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Old 11-21-2007, 10:03 AM   #1
readingaloud
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Kindle Privacy

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
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Old 11-22-2007, 04:01 AM   #2
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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:

Quote:
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.
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Old 11-22-2007, 04:27 AM   #3
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Hmmm. If you regard your reading list as "personal information" perhaps you'd be better off sticking to paper books?
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Old 11-22-2007, 08:58 AM   #4
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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
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Old 11-22-2007, 09:18 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
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?
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Old 11-22-2007, 09:31 AM   #6
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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.
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Old 11-22-2007, 09:36 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by readingaloud View Post
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? I personally would not hold that against you but I would think that your political opponents would have a field day with it.
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Old 11-22-2007, 10:22 AM   #8
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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.

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!
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Old 11-22-2007, 10:27 AM   #9
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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'.
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Old 11-22-2007, 11:34 AM   #10
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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.
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Old 11-22-2007, 12:08 PM   #11
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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? 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?
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Old 11-22-2007, 12:22 PM   #12
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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.
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Old 11-22-2007, 12:30 PM   #13
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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.
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Old 11-22-2007, 12:33 PM   #14
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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?
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Old 11-22-2007, 12:56 PM   #15
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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.

Last edited by Alisa; 11-22-2007 at 01:55 PM.
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