the kind of scanning I do is legal in Switzerland before I started. I agree with Harry that it's exceedingly unlikely that I'd be called to account, but I'm fussy that way.

Slayda's point is well taken. If, in fact, I did actually entertain any hope of being appointed to the federal bench, I not only wouldn't admit to scanning books, but I wouldn't be participating in this forum at all, or at least I wouldn't be expressing any opinions on matters of public policy.

And this, I think, shows the problem. People who are, or someday want to be, candidates for a high-profile public office should probably steer clear of contributing to internet fora all together--there's just too much risk that something they write will be taken out of context and used against them down the road. I think this is too bad--I don't know how many future federal judges there are reading this, but I'd like to think that they're smart and interesting people, and that the rest of us are poorer for the fact that they don't share their thoughts.

What Amazon is doing, though, has the potential to impoverish our public life even more. If all those future federal judges stop reading controversial books because they're afraid that it might look bad later in life ... Well, they're going to be worse judges.

And it's not just the future judges who need to worry. "Homeland Security" would, I suspect, deny you a visa to visit the U.S. if they know you're reading the wrong kind of literature. You might not get a job as a teacher in a public school if certain members of the school board learn that you read books with bad ideas in them--you might corrupt little children. And you won't get elected to that school board if certain people know that you read the same kind of books.

Electronic books are wonderful because they make it easier to read. But if they also make you more fearful about your reading, that benefit is purchased at a dreadful cost. And I think that, in its own self interest, Amazon should consider taking some steps to reduce that fear.

--Readingaloud

slayda
11-22-2007, 02:34 PM
Um, how is scanning books that you own for personal use a copyright violation?

Ask the lawyers, I'm just an engineer. But if you can't change format on an ebook, I would think that scanning a pbook is changing format & therefore unacceptable.

However that is not the point in politics. There it is all how their opponent spins things.

tompe
11-22-2007, 04:01 PM
Ask the lawyers, I'm just an engineer. But if you can't change format on an ebook, I would think that scanning a pbook is changing format & therefore unacceptable.


In Sweden it is alllowed to scan a book and use it and you can give the scan to friends in the same way as you can copy a CD to tape and give to a friend. The reason there is a problem with books with DRM I thought was because the Digital Millenium Copyright Act that might prevent you from breaking the DRM.

Alexander Turcic
11-22-2007, 05:13 PM
Okay, maybe so. But readingaloud is from Switzerland and slayda is from USA, so it should be legal for both of them.

Yup, and believe it or not, in Switzerland in general: downloads of copyright protected works from the Internet for personal use are legal, without restriction. You could download music, e-books, videos, and remain within the law. Please don't ask me if I think this law is just, but that's the status quo.

You can read more about it here (http://www.heise.de/english/newsticker/news/96732) and here (http://www.konsumentenschutz.ch/downloads/07_04_handlungshilfe_musikdownload.pdf) (PDF, German).

nekokami
11-22-2007, 07:41 PM
Librarians in the US have started deliberately purging records of patron loans on a frequent basis so they can't be subpoenaed for those records. I applaud them, but if I was really concerned about people knowing what I read, I think I wouldn't want to rely on this.

I'm not planning on running for public office (or attempting to be appointed to the Federal bench), but if I were, I guess I'd have to make a "freedom of speech" kind of issue out of any spin my opponents might try to put on my reading habits. But then again, part of the reason I don't plan to run for office is that I don't feel like having to defend the details of my private life. There's nothing that interesting in my private life, mind you, but I'm sure someone who wanted to could find something to spin.

Meanwhile, the FBI already has my fingerprints, because we adopted two children internationally, and I'm probably already on a watch list due to my affiliation with the Quakers and the AFSC (American Friends Service Committee-- that awful subversive organization!) Last time I traveled by air, I got searched both ways. Maybe that was just due to the last-minute changes in flights due to cancellations, maybe not. They don't tell you why they choose to search you.

None of this makes me less concerned about the lack of privacy on the Kindle -- I'm significantly less interested in having one with the situation as it's been described. But I'm not kidding myself that my life is especially private as things stand already.

Switzerland is looking better and better....

montsnmags
11-28-2007, 08:25 PM
This article on Techdirt, and its associated links, might be of interest to the person who initially raised privacy concerns and others also interested in the topic:

http://techdirt.com/articles/20071128/160658.shtml
"Feds Rejected In Attempt To Get Access To Customer Records At Amazon"

Cheers,
Marc

azog
11-28-2007, 08:29 PM
Why all this concern? As far as I can tell, you can use the Kindle completely offline. Just turn off the wireless. You can by books via the website in the "traditional manner", download them to your PC, hook up the USB cable, and copy books. Seems like the only time you actually need to have the wireless on is during the initial setup, where everything is personalized automatically. And at that early point, there's nothing to really worry about.

readingaloud
11-30-2007, 10:09 AM
I do take some comfort from learning that Amazon has sometimes acted to protect customer privacy when they get subpoenas. I wish, however, that the would make that policy explicit, and stronger. How about adding something like this to their privacy policy:

Amazon will not disclose information relating to the titles or content of the items purchased by our customers, or relating to their reading, listening, or viewing habits, except as required by a lawful order from a court of competent jurisdiction. Amazon also undertakes to challenge any such order to the extent that we think there is reasonable doubt as to the lawfulness of the order. In addition, if served with a subpoena or other request for such information, Amazon will, to the extent permitted by law, promptly inform the customer involved.

nekokami
11-30-2007, 10:26 AM
Since they retain the right to change the privacy policy any time they like, I don't think this is enough. They need to have a contract with users that allows users some recourse (e.g. a partial refund or something) if they change the policy to one the users don't like.

Penforhire
11-30-2007, 11:51 AM
I think this a valid concern. Sure you can turn off the Whispernet access but not if you want to wirelessly download books, news, or blogs.

I'm being data-mined enough as it is.

All you guys with cracked-DRM e-books on your Kindle have to watch your country's laws carefully. The book publisher equivalent of the RIAA could one day use your Kindle's contents against you! :)

Gilbamesh
04-09-2012, 09:18 AM
Sorry about unearthing an apparently long since retired thread, but hope is hard to die.

A book addict since over half-a-century, it still irritates me when someone tries to peek over my shoulder while I'm reading: the relationship between the book and myself is of a very private nature.

Why? Hell if I know, it probably sinks its roots in my remote childhood when my parents used to verify that I only read 'approved' material, anything else being forbidden, excommunicated and punished accordingly as a matter of principle.

Be what it be, I've recently become the happy (just a figure of speech) owner of a brand new Kindle and now I must either make sure that Amazon don't peek over my shoulder, or that the new gadget gets buried as deep as possible in the garden.

Quite obviously I've been very careful not to activate its wireless connection, not to mention creating an Amazon account; but that's just a software option that can be circumvented in 1001 fancy ways - think e.g. of a trojan and of what it can turn on in your computer without you even suspecting it.

My question: where can I look for a reasonable certainty that the confounded thing won't sneakily call home and blab about my private business right under my nose?

The one who comes up with a good suggestion wins an excellent Bavarian beer :-)

WT Sharpe
04-09-2012, 11:52 AM
As long as you keep the 3G and wifi turned off, you should be safe. Amazon does collect a mountain of information on its users, but it's all, as far as I can tell, in order to better tailor their sales pitches to each particular customer. Since just about every vendor does the same, I don't worry too much about them. I can't promise you that someone working for any given vendor won't misuse any personal information that they come across, but the chances are so slim, I believe, that it's not worth laying awake nights thinking about.

My Kindle wireless is always connected. ;)

HarryT
04-09-2012, 11:58 AM
The data traffic between the Kindle and Amazon's servers has been endlessly analysed. The Kindle does NOT send to Amazon any information about what you have on your Kindle, or what you are currently reading.

If this really concerns you, there are basically two alternatives:

1. Get a reading device with no internet connectivity.

2. The old standby:

http://www.pollsb.com/photos/60/303180-good_tin_foil_hat.jpg

ProfCrash
04-09-2012, 03:31 PM
I would turn your Kindle on once to register it. This activates Collections and some other cool features. After that, turn it off the WIFi and never reactivate it. That way no data is sent back to Amazon.

You will have to sideload all of your books. You will need to learn what sites sell DRM Free Mobi books so you can read them on your Kindle. You may want to learn how to remove DRM so that you can buy e-books from stores with DRM (like Amazon) and then side load them to your Kindle.

Overall, life is easier if you are willing to use the WiFi and buy books from Amazon. It is amazingly convienent being able to download books from Amazon or your Archive in a matter of seconds. Yes, Amazon will have a record of your purchases, just like any store that you buy from these days.

I have yet to hear of anyone being arrested because they had inappropriate material on their Kindle (or any e-reader) or because they had downloaded a bunch of strange books that caused the government of any country to go nuts.

Do what you are comfortable doing but I would say use the WiFi and enjoy your device to its fullest.

Gilbamesh
04-13-2012, 03:03 AM
Thanks everybody!

Yes, perhaps I'm a little paranoid about privacy - yet I come from a remote past when even opening a letter addressed to someone else was considered a criminal action, thus cannot help feeling uncomfortable with Google reading my E-mails, the police monitoring my IP address, eBay keeping track of my purchases, and so on.

Because of that I think I'll keep the WiFi carefully shut down in spite of your kind reassuring words. I've downloaded and installed a nice, free, open-source calibre that seems to be able to replace Amazon's website in almost all positive respects (creating collections, tiding up books, uploading texts etc.), but all within one's computer, net cable unplugged :)

As far as lightning-fast book purchasing is concerned: it takes me at least a week to read and appreciate a good book without cutting corners, thus getting it in a matter of seconds or of quarters-of-an-hour doesn't really make a difference:book2:

About that beer, it's yours. When you plan to be near Munich just give me a ring :thumbsup: