EFF's ebook-buyer's guide to privacy

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has pored over the terms of service for several popular ebook services and devices and come up with "An E-Book Buyer's Guide to Privacy," a handy chart that tells you what information about your reading habits you "agree" to send to these companies by simply standing in the vicinity of the device, clicking a link, or, in some cases, breathing.
In other words, your Kindle will periodically send information about you to Amazon. But exactly what information is sent? Amazon's wording -- "information related to the content on your Device and your use of it" -- reads so broadly that it appears to allow Amazon to track all content that users put on the device, regardless of whether that content is purchased from Amazon. Some security researchers have indicated that the Kindle may even be tracking its users' GPS locations. Is this the future of reading?

Thankfully, there are some e-reader options that do not connect wirelessly, nor include any privacy or "terms of use" provisions that allow monitoring of what you put on the device or how you use it. Sony's Reader, for example, may collect information about what books you buy from its own eBook Store, yet the Reader also works with books purchased from other sources as well. Even safer still, popular e-reader software programs, such as open-source FBReader, allow users to download content from a number of sources onto a multitude of devices, including one's computer or mobile, without handing over all information about their reading habits to one source, or anyone for that matter.

An E-Book Buyer's Guide to Privacy


  1. It’s vaguely worrying that Sony, of all companies, is making some of the best ebook readers at the moment. I’m sure hat in a generation or two they’ll figure out that they’re not being evil enough and ruin everything.

  2. Actually, I wish they’d written more for Sony. Sure, the reader isn’t evil, but it’s weird that their ebook store’s policies get ignored because you can use the device with books from other sources.

  3. I would love to buy a Sony reader. Unfortunately when I went to buy one, I found out they don’t sell them in New Zealand. Same with the kindle. In fact the only e-reader you can get here is an iphone app. Fuck that.

  4. Monitoring those services means targeted revenue and that’s mucho moolah.

    Me, I’m going the same was as with music. Find the de facto standard (epub, like mp3), find a reader that does lots of standards and doesn’t bollix around with crippled newspapers over the air and page-turn snooping (cool-er, squeaky but good), and just read.

  5. Funny…. it’s why I opted against the Kindle and got myself a JetBook. It’s not as if the wireless has much added value when you are in Germany. No internet functionality, and I work from home… so just as happy to download through computer.

    I used to work for Amazon – and still I resent them having the ability to delete purchased books from my online account or even my device.

    Imagine a book is pulled by court shortly after you purchased it. They can go into your device and delete sth that you have bought. Because – it isn’t really yours, is it?

  6. I like my PRS-505, but I think that the litmus test for Sony will be the 900 that’s coming out. It’s got wireless, like the Kindle, so it will face some of the same challenges that Amazon has faced.

  7. I’m confused about the criteria for a Yes or No answer to some of these. For example, the answer to “Can they keep track of book purchases?” for the Nook is “Yes, if the user enrolls in the membership loyalty program,” and for the Sony reader is “No, unless you use Sony’s ebook store.”

    It seems like the answer for both should either be a conditional yes or a conditional no, since both can only track your book purchases if you do a particular thing which you can avoid doing if you don’t want anything tracked.

    1. I’m confused like Caroline here, too. The Sony tracking purchases through their store seems just like B&N or even the Kindle. How does the Kindle track purchases from other stores? I supposed it’s possible, but seems unlikely. If I buy an ePub from randomonlinestore.com and transfer it to my hypothetical Kindle over USB, does Amazon get alerted?

      If not, then the Sony and Kindle are equal in that regard.

  8. To be fair to the Kindle, you can put content from other stores on it as well. I’ve put books from O’Reilly on my Kindle. So in that sense it isn’t different than the Sony. /K

  9. The colour coding seems a bit odd.

    generally green is ‘good’ and red is ‘bad’
    It’d make more sense to have the no answers green in this chart.

  10. Does anyone know what sort of data B&N can cull from third-party downloaded E-Pub files?

    This may be in part unanswerable since it is “unknown” whether B&N can monitor what you’re reading.

  11. I’d be interested in seeing how this compares to buying a hard copy book from Amazon.com or a brick and mortar store.

    1. Anonymous asked, “I’d be interested in seeing how this compares to buying a hard copy book from Amazon.com or a brick and mortar store.”

      Do you think if you bought a book for cash at a brick and mortar that the store manager would follow you to your home, enter your home while you are sleeping for the purposes of cataloging your entire library and then proceed to destroy any titles he did not want you to have? I believe that is called breaking and entering… yet that is exactly what Amazon has done earlier this year http://blog.oup.com/2009/07/amazon_fail2/

  12. “Some security researchers have indicated that the Kindle may even be tracking its users’ GPS locations.”

    That is to make it easy for the “Firemen” to find you… which begs the question… at what temperature does an e-reader ignite?

  13. ‘dculberson’, any usage offline may be tracked and culled by Amazon when you re-connect later via a wireless connection. Stores have an ID #… which can be tracked and reported… store to store… state to state, etc. Orwell on your e-reader yet? Sony’s TOS “states” it does not record info about content on the device.

  14. I’m starting to lose respect for EFF here. Look closely at the Nook column vs. the Sony column. Why does “Only if you enroll in the Membership loyalty program” get a “Yes, they track purchases” but “Only if you use the Sony store” get a “No”? Likewise for searches.

    For that matter, “keeps site logs” is not exactly a huge privacy violation; first, it’s easy enough to do your searching while logged out, if you care, and second, with as much traffic as they get, it’s all but impossible to pull a single user’s trail; they look at aggregated data to improve usability. *assuming they work like every other company I’ve worked for; I don’t work in B&N IT, nor do I know anyone there.) I’d be astonished if EFF and BB didn’t do the same thing.

  15. Eh, I SUPPOSE that short of thing SHOULD worry me, but meh.

    I mean, it’s not like I’m gonna have Sensitive or Embarrassing E-Books…

    What, are they gonna come for my when they find out I’ve got Harry Potter on my E-Reader?

    Yes, on one hand it’s a bit rubbish that you’re paying someone $300 for the privillage of giving them market research, but on the other hand, if Amazon, B&N, and Google KNOW what I want and will pay for, then in theory, they’ll put more effort into producing/providing the content I want.

  16. I have the Sony PRS-505 and love it. One of the very few Sony items I own. The thing supports all kinds of different formats and loads up as a mass storage device over a standard mini-usb plug for moving files back and forth (don’t even need to use their software).

    The Kindle, on the other hand, creeps me the hell out. I care less about what they are capable of doing than the fact that they won’t tell us what they agree to do and not do. These companies can steal someone’s first born because of some obscure wording in a 2000 line Eula, but can’t promise not to steal the books we buy or brick the device we pay for because of something we should be able to do.

  17. Someday I hope corporations will realize a very important thing:

    If you give customers a clear choice between paying more for a product and keeping their privacy or paying less and giving up privacy, you can make the same amount of money and everyone is happier.

    It’s the sneakiness that gets people.

    I’d also be willing to bet that most people would willingly give up some privacy to save a buck.

  18. “Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power, even if we’re doing nothing wrong at the time of surveillance… For if we are observed in all matters, we are constantly under threat of correction, judgment, criticism, even plagiarism of our own uniqueness. We become children, fettered under watchful eyes, constantly fearful that — either now or in the uncertain future — patterns we leave behind will be brought back to implicate us, by whatever authority has now become focused upon our once-private and innocent acts. We lose our individuality, because everything we do is observable and recordable… This is the loss of freedom we face when our privacy is taken from us…” – Bruce Schneier

    Source: http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2009/12/my_reaction_to.html

Comments are closed.