Amazon Kindle and Big Brother

Amazon are now selling more books on the Kindle e-reader than any other format – see this link

There’s no doubt that e-readers have huge advantages over individual printed books:

  • It’s very easy to carry lots of books around. Great for long journeys.
  • It’s very easy to find, buy, and have books instantly available to read. This is especially true of the Kindle where you are more-or-less locked into Amazon. The purchase of a book (via the Kindle) is instantly and automatically followed by the download onto your own Kindle.
  • E-readers are easy to use and to read. If you have not yet looked at them because you think it is a strain to read a computer screen then do give them a try. The “e-paper” screen is very easy to read and does not induce any of the strain of reading a computer screen.
  • I hear from Kindle enthusiasts that subscriptions to periodicals works very well.

I don’t think that anyone is pretending that e-readers will replace real books altogether. There is none of the feel, or the smell, or the visual appeal that make proper books a joy to handle. They do work really well, though, for paperbacks and periodicals that you’d probably read once and then discard. You can also store pdf documents on e-readers so there’s plenty of scope for widening their usefulness.

There is one aspect of Kindles, though, that worries some people. This is part of the Kindle licence agreement:

The Software will provide Amazon with data about your Kindle and its interaction with the Service (such as available memory, up-time, log files, and signal strength). The Software will also provide Amazon with information related to the Digital Content on your Kindle and Other Devices and your use of it (such as last page read and content archiving). Annotations, bookmarks, notes, highlights, or similar markings you make using your Kindle or Reading Application and other information you provide may be stored on servers that are located outside the country in which you live.

Amazon Kindle
Amazon Kindle
This agreement has been interpreted as meaning that anything you do on your Kindle may be reported back to Amazon. They could analyse your reading habits in the minutest detail – eg:

  • How fast you read.
  • Which (juicy?) pages you return to.
  • Whether you actually finish a book.
  • What times of what days you are actually reading.

It seems that a lot of people don’t actually mind this. They don’t see any threat to their privacy or they don’t care about it.

Other people seem to think like me. I don’t want any organisation or any software giant analysing my actions to any extent greater than they need to in order to provide me with the product or service I am buying from them.

As it happens, the Kindle situation isn’t quite as bad as I’m making out because I understand that there are at least some aspects of it that you can control with the options provided. One such option is to prevent any highlighting that you do from being reported back to Amazon. Yes, that’s right. If you highlight a section of a book on your Kindle it will normally tell Amazon that you’ve done it!

Sony e-reader Pocket Edition
Sony e-reader Pocket Edition
Of course, if you want an e-reader but don’t want big brother Amazon breathing down your neck, you could buy a Sony E-reader and not a Kindle. Buying a Sony also means that you are not tied into buying your books from one source. Although you can buy books from Sony you can also buy them from elsewhere. I’ve been buying books for my Sony e-reader from Waterstone’s for over two years now and I really like it. It’s true that the Waterstone’s website is not as good as it could be and it’s also true that you have to download your book to a PC or Mac and then install it onto the reader. Personally, I’d much rather do that than have Amazon recording my every move. There’s no doubt, though, that the convenience and simplicity of instant purchase and downloading to a Kindle outweigh any privacy issues for a great many people (or is it just that they don’t know they are being watched?).

Last word: if you are considering buying a Kindle, do consider the more expensive option that comes with wireless 3G connectivity. This means that you can download from almost anywhere whereas the “Wi-Fi-only” option means that you have to be connected to a wireless broadband connection when you want to download (fine when you are at home, but not so clever at an airport).

(Last updated 07/09/2023)