Amazon Spying On Your Ebook Highlighting

from the who-owns-what-now? dept

There have already been plenty of questions over who "owns" the ebooks you've bought, with stories of remotely deactivated books and remotely deactivated features -- neither of which happens when you have a real physical book. But there are also other concerns opened up by newly activated features. Apparently one new feature -- sent in by a few concerned readers -- is that Amazon will now remotely upload and store the user notes and highlights you take on your Kindle, which it then compiles into "popular highlights."

I have no doubt that the feature provides some interesting data, but it's not clear that users realize their highlighting and notes are being stored and used that way. Amazon basically says there's no big privacy deal here, because the data is always aggregated. But it sounds like many users don't realize this is happening at all. Amazon says people can find out they added this feature by reading "forum posts and help pages" -- but it's not clear how many people actually do read those things. While I'm sure many people are fine with this, others might not be. And it once again highlights a key concern in that the "features" of your "book" can change over time. Your highlighting may have been yours in the past, but suddenly it becomes Amazon's with little notice.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 11th, 2010 @ 2:57pm

    google did something similar and someone was able to find out someone elses address based on their search. Amazon needs to make sure these notes themselves don't contain personal information, not to mention sending personal notes to amazon to begin with without the users knowledge itself has privacy concerns.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 11th, 2010 @ 4:05pm

    Notes and original content rights should be handled differently.

    I had a conversation with an IP Lawyer regarding the nature of patents and document security some time ago. We were talking about how patents are in the public domain but that a company's interest in a patent is HIGHLY secret. An interesting lesson is how privacy/secrecy issue can emerge from the simple act of reading a document (an interest has been registered somewhere).

    Because of this, I would say that notes about a book are highly personal and potentially contain corporate secrets. As of right now, it puts up a HUGE block to use of ebooks if notes can be exposed to unauthorized third parties or even Amazon.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 11th, 2010 @ 4:27pm

    Isn't this a copyright violation? I mean these people made the notes and Amazon copied them without authorization. Do the terms and conditions grant Amazon the rights in everything I write? Assuming SOME of these notes are creative enough for copyright protection, this totally seems to be a copyright violation.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 11th, 2010 @ 4:33pm

    There is nothing anonymous about notes you take that mention real people-from the names and content/context one can often find out who it was (or narrow it to a very small group).

     

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  5.  
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    Radjin, May 11th, 2010 @ 5:52pm

    Any notes are personal and unique to the reader. They may be personal thoughts or feelings the passage generates. No Amazon e-book for me...

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 11th, 2010 @ 5:53pm

    paper and shiny plastic discs are so amazing. nobody can play with them remotely.

     

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  7.  
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    Blatant Coward (profile), May 11th, 2010 @ 5:53pm

    That's why I won't rent books from Kindle, or iThings. They follow your use, they take them back, they make them disappear-no warning, no apology, and sometimes no rebate. Perfect for exam time tests huh?

    Baen Books set the way, sell them to you, and they are yours. Period freaking dot. They even allow you to redownload them again later for no extra charge.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 11th, 2010 @ 8:43pm

    time to cheat the algorithm?

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 11th, 2010 @ 9:14pm

    It'd be good for you to actually look into the feature rather than blindly hating it.

    If it was as you reported, there would be a problem, but it is opt in. The kindle owner must explicitly allow this to occur with their notes and highlighting for it to happen. So its not a copyright issue or amazon ruining the privacy of its users.

     

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  10.  
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    JYA, May 11th, 2010 @ 9:27pm

    Why the surprise?

    When you add highlight or notes on your Kindle, you see them on your iPhone and other Kindle applications like a mac or PC.

    So surely, it goes through the Amazon servers...

    How else could you do sharing the notes you take between the various version of the book you have?

     

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  11.  
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    Tagbert, May 11th, 2010 @ 9:41pm

    Why do sites keep mixing up the notes and the highlights?

    Amazon has said that they aggregate the highlights. They are not passing on anyone's notes. That is not much different than saying "these are the most popular products sold on our site."

    They are not stealing your notes! It helps no one when you conflate the two ideas.

    Yes, your notes are stored on Amazon servers. When you delete that book you can download it again and get your notes back. When you open the book on another device you can access your notes. This is a typical archival service unrelated to the "popular highlights" service that you have been getting all hot and bothered about.

    Amazon has already been doing this. Here is a web page that shows the data.
    http://kindle.amazon.com/popular_highlights

    Where is the copyright violation? Where is the privacy violation? Save you righteous indignation for a situation that calls for it.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 11th, 2010 @ 10:00pm

    RTFA. Notes aren't stored/compiled.

     

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  13.  
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    Felix Pleșoianu, May 11th, 2010 @ 10:34pm

    "neither of which happens when you have a real physical book"

    Or a .txt file on a general-purpose smartphone or portable media player, or -- gasp! -- netbook, on which you can install your own operating system and software.

    E-books aren't bad as such. Just don't use devices you can't control.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous, May 12th, 2010 @ 12:40am

    Ah! Conspiracy Theorists :-)

     

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  15.  
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    Karl Koscher, May 12th, 2010 @ 2:59am

    Nothing new

    Amazon storing your notes and highlights is nothing new. They've always had this feature and mention it prominently in the documentation. You can even turn it off from the settings menu. Just select "Disable Annotations Backup."

     

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  16.  
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    Svante Jorgensen (profile), May 12th, 2010 @ 3:02am

    The right way to do it.

    As the only publicly available version of the results are aggregated (guess we have to trust Amazon on that one), the right way to do this would be to ask people on their Kindle to either agree or disagree to the feature, and let people easily opt out or in later at their convenience.

    This reminds me a bit of the Google Buzz case. Just remember to ask your costumers first before you publish any new data about them, and stop focusing on if it is legal or not. It's not that hard, and you will loose goodwill if you don't.

     

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  17.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), May 12th, 2010 @ 6:31am

    The problem is that they are collecting the data...

    Yes this is an interesting feature. Yes it makes business sense. But companies should not be able to collect any data with out your permission.

     

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  18.  
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    wmartin46 (profile), May 12th, 2010 @ 8:39am

    Uploading Comments To My PC --Not Amazon Central

    Students and researchers need e-books for productivity gains, among other things. This means being able to highlight and take notes on the e-book reader, and then easily have these notes (or personal information) uploaded to their PCs/LapTops, or email servers, without a lot of "screwing around". Once uploaded, then the student/researcher could then use the text as he/she sees fit. This would increase the power of an e-book over a p-book many times over.

    It's a shame that Amazon (and the other e-book vendors) have yet to understand this point. While they seek to "monitize" me and my work (giving me no credit, or compensation) .. they don't seem to want to provide the state-of-the-art e-book readers and PC software that I need to make paying for this hardware worthwhile.

    Amazon needs to rethink its belief that the Kindle is really their's to do with what they want, and respect the buyers' rights and purposes. Maybe I would allow them to upload my notes, and maybe I wouldn't. At least give me the option to say "yes" or "no".

    One can only wonder if Amazon thinks it has the right to go into my email account, or onto my laptop, to see my other notes too--just because I am a Kindle owner?

     

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  19.  
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    Wet Smack, May 12th, 2010 @ 9:19am

    Re: The problem is that they are collecting the data...

    They. Don't. Collect. Your. Notes. Or. Highlights. Unless. You. OPT-IN.

    So much for reading comprehension.

     

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  20.  
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    Mike Watson, May 12th, 2010 @ 10:12am

    Give Me Convenience Or Give Me Death

    I'm not a huge privacy wonk, but it doesn't take much to suppose that just because "the data is always aggregated", that doesn't mean that such highlighting can't be isolated before the aggregation, especially if a government agency comes knocking on Amazon's door. Am I paranoid? No, but this does raise the issue (again) of how much privacy we are willing to give up in exchange for convenience.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 12th, 2010 @ 10:20am

    Here some more data the Kindle collects Spying on how we read

     

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  22.  
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    MeNow, May 12th, 2010 @ 11:32am

    Electronic Frontier Foundation has

     

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  23.  
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    Louise, May 12th, 2010 @ 4:05pm

    Only Highlights, not Notes, on books bought from Amazon

    The documentation when I received my Kindle over a year ago described Annotation Backup and the ability to Enable or Disable this feature from the Kindle Settings Menu. At that time I disabled the Annotation Backup feature because I live in an area with weak to no signal for the Kindle to use.

    Recently I enabled Annotation Backup and noticed that Amazon is only storing the Annotations (Highlights, Bookmarks, and Notes) that I created after I enabled the backup. Amazon did not go back and fetch highlights or notes I made while backup was disabled.

    In addition, Amazon is only doing this for Annotations on books I bought from Amazon. The books and documents I created or bought from other sources do not have Annotations stored on Amazon servers.

    It seems to me that Amazon provides control to me whether or not I want my highlights or notes stored on their server.

     

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  24.  
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    Bill, May 12th, 2010 @ 4:29pm

    Probably CYA after the "1984" Debacle

    Remember the "1984" debacle, when they repossessed everybody's copy of "1984", and somebody sued them because he thought it was doubleplus ungood that his notes had become "un-writings" when his copy of "1984" became an "un-book"?

    This is how they can protect themselves against that in the future, backing up your notes so they can retrieve them for you if they do this again.

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 13th, 2010 @ 6:53am

    hmm..maybe this is why libraries should loan ebook devices and download books to library and then check out only the device to the patron? So libraries need a donation of ebooks for circulation, demos, and an infusion of cost effective titles beyond public domain ones.

     

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  26.  
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    chillienet (profile), May 20th, 2010 @ 9:11pm

    Re: Re: The problem is that they are collecting the data...

    from the site that Mike links to: "Users can opt out of participating, but only if they disable a feature that automatically backs up notes and highlights." It's opt out, not opt in, and to make it worse opting out disables features you originally had. What was that you said about reading comprehension?

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2010 @ 11:47am

    I don't mind the highlights being shared, but I do the notes! A databases of everyone's favorite quotes is one thing, but if I enter a note, I don't want that shared and there is no option to disable one without disabling the other... there are no fine grained controls..

     

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  28.  
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    Keith Cockrell, Oct 22nd, 2010 @ 2:02pm

    Irritating highlights

    To hell with privacy, I don't want marks on my new books. When I buy a new book, I want a NEW book. Other people's highlights drop me out of the world of that book and make me furious. And if there is a way to turn that feature off, then Amazon should make it one hell of a lot easier to find!

     

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  29.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 20th, 2011 @ 2:05pm

    Makes me wonder if highlighting AND in-text notes can be accessed remotely. Violation of intellectual property, anyone?

     

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