In an awesome, eye-opening blog post, self-professed Internet addict Dave Pell writes about digital books and the notion of “collaborative” reading. The post was inspired by Twitter CEO Evan Williams’ assertion that “The future of book reading is clearly collaborative” and also Kindle’s new sharing feature: with Recently Heavily Highlighted Passages, you can see what Kindle readers have been “highlighting” the most. Pell writes:
Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy to discuss a novel with a book club or listen to a critic give his take on NPR. But I don’t want that external information delivered at the time of my reading. That’s one of the few things I still do alone. Reading a book provides a unique, important (and yes, private) interaction between author and reader, between you and the art. I don’t want to go to bed and curl up with a good book only to find that I am being spooned by a few million folks I’ve never met.
In her paper “Protecting Reader Privacy in Digital Books” (available as a six-page PDF download), Jennifer Lynch takes this idea one step further: how does our ability to share what we read digitally affect our freedom and privacy? As she states, “What you choose to read says a lot about who you are, what you value, and what you believe.” What you read not only reflects your personality, but it can also illustrate your core values.
Over the years, our judicial system has taken many steps to ensure that public libraries protect the reader’s privacy. Libraries store very little information about their patrons, and “In many states, violating a public library reading record statute is a misdemeanor criminal violation”. Even the American Library Association (ALA) Policy Manual has guidelines about protecting the privacy and indentities of library patrons, underscoring the fact that a reader’s privacy is essential to a healthy democracy.
No one wants someone reading over his or her shoulder.
Digital book providers, on the other hand, track a plethora of information about readers: books the individual has purchased, books the individual plans to read, how many times the individual has read a book, how many times the individual has read a specific page, what passages the reader has marked as important, etc. On one hand, this information could help digital book providers customize and improve the customer experience. On the other hand, it puts a lot of power in the book providers’ hands.
If you’re curious about how Google Books and Amazon track reader information, download Jennifer’s paper; she goes into great detail. People who read digital books should know how their information is being used and then make informed decisions about whether or not they feel comfortable with sharing so much about their reading habits. If the consumers are aware of the consequences, they can push service providers to make changes and strengthen their privacy guidelines.
(Photo by jbracken)