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Is Your Kindle Spying on You?

It might be reading you while you're reading it


Is Your Kindle Spying on You?
Photo: Alexander Nicholson / Getty

Nothing beats curling up on the couch with your Kindle and reading the latest best seller from your favorite author. Most of us think of reading a book as a fairly private experience, but what if it wasn't?

Would it make you uncomfortable if you found out someone was checking up on your reading habits and virtually watching your every page turn? Your Kindle (or other eReader) may be capturing data on what you read, how you read it, and more. It may also be sending your reading data to corporate servers for market research and other purposes.

So, what kind of thingsa can an eReader such as a Kindle potentially learn about you? Here are some examples of the information you might be providing without even knowing it:

It can determine how fast you read

eReaders are said to have the capability to provide data such as how long it took you to read a page by calculating time between page turns and using other factors. This can be carried out to pages per hour, and can also tell them how long it took you to read an entire book.

It may track what parts of a book you skip over and which parts you read multiple times

Did you skip the introduction chapter of a book? Did you skip several chapters to get to the juicy parts of a novel? How about going back to a chapter to re-read a passage to see if you missed something? On some eReaders, this data may be harvested and used to see if readers are getting bored with a book, or to see if they like certain parts more than others, or had trouble understanding a passage.

It can record notes you make on a page, passages you highlight or underline, and your bookmarks

Did you mark up an eBook and write notes in its margins? While you might think that this data is private, some eBook providers think it's fair game to collect your notes. According to the Wall Street Journal: "Kindle users sign an agreement granting the company permission to store information from the device—including the last page you've read, plus your bookmarks, highlights, notes and annotations—in its data servers."

It knows your buying habits and which genres you read

Since readers must purchase Kindle books through Amazon's store, Amazon knows what you are buying and can make suggestions based on your purchases and browsing habits. Why might this information be useful? For marketing purposes it helps categorize you as a consumer which helps book sellers with their targeted marketing strategies. It could also help a lawyer in a trial paint a picture of you as a deeply disturbed person who enjoyed reading violent crime novels and books on growing illicit plants (if those books happen to be in your reading / purchase history).

Why should you care about keeping your reading data private?

I don't think that it's anyone's business what I read, how fast I read it, nor do I think they should have access to the notations I make on an eBook page. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is of a similar mindset, and have been proponents of eBook privacy legislation.

Who can gain access to the non-aggregated reading information that is collected?

The EFF publishes an eBook Buyer's Guide to Privacy that shows how E-readers stack up in terms of their privacy and data collection policies. According to the EFF's site, it appears that Amazon can share your e-reader data with law enforcement, civil litigants, as well as within other Amazon products.

Can I request that my reading information be deleted?

While you can change and update information in your Amazon account profile, there doesn't appear to be a way to have Amazon delete your Kindle-related data. As new privacy laws are enacted in the future, perhaps this will change, until then, be careful what you write in your book annotations.

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