Kindle Annotations: More Phony Outrage

A silly and disingenuous argument has broken out on the web over the “discovery” that Amazon.com can see the bookmarks and annotations readers create on Kindles and other devices, such as iPads, running Kindle Reader software. Of course Amazon can, and it has never made any secret of the fact.

One of the charms of Kindle is that you can view the content, including your annotations and bookmarks, on multiple devices. As Amazon says in its online Kindle help: “Annotations (bookmarks, highlights, notes, clippings) you make on a Kindle book are stored in your Kindle library on Amazon.com when your Kindle is connected to Whispernet. When you open the title on any registered device, you’ll be right where you were the last time you read and your annotations will be included.” And Amazon, of course, has access to the Kindle information stored on its own servers.

Amazon has been famous from its beginning for the way it uses information gathered from customers purchases and searches to recommend products. It has  been a major factor in the company’s rise to the top of online retailers and most customers actually seem to like it.

As with any information collected be observing online behavior, whether it is by Amazon, Google, Facebook, or anyone else, the question is not whether the information exists but how it is used. So far, amazon has shown itself to be a responsible steward of the information it holds. If people don;t like Amazon publishing aggregated data of customer’s reading habits, they don’t have to use a Kindle or leave annotations and bookmarks. If they don’t like the way Amazon tracks customers’  behavior, they don’t have to shop there. But spare me the umbrage.

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2 Responses to “Kindle Annotations: More Phony Outrage”

  1. Len Feldman Says:

    Steve,

    I respect your opinion, but Amazon has been far from a “responsible steward.” Do you remember the time that Amazon unilaterally took back eBooks that some of its customers had purchased, including copies of Orwell’s “1984” and “Animal Farm,” because of a copyright issue? They gave no warning to their customers and simply ssued credits. Would you consider it “responsible” if Barnes & Noble came over to your house, broke in, took a printed book that you had purchased because there was a question about its copyright, and left you a refund check?

    When people purchase a book, whether it be in print or an eBook, they have a reasonable expectation that their highlights and notes will be private. I think that Amazon’s Whispernet synchronization service is a great idea, but using it doesn’t give Amazon the right to redistribute my annotations to third parties.

    If Amazon would simply have 1) Notified its customers that their annotations could be made public, and 2) Given them the right to opt-out without losing all of Whispernet’s synchronization functionality, I’d have no problem whatsoever with the company’s decision. However, they simply launched the service with no notification and no ability to opt-out without dropping online synchronization altogether. It was a dumb move.

    • swildstrom Says:

      It’s only fair to point out that Amazon is not releasing any individual’s annotations or bookmarks to anyone. All they have done is put out some aggregated data of general reader preferences. This surprised some people who didn’t know that Amazon had access to the data, but they should have. When I said Amazon was a good steward, I meant that they had not released, intentionally or inadvertently, personally identifiable information about customers without the customers’ permission. The erasure of books was a very different proposition. It was dumb and amazon has apologized for it and said they won’t do it again.

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