Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Keep your e-reader

I try to be responsible and keep all numbers and cards with me, but sometimes things slip through the cracks. A few years ago, one of those things was a library card number.

There was a question of a fine. I knew I had one, but I didn't know why. I called the library and asked if they could tell me what the overdue item was. (This was before both of the library systems in my area had the dazzling websites they have now.) Did I have my library card number on me? No, I didn't, and I couldn't find the card just then. Well, too bad. If I were physically inside the library, I could have shown them my license. However, if I couldn't give them a library card number on the phone, they couldn't help me.

I'm an impatient person who likes to get what I want when I want it, but I walked away from that conversation with a little bit of a smile. As the person on the other end of the phone explained to me, the powers-that-be had recently had a conversation about what they could share and what identification was required. Their decision was to lock down as much as they could. It was my understanding that decision was in direct response to the provisions of the PATRIOT ACT. Good for them. I was happy to memorize my library card number after that.

This is what the American Library Association has to say about the PATRIOT Act. At a time when so many were shrugging away our freedoms and liberties, they were one of the few organization to stand up and shake their heads. Reading their resolution overwhelms me with gratitude, and I was already pretty grateful.

...Privacy is essential to the exercise of free speech, free thought, and free association; and, in a library, the subject of users' interests should not be examined or scrutinized by others;

That says so much. I would add that I want those freedoms to extend beyond the library. If I read something, it really isn't your concern- and by the way, calm down. I might want to read Mein Kampf because I want to understand the depth of someone's lunacy and hatred; I might want to read the collected works of Karl Marx and Frederich Engels because I want to see how much internal cohesion their philosophies had. That would not make me a Neo-Nazi or a Communist- although, if it did, that's my right and don't you forget it.

I recognize that if I use my credit or debit card to purchase a book, someone knows about it and, because corporations are awfully chatty with each other these days, a lot more people are going to know about it. Irritating- but in a brick and mortar store, I can always make my purchases with cash. That is not an option I have if I buy e-books, or even if I buy my books electronically. But, okay, we've learned to live with that for the most part.

Two weeks ago, I read The Filter Bubble. I reviewed it on my other site- go read it. There was a lot that found me shouting, "Honey, oh my God! Did you know this?" Knowing that the FBI could grab my emails from Google and Yahoo without a search warrant was shocking. The CIA and Google joint venture Recorded Future was funny in the way reality shows are funny- wasn't there a movie about that? But what made me really angry was the information about tracking on the Kindle.

Obviously, Amazon knows what you're buying- they built their company on knowing that and being able to make recommendations to you based on that. But if you're reading on a Kindle device, that will be the tip of the iceberg. They will know how quickly you read it, what pages you turned, whether you skipped around or read all the way through and which phrases and words you highlighted. That last part really sticks in my craw for some reason. That information is, of course, fed back to the Amazon servers so they can tailor their offerings to you accordingly. (Don't believe me? Please read here.)

Oh really? Is it not possible that I am very interested in economic history but put a title down after one chapter because it's obvious how biased the author is? Might I not generally be interested in suspense and mystery but stayed with a certain title because it was so well-written? Or maybe I sped through something because I'm a really fast reader, not because I didn't like it? Even with its algorithms, there's something Amazon (and I'm assuming other e-reader vendors) are going to miss. If I'm depending on them for the bulk of my shopping and recommendations, then there will be things I miss too.

I give up the privacy of what I read when I purchase something with a credit card; do I now have to give up the secrets of *how* I read for the convenience of not dragging a book around? How fortunate for me that I am, apparently, some kind of relic that enjoys holding a book and physically flipping pages, because I have no desire for anyone to know that much about everything I read.

I've got to say that I find this even more offensive than Google and Facebook pimping out my information to get money from advertisers. On a simple mathematical level, I accept the business logic: that's how those companies stay afloat. But what excuse does Amazon- or Apple or Barnes and Noble- have? Have people not paid for their e-readers? Have they not also paid for their e-books? And then I have to wonder about all of those self-published titles being sold for 99 cents. Poor Amazon (and B&N?) is only making 30% off of those titles. Well, if they're also able to glean user data from those titles, I think all those indie authors should get together and demand a better percentage.

You know what I'm going to do with an even clearer conscience than before? Use my library's electronic system to request books. I feel confident that if my information isn't entirely safe, it's not going to be given away without a fight. It's not because I'm so special- it's the principle, and the ALA might be one of the few groups still left that believes in those.

In an e-reader world, all I represent is principal. The difference between an "e" and an "a" is much greater than even the snarkiest speller imagined.

Deb in the City


N.starluna said...

I still see more books than e-readers on the train, so I'm not convinced that this hype about e-readers taking over is all that accurate. I suspect that, especially in this economy, more people are going to the library than they might have a couple of years ago.

But privacy issues aside, I really hope that more people continue to read real books. I have entered into many a nice (and nicely short) conversation with fellow transit riders over books I can see they are reading. You can't really do that with the e-reader.

Deb said...

I don't really think it is either because, as you point out, not everyone can play. But on my commute I'm seeing a lot more e-readers, even on the bus.

I don't want to see e-readers take over, but if they become more popular, I want people to demand limits on the information vendors can collect.