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A Privacy Chart for Paranoid Readers

August 12, 2013
various e-book readers. From right to left iPa...

Is it really paranoia if somebody is tracking what you read? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I first started using e-readers, I thought one of the benefits was that it would be easier to lie about what I was reading.  In the old days, I would put a War and Peace book jacket over my Tom Clancy novel, and all of my intellectual friends believed I was reading high brow literature.

Now with electronic devices, it’s much easier to lie to my friends and any curious onlookers about what I’m reading.  They can’t see what I’m reading on my phone, and if I ever need to back up my lie, I can just download a free classic and pretend I’ve read it. 

But it’s really not that simple.  What I read on my electronic device (usually the Kindle on my smart phone) is tracked by Amazon and after that, who knows?  Information such as books that I’ve downloaded, how much I’ve read from each book, and what titles I’ve searched for are all tracked by Amazon, and most other digital book providers do the same thing. 

The paranoid in me says: “Stop reading digital books!  Go back to books with paper and pay cash for them!” 

The head-in-the-sand sheeple in me says: “Don’t worry.  Nothing bad can happen when a government agency or corporation monitors what you read.” 

When I try to merge the two conflicting emotions, the head-in-the-sand paranoid says:  “Buy ebooks with cash!” 

That doesn’t work.  The internet is making me choose sides. 

If you don’t like the idea of corporations and governments having the capability to monitor your reading habits (whether they should have the capability is for another blog), here’s a chart that analyzes services like Amazon, Nook, Kobo, etc…  Even if you don’t care, it’s interesting to see how each service provides different levels of privacy.  For example, Amazon seems to provide almost no privacy, and this curious thing called Internet Archive provides the most (if I’m reading this correctly, but I might not be, so you might want to check for yourself). 

Somewhere along the way (I haven’t researched this), somebody decided that nothing about the internet is private (oversimplification of complex idea, I know).  If I write a letter, stick it in an envelope, put a stamp on it, and put it in a mailbox, I have a reasonable expectation of privacy.  But if I write the same thing in an email, I have little or no expectation of privacy, even if it’s on my personal account.  In a way, it puts us normal people in a bind.  If we don’t use the internet, we’re living in the previous century, but if we do use the internet, we lose our privacy. 

If I want complete privacy when it comes to my reading, I’d have to do a lot more than what I do now.  I’d have to pay cash for all my books.  I’d have to never read them in public.  I’d avoid all cameras when I entered and left the book store.  I couldn’t discuss any of the books I’ve read on email, on blogs, or use any computer whatsoever.  I probably could do this if I wanted to. 

But maybe none of this matters.  When I tell my intellectual friends that I read The Brothers Karamazov last year, I don’t think some corporate hack will inform them that according to my Kindle information, I only read 3% of it. On the other hand, if some bureaucrat accidentally releases to the public that the Fifty Shades of Grey  trilogy is on my Kindle, nobody will believe me when I explain that my wife bought it and read it, not me. 

 I can’t have that happen to me!  Some things (like pride) are more important than national security.  Internet Archive, here I come!

  1. Karamazov is fine but you have to read about 46% of it before the story starts.

  2. Such a fuss over a machine! The computer you fear doesn’t know the difference between “War & Peace” and “Warren Beatty”, but it’ll store a connection anyway. 🙂

  3. Scotch Jameson permalink

    I think best case scenario, maybe our political leaders spying on us might become better readers paying more attention to what we read–if they would actually read it too. Dostoevsky’s Demons or The Idiot or even Notes from the Underground, for example, are all recommended for politicians.

  4. My latest post is related to this. How spooky? Thanks for a good read.

  5. That’s a great post. I have this thought experiment going when I try to imagine life where everyone is telepathic, so we all know what everyone else is thinking. However, it seems in the future that only a select few will know what everyone is thinking. I’m not sure how the next generation will view the idea of privacy.

  6. mohitan permalink

    The wrath of it all would be sites that link you to SNSes. One like, one share or a comment exposes your reading activity to all those who know you on any virtual platform. I think the worst ever consequence of this exposure would be receiving comments which tell you the story!

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