March Banner

March Banner

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Thoughtful Thursday - Is Big Brother Really Watching?

I read an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled "Your eBook is Reading You."  Okay, that seems ominous.  My Kindle has been getting a lot of use lately, and if anyone is tracking my reading habits, I'm afraid they're going to think I'm a psychopathic eroticist.  Books on poison, murder, police procedures and some less than family-friendly fiction top the list.

According to the article, "In the past, publishers and authors had no way of knowing what happens when a reader sits down with a book. Does the reader quit after three pages, or finish it in a single sitting? Do most readers skip over the introduction, or read it closely, underlining passages and scrawling notes in the margins? Now, e-books are providing a glimpse into the story behind the sales figures, revealing not only how many people buy particular books, but how intensely they read them."

Now, as an author, this information would be very helpful and interesting.  As a reader, not so much.  I'm not a paranoid person, but the notion that someone knows not only what I'm reading, but how intensely or quickly I'm reading the books I purchase, gives me goose bumps.  The article goes on to say, "The major new players in e-book publishing—Amazon, Apple and Google—can easily track how far readers are getting in books, how long they spend reading them and which search terms they use to find books."

Photo credit – William Duke

Usually, I search for books by title on Amazon.  Occasionally, I'll use Google to find a book I want.  I'm fully aware that Amazon keeps track of my digital purchases.  They have to, so I can download a book again if I've removed it from my device.  They also keep track of any paperbacks or hardbacks I purchase in my order history.  But do they have to "watch" me read?  I mean, I don't like someone reading over my shoulder, so why are they peeking into my Kindle?

Don't get me wrong.  I love eBooks.  I'd better love them, because I write them, too.  So, I have no intention of changing my reading habits, but that doesn't mean I'm totally comfortable with an unknown entity taking note of how many times I open my Kindle and how long I spend reading from it.  However, I did feel a little less paranoid when I read this, "But the data—which focuses on groups of readers, not individuals—has already yielded some useful insights into how people read particular genres. Some of the findings confirm what retailers already know by glancing at the best-seller lists. For example, Nook users who buy the first book in a popular series like "Fifty Shades of Grey" or "Divergent," a young-adult series by Veronica Roth, tend to tear through all the books in the series, almost as if they were reading a single novel."

They got me there.  Since I was one of those million or more readers who purchased all three Fifty Shades of Grey books at the same time, I'm in those statistics somewhere.  Another thing I found of interest was, "Science-fiction, romance and crime-fiction fans often read more books more quickly than readers of literary fiction do, and finish most of the books they start. Readers of literary fiction quit books more often and tend skip around between books."

I'm not a speed-reader by any means, but when I'm on a reading kick, it's not unusual for me to read one or two books a day.

EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation), a non-profit group that advocates for consumer rights and privacy, is pressing for legislation that will limit how a retailer can use the information they gather.  They also want a way for readers to "opt out" of having their reading habits tracked.

What worries me most, no doubt worries other authors as well.  "… that readers may steer clear of digital books on sensitive subjects such as health, sexuality and security—out of fear that their reading is being tracked. "There are a gazillion things that we read that we want to read in private," Mr. Bruce Schneier, a cyber-security expert and author, says."  And even though I don't intend to change how I purchase or read, others may be more sensitive about having their habits tracked than I am.

So, why am I posting this information on my blog?  I find technology fascinating, and I know we're barely scratching the surface of what we'll be able to do in the future.  I don't want anyone to stop purchasing books out of fear, but I felt the topic was worth sharing, so I decided to take the risk.

To read the WSJ article in full, please click the URL below. 


  1. Hmm, very interesting and just a little creepy. I can't help wondering what a report on my reading habits looks like. Thanks for the info, it looks like it might be one more reason to stick to paperbacks.

  2. I totally agree, Jess, but I refuse to give up my Kindle. I figure anyone who wants to spend time tracking what I'm reading and when, needs to get a life.


Thank you for making my day! Writers with any thoughts at all (Naughty or otherwise) love comments, and I'm no exception.