Chris Miller sent me this story via Identi.ca, an MSNBC article explaining why some privacy advocates are concerned over the way the Kindle now sends annotations on the reader back to Amazon’s servers. They are clearly making use of this date, redistributing highlights as a “Popular Highlights” feature. The retail giant has assured Kindle owners that the data is anonymized as part of this service.
The article extensively quotes Larry Ponemon who runs privacy consulting firm The Ponemon Institute. Ponemon hits the issue on the head, noting among other things that tracking content highlights is akin to eye motion tracking, putting it into the realm of creepy surveillance. He put this in the context of this country’s strong history of protecting information about what citizens read. What Amazon is doing exceeds the simple access records which in the past have been assiduously protected. It was concern over video rentals during a Senate confirmation hearing that lead to the basis of many key protections we enjoy, even extending into the online space.
He hints at why Amazon may not have seen it that way, I mean beyond their focus on the bottom line. They may not consider this data to be in the same category as library records, rather that it is of a piece with registration and purchase info they collect elsewhere throughout their services.
Ponemon also explains how Amazon may retain more information than they in turn expose through the highlights service. Just because they anonymize it on re-publishing doesn’t mean they are collecting or storing it anonymously. Worse is the user reaction, that whatever Amazon does is fine in the view of many as they equate the data collection with the convenience of restoring highlights after a device crash rather than a potential treasure trove for law enforcers or a future use by Amazon to drive more value towards their bottom line.