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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Amazon tracks highlights in Kindle books

Amazon recently added a new feature to the Kindle called “Popular Highlights.” On Amazon’s website it says that the new feature “identifies the passages that are most highlighted by the millions of Kindle customers." It goes on to explain, “We combine the highlights of all Kindle customers and identify the passages with the most highlights. The resulting Popular Highlights help readers to focus on passages that are meaningful to the greatest number of people.”

An interesting article from MSNBC discusses the privacy concerns associated with this new feature. It points out that Amazon is not revealing the highlights of individual users but it is still collecting individual information which is a significant concern. Further, it is possible that Kindle users are not aware of this feature because it is turned on by default in the latest Kindle software. Users can opt out of Popular Highlights but it will disable another feature which automatically backs up notes and highlights in case the device crashes or is lost.

Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, noted that the U.S. has a tradition of carefully guarding the privacy of reading and there are laws which govern the release of library records. Stephens commented, “Librarians have been on the forefront of protecting people's privacy. This is an interesting paradigm change here, if electronic delivery of books becomes the norm. What is going to happen to this strongly held belief that what you read is entirely a private matter?"

A second article from BNET questions why Amazon would risk losing customer trust and sales for this feature. It also points out that any information that a user deems important in a book could potentially be used as ammunition against the reader and turned over to authorities if necessary.

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