The eBook Reader’s Bill of Rights

A couple of sources linked to Sarah Houghton-Jan’s bill of rights, no doubt inspired by Harper Collins changing its terms of service for the ebooks it has licensed to libraries to limit the total number of allowed loans per title.

In sharing this bill of rights in its entirety (it is released under a CC0 license), Audrey Watters at ReadWriteWeb is far more conservative than we should be, still wondering if DRM is a necessary evil. It is the only mechanism that publishers and other content distributors have earnestly tried, I don’t think that qualifies it as the sum total of the question we should be considering in response to Houghton-Jan’s thoughts. As Watters and other contributors to RWW have explored recently, making libraries viable in the post-network, post-digital era without imploding the sources of sustained creation on which they rely is a complex challenge. The responses should be equally as sophisticated not the sheer monotonous monopole that is DRM.

Cory over at BoingBoing is understandably more supportive. It is Doctorow’s Law, after all, that cautions author’s against acceding to DRM as being against their best interests. He also is responsible for some of the kinds of experimentation that really is required to meet the tough challenges publishing and libraries face. Doctorow manages to embrace the network and digital formats by giving his work away yet at the same time supporting both his publisher and libraries. The latter is done through the simple but effective program where he connects readers who are entirely satisfied with his free editions yet want to support his work with libraries and schools that can benefit from the donation of print copies.

(I also agree with Cory that “reader” is a more poetic and apt label than the rather pedestrian word, “user”.)

I do not think it is any coincidence that the bill of rights follows very closely in the spirit of the four freedoms of Free Software. Indulging the CC0 license of the original, I’ve re-posted the entirety after the link and attribution, below.

The eBook User’s Bill of Rights, Librarian in Black

The eBook User’s Bill of Rights

Every eBook user should have the following rights:

  • the right to use eBooks under guidelines that favor access over proprietary limitations
  • the right to access eBooks on any technological platform, including the hardware and software the user chooses
  • the right to annotate, quote passages, print, and share eBook content within the spirit of fair use and copyright
  • the right of the first-sale doctrine extended to digital content, allowing the eBook owner the right to retain, archive, share, and re-sell purchased eBooks

I believe in the free market of information and ideas.

I believe that authors, writers, and publishers can flourish when their works are readily available on the widest range of media. I believe that authors, writers, and publishers can thrive when readers are given the maximum amount of freedom to access, annotate, and share with other readers, helping this content find new audiences and markets. I believe that eBook purchasers should enjoy the rights of the first-sale doctrine because eBooks are part of the greater cultural cornerstone of literacy, education, and information access.

Digital Rights Management (DRM), like a tariff, acts as a mechanism to inhibit this free exchange of ideas, literature, and information. Likewise, the current licensing arrangements mean that readers never possess ultimate control over their own personal reading material. These are not acceptable conditions for eBooks.

I am a reader. As a customer, I am entitled to be treated with respect and not as a potential criminal. As a consumer, I am entitled to make my own decisions about the eBooks that I buy or borrow.

I am concerned about the future of access to literature and information in eBooks. I ask readers, authors, publishers, retailers, librarians, software developers, and device manufacturers to support these eBook users’ rights.

These rights are yours. Now it is your turn to take a stand. To help spread the word, copy this entire post, add your own comments, remix it, and distribute it to others. Blog it, Tweet it (#ebookrights), Facebook it, email it, and post it on a telephone pole.

To the extent possible under law, the person who associated CC0 with this work has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to this work.

feeds | grep links > Verizon Changes Users Passwords without Permissions, Microsoft Sacrificed IE8 Privacy Features for Ads, and More

  • Verizon changing users’ router passwords
    As the Slashdot post explains, the customer who shared their experience having their router password changed is clear that Verizon said this was for security purposes. This is another tough balance, there is no reason Verizon should not be able to run appropriate security scans but remotely altering customer hardware without permission is an overreach. I can totally see the reasoning for doing so given the expense involved in a mass customer service campaign but it still doesn’t make it right.
  • Linux kernel 2.6.35 released
  • Microsoft cut IE8 privacy features to sell ads
    Adrianne Jeffries at RWW discusses part of a Wall Street Journal article discussing online privacy. The interesting section is the one that contains the lede, that Microsoft decided revenue was more important than the rights and privileges of its users. This is one of the reasons I remain fiercely loyal to Mozilla, even over Chrome, as the steering body is a non-profit that is more resistant to these kinds of pressures.
  • Update from Emerging Languages Camp at OSCON
  • Cooling silicon solution leads to melting
    The weird physical phenomenon that io9’s Alasdair Wilkins very clearly explains as the result of dissolving a brew of metals into silicon isn’t the only fascinating aspect of this research. The process of melting, a side effect of the metals coming out of solution as the temperature drops below the usual melting point of silicon, apparently may help purify the remaining solid silicon. This could clearly be useful for all kinds of materials fabrication that uses silicon, including electronics of all stripes and solar power cells.

First Right to Repair Bill Advanced by Massachusetts

Mike Masnick at Techdirt shares what may potentially be good news for consumer rights and DIY’ers. Despite repeated failures at the federal level to introduce a law that allows owners to work on their car despite software and firmware locks, it looks like the states may finally secure this right. Massachusetts hopefully will only be the first to enact such a law, if they are indeed successful.

Auto makers are not the only companies trying to use technological measures like this to control their market. DRM would be an even more obvious example. However, given that is is arguably much easier to persuade law makers and judges that a car is a good owned by the buyer, a right to repair law is ow hanging fruit in terms of pushing back on this rent seeking behavior. I am most interested for how a potential win here may translate to other classes of goods, maybe not digital media and DRM but I could see it forming a beach head into helping to transform consumer rights with cell phones.

Data Portability Policy

I remember the data portability blog spinning up when concerns around privacy and autonomy started drawing attention as today’s heavyweight services and networks first started experimenting with their terms of use and policies, often to the detriment of users. Today, they announced the culmination of some of that thought and discussion, the Portability Policy.

Inspired by the Creative Commons, the Portability Policy work began as a way to improve the confusing Terms of Service and EULA model – one which we believe has become outdated and ineffective. To quote the new site:

In the same way that your Privacy Policy tells visitors what you can do with information they provide, your product’s Portability Policy tells visitors what they can do with it.

I expect it is going to take some serious campaigning to get existing sites to seriously consider this policy framework but the promise seems right. Build a policy along clear, easy to understand lines and increase user confidence. Google, at least, is on the same page with the Data Liberation Front. I expect a lot of new projects fermenting now will be inspired and see this as a strong part of building an offering that stands apart from many of the closed, black-hole like offerings currently available.

Data portability applies to a much broader set of software products than just social networks. The promise of data portability is that everyone benefits when work can be repurposed – by yourself with other tools or by other people. Any tool that lets people enter or organize their digital “stuff” should control how that stuff can be reused. Text documents, music play lists, pictures, and research data are just as valuable to share as “friend lists” and address books.

Deep thinkers on matters of software freedom and open collaboration have been struggling with the best approaches to dealing with the shift to the so-called cloud. I think data portability is a practical near term step regardless of how the broader philosophical issues are resolved.

FTC Releases a Game to Educate Kids about Online Advertising

Google’s public policy blog had a post pointing to an educational game and site released by the FTC, AdMongo. Judging by the intro video and a quick perusal of the site, it looks like it is targeted at early teenagers and is pretty slickly produced. The idea of using games and other interactive content to try to improve the how savvy kids are about complex issues is certainly not new. This made me think about Smokescreen the game commissioned by Cory Doctoro’s wife, Alice.

I have to wonder if this is a topic that needs this kind of effort, though. By comparison, privacy is tricky, full of tons of counter intuitions that even social scientists and researchers have trouble fully unpacking. I’d be willing to bet that mass media has already prepared kids fairly well to spot advertising in its most common forms, even online. I also don’t think the risks are as great to young users outside of where advertising practices step into more fraught areas, like privacy.

Don’t get me wrong, more education is invariably better, my concern is just one of targeting. I think the resources spent on AdMongo would better serve other areas is all, as kicky and fun as it looks. (Having trouble getting past the intro video with the craptastic version of Flash on my Linux box.)

A Bill of Rights for Social Network Users

Kurt Opsahl at EFF has a good follow up to his call for Facebook to follows its declared principles. He has posted a short bill of privacy rights specifically for those using social networks.

  1. The Right to Informed Decision-Making
  2. The Right to Control
  3. The Right to Leave

Read the full post for an excellent explanation of each.

I think we’ve already seen a good example of how the first could be implemented. The problem with the second is that Facebook thinks it is already providing this. It is probably going to take a mass exodus, not a simple proposition, to wake Facebook up to the disparity between its views of the control it is providing and the actual demands being made by privacy advocates and its own users.

The right to leave stumbles on a similar definitional issue. As Opsahl clearly addresses, what a provider does to honor a “deletion” is rarely what we expect when we jump through the necessary hoops to delete our accounts. We deserve for there to be no surprise around this particular function of a service. Unfortunately, on his other point about deletion, being able to take our data with us, Facebook has proven willing to fight through a variety of means to prevent that.

This is a good, modest list, one that I think sets a clear goal towards which we can strive. I don’t think that fight is going to be very easy, based on Facebook’s actions to date. I am far more hopeful that competitors will start to flourish and that they will recognize that this bill of rights should be a key differentiator for them to help in attracting users away from Facebook.

Another Online Privacy Bill Introduced

Senators Boucher and Stearns have first introduced a discussion draft of the bill, according to Cecilia Kang at the Washington Post. Unlike the earlier bill I talked about in the last podcast, this one seems a bit less controversial. It would require clearly published privacy policies, opt-out for collection of basic data, opt-in for collection of sensitive data and a user’s permission for third party sharing unless the external site or service in question has easy to use privacy controls. There are clear and fairly precise definitions of both classes of personal data.

On the surface this seems more than reasonable. I would say that it bends over backwards to accommodate advertising networks. Public interest groups are already responding, suggesting that all data collection should be opt-in and that pushing on privacy policies, which is already failing, isn’t going to help anything. (Maybe pushing forward an icon/badge and metadata scheme is called for?) Kang also points out that the draft would allow for information sharing within an organization, including its subsidiaries. That is a risk worth noting given how much consolidation has been occurring in recent years.

I am of two minds on this bill, as I understand it. A harder line in favor of consumer control would be a better negotiating position when having to make eventual concessions as part of a compromise. However, too much emphasis on that end of the balance could also kill the bill before it even gets a start.

Maybe even a watered down set of protections at this point is better than none considering the sheer volume of data that is currently being vacuumed up and shared with who knows how many third parties. If the enforcement is clear enough and data about how the law fares is accessible, maybe we can use it as a foundation to build further protections following from an empirical baseline.

Google CEO Dodges Privacy Concerns

A lot of folks are picking up this story originally from Gawker of statements Eric Schmidt made on a CNBC program. The troublesome quote?

If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

This is obviously a variation on that old saw about only those with something to hide require privacy or secrecy.

Google’s trend toward greater data collection actually reinforces the one constructive response I’ve heard to this rhetorical trick: if I had reasonable expectations of how others will use my private data, I’d have no need of privacy or secrecy. Worse, Schmidt continues his deflection by explaining how the search giant is still subject to sub-poenas and the Patriot Act, making it out like they’d protect user privacy if they had a choice.

This fuels my thinking that we need a stronger transactional model for privacy, though my ideas on how to implement such are still half formed. Basically, if Google finds our personal, potentially private, data so valuable, we should be able to secure much more than targeted ads and useful web 2.0 widgets in exchange. We should be able to leverage that value, somehow, into securing those reasonable expectations of how Google, and others, will treat our data or be able to invalidate the transaction, robbing them of its use.

Norwegian Consumer Group Prepares Legal Challenge to Facebook

Forbrukerrådet, the Norwegian Consumer Council, has studied extensively how the privacy policies and terms of service for various social networking services mesh with their local consumer rights and privacy laws. Apparently not very well as The Register notes they are preparing a legal challenge to Facebook over its terms of service.

I am glad to see at least somewhere push back against the private law making that takes places under these specious contracts of adhesion, like terms of service and EULAs. Its not surprising that it is in Norway as the council was the body that brought similar complaints against Apple’s iTunes store. And continuing the trend, the article notes that are already looking at Amazon and the Kindle over similar concerns.

This also makes me think of Glyn Moody’s recent discussion of the one way ratchet of copyright terms as driven through normalization. I know it is probably profoundly naive, but I have to wonder if an unwinding of policies that corral consumer rights could also be achieved through initiating some sort of normalization, specifically to a standard approaching that in Norway.

EFF’s Terms of (Ab)use Tool Launches, Mozilla’s Integrated Login, and More

  • EFF launches project to shed light on terms of use
    When the EFF launched ToSBack, a project to highlight the changes in terms of service over time, my sole lament was the lack of analysis to help us understand what these changes mean. I am thrilled to see them announce this complementary offering aimed at doing just that.
  • Mozilla’s plan for integrated login
    As long as users still have a choice about with which sites they will use this feature, I am not concerned about the privacy question raised by this RWW piece. I actually hope the consolidation of login into the browser itself will raise awareness of identity management and spur users to think of their profiles as data worth shepherding locally rather than delegating throughout the web.
  • Anti-piracy group fined in Spain
    Mike Masnick at Techdirt follows up on the piece from yesterday where the EC, specifically Viviane Reding, were critical of Spain’s consideration of a three strikes rule. This case gives some weight to Spain’s trend towards more progressive views on the issue of copyright infringement versus consumer rights.
  • Death of the black box EULA
    While I think there is cause to hope that consumers may be awakening to the issues with contracts of adhesion like EULAs, I am a bit more skeptical than Dana Blankenhorn on the state of EULAs. I think we are going to see much more aggressive fighting over the crafting of private copyright law before this idea is done. See the link about the EFF’s new project if you doubt me.
  • Obama administration wants to over-rule recent privacy preserving ruling
    The case in question, according to Wired, resulted in the federal appeals court seriously curtailing the scope of search-and-seizure of digital information. It remains to be seen if the executive is successful in pushing this through but it seriously furthers my disappointment in Obama’s administration with regards to cyber-liberties.