Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Data mining and the brave new world of book publishing

I used to believe I was a bit weird when I would find myself siding with conspiracy theorists about the Kennedy assassinations. Reading Aline’s post of yesterday and then doing a bit of research made me feel far more normal – and far more disgusted.

What Amazon is doing with the Kindle, to my mind, is absolutely unconscionable. In this age of hyper-marketing, corporations seem to thing that there are no limits to what kind or amount of information they can collect. Having looked at Amazon’s privacy agreement for the Kindle, I will certainly never buy one.

Do you own a Kindle and did you even skim the privacy policy that you had to agreed to when you bought it? Have you ever read any software agreement?

Being that I’m prone to conspiracy theories in the first place, I have read many licensing agreements for the large software programs I have to use in my daily design work. First off, would you be surprised to know that you likely don’t even own that program you just paid $1500 for? That’s correct. If they wanted to (and I suppose they’d have to have a good reason to do it), the manufacturer could come and take your software away. You’re only licensing it.

The length and complexity of software “agreements” makes it unlikely that most people will bother reading them carefully. We just want to get on with our purchase and get the darn thing installed and running. Heck with the fine print!

In the case of Amazon and Kindle, you’re agreeing to a lot of things, and if you want to use their product, you have to like it or lump it. I haven’t looked at the other e-readers on the market, but I’ll bet they’re doing similar things.

I agree with Aline that a bit of the tracking Amazon is doing through their gadget is understandable, but the fact that they’re basically looking over your shoulder as you’re reading, well, it totally creeps me out, and is way past the boundaries of anything reasonable. In using your Kindle, you’re basically giving Amazon carte blanche to find out way more than I feel they need to. Is that really what you want?

There is another side to this dark coin: they say they value your privacy, but do they really? Their policy is not to share the data they collect. They say they’ll use it to make your Kindle experience better for you. Why then do they need to know what notes your making, how often you read the book, and how quickly? Information is valuable as a commodity. Do we trust these companies not to sell it to interested parties?

If you want to read more on the subject, then click on this article from The Guardian. Be prepared to be frightened.

As far as I’m concerned, convenience be damned. I’m sticking to paper books until this sort of thing stops. I will not agree to more snooping in my life (there’s already more than enough of that through my computer, thank you very much) when I sit down to read a book. The only way we can make Amazon stop is if we complain loudly and strongly.

And as if this weren’t bad enough, use Google to check out what’s going on with the browser on the new Kindle Fire tablet. But be aware that Google is as aggressive as Amazon in their data mining.

Big Browser, anyone?


Melodie Campbell said...

Thank you for this post, Rick. I am indeed shocked. When I hear things like this, I'm embarrassed to admit I'm a career marketer. It seems many companies have left ethics behind at the door.

Vicki Delany said...

I'm rather surprised at your attack on Kindle. Natural I suppose because we're all readers. But really, you'd be naive to think everyone isn't doing it. Try browsing vactation destinations and then see how many times your choice pops up as an ad on a random blog page. I for one don't participate in 'rewards points' or 'frequent user' cards. What do people think those are for if not data mining? The list goes on. Facebook itself is collecting every political view you have.

Rick Blechta said...

It's one thing to be browsing someplace, Vicki, which could be called "shopping", if you please. It's another thing to be checking exactly how you're using something you've purchased, because that purchase is sending feedback directly to the vendor.

Another point I'd like to make is the fact that most people don't know that Amazon is doing this (their own fault, admittedly, for not carefully reading the fine print). Would everyone be happily purchasing and reading books on Kindle once they're aware just how much information they're giving away? I'm certainly not.

Facebook is another matter, as are reward points, etc. You can opt out of using those things. You’re paying for a service. And the excuse "everyone is doing it" is no excuse at all, as far as I’m concerned.

Would you like it if your TV is reporting what you’re watching, or your phone is noting who you’re talking to, for how long, and what about. Come to think of it, somebody could well be listening in...

I’m against all of this. They have no right to this information if I don’t choose to give them permission. I never did. Maybe it’s time people started saying, “Enough!” We could start with Amazon. Check out what their new browser is capable of doing if you want to be brought up short.

j welling said...

When I get back to Canada, I'll buy you a coffee, Rick. We can talk about Blank Reg and his cousins.

Aline Templeton said...

It's certainly all around us, Vicki. I was disconcerted some years ago when a librarian told me i'd had the book I was borrowing before. Yup, there's a record of what you read in the library as well. Come the revolution, some of us may have problems!