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Kindle and your privacy

Kindle users should be aware of possible threats to their privacy inherent in the new library ebook lending service.

In the age of reality TV, oversharing on Facebook and Twitter, and Apple's introduction of the Find My Friends app, it's increasingly hard to imagine that anyone values privacy anymore.

Thankfully, in the wake of Amazon's announcement that the Kindle would become compatible with ebooks from public libraries around the country, librarians and patrons alike raised important questions about how this development might affect Kindle users' privacy.

The American Library Association Code of Ethics strongly advocates for the rights of library patrons, including:

III. We protect each library user's right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.

Accordingly, the Library never maintains records of items that an individual has checked out unless s/he asks us to do so.

OverDrive, the corporation that facilitates the Minuteman Library Network's ebook lending, released a statement yesterday that echoes the library community's stance:

When a visitor borrows an ebook or other digital item from a library or school catalog, OverDrive does not collect or maintain any personal information.  In order to check out or place a hold on a title in the library’s or school’s digital catalog, we validate the status of a visitor’s library card (active or inactive), but do not obtain any information regarding their identity from this process. 

The statement implicitly acknowledges, however, that third parties with which OverDrive partners (including Amazon) may not adhere to the same strict privacy and confidentiality standards.

The statement goes on to suggest a possible work-around:

For visitors who wish to use these applications or services, these third-parties may require visitors to register using an email address to access their software or services.  The visitor’s name, address and other identifying information are not required, only a valid email address. Registration can be accomplished anonymously (e.g. using a valid email address that does not require other identifiable information). Patrons who wish to read on Kindle, for example, may find it convenient to use their existing Amazon account information, but it is not required.

Unfortunately, despite OverDrive's assurances, complete anonymity cannot be assured simply by creating an anonymous email address.

Remember that a Kindle is usually purchased online with a credit card, which has the purchaser's identifying information.

Also be aware that if you are an existing Kindle customer, deregistering your Kindle and reassociating with an anonymous email address will cause you to lose access to whatever content you purchased with the previous account.

In a nutshell, it's not easy to make yourself invisible to Amazon. Even if you succeed, the process necessary to achieve that result will be, at the very least, a significant inconvenience.

Given that we are promoting this new partnership among Minuteman, OverDrive and Amazon, we want you, as an information consumer, to enter this situation with a clear view of the privacy landscape in which we find ourselves.

I'm excited about the new segment of readers the Library is able to serve as a result of Amazon's decision, but I also want all of our patrons to know that maintaining the same level of privacy the Library strives to provide daily is very difficult when dealing with Amazon.

As always, please contact me if you have any questions.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Fabio Fumi April 09, 2012 at 12:56 PM
A book addict since well over half-a-century, it still irritates me when someone tries to peek over my shoulder while I'm reading: the relationship between the book and myself is of a very private nature. Why? Hell if I know, it probably sinks its roots in my remote childhood when my parents used to verify that I only read 'approved' material, anything else being forbidden, excommunicated and punished accordingly as a matter of principle. Be what it be, I've recently become the happy (just a figure of speech) owner of a brand new Kindle and now I must either make sure that Amazon don't peek over my shoulder, or that the new gadget gets buried as deep as possible in the garden. Quite obviously I've been very careful not to activate its wireless connection, not to mention creating an Amazon account; but that's just a software option that can be circumvented in 1001 fancy ways - think e.g. of a trojan and of what it can turn on in your computer without you even suspecting it. My question: where can I look for a reasonable certainty that the confounded thing won't sneakily call home and blab about my private business right under my nose? Der Bücherwurm (will be very grateful for any not-too-offensive suggestion :-)

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