Saturday, August 17, 2013

E-reader Privacy - Is There Any Secrecy for E-books?

How much privacy do you expect from the retailers who handle your everyday purchases? Do you read the fine print on all the agreements you have to click through to sign up for online accounts?

In my previous post I mentioned my concerns about the lack of a device password on my Kobo Mini. That if I didn't remove all my personal info - name, address - after each e-book purchase, anyone who came across the Mini could see it. So I have to clear it all out each time and then enter it to buy a book.

And without a password for the e-reader, anyone can see the books I've downloaded. I'm not concerned about that, but some people might be.

On a broader scale, who else do you think should be able to see your information: your location (through the IP address), your search history, buying habits - and who should they be able to share that information with?

Here's a detailed chart from EFF - the Electronic Frontier Foundation - whose slogan is, "Defending your rights in the digital world." Click here for chart.

The chart shows how much info is gathered by e-reader dealers Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Sony. It also includes details from other e-book sources: Google Books, Overdrive, Indiebound, and Internet Archive, and the software Adobe Content Server.

It looks as if EFF did quite a bit of research on this: "... we've taken some of the most popular e-book platforms and combed through their privacy policies for answers to common privacy questions that users deserve to know. In many cases, these answers were frustratingly vague and long-winded."

Looking through the chart shows what that fine print you skim over in the accounts agreements says in so many more words: that your stuff is out there for many companies to track. Is that important to know? In today's world, privacy is no longer expected. I'm concerned about keeping my personal info private, but do I care if some retailer tallies up what book genres I typically read, what toothpaste I buy, how often I travel - no, don't give it a second thought. 

EFF summarizes it this way: "In nearly all cases, reading e-books means giving up more privacy than browsing through a physical bookstore or library, or reading a paper book in your own home."

Well, that's pretty obvious. In a bookstore or library you can hide your identity if you're embarrassed by what books you're looking at. A hat, scarf, sunglasses, pay with cash ... 

EFF's efforts to cut through the gobbledygook of those online privacy agreements and document the basics are important, though, just to remind us of the general lack of privacy we face every day. I grew up in a time before the Internet took over our lives, back when the only wide exposure anyone would likely encounter would be their hometown newspaper. And the only way a retailer could track who was using buying what was by coding coupons and conducting surveys. Now, my movements and choices are tracked daily, in ways most of us don't think about. 

I think I'll go read a paper book now. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Kobo Mini E-Reader Review - The Good and the Bad

Hello, hello - is this microphone on? Testing 1, 2, 3 ...

Oh, there you are! It's been a while (ok, 2 years) since I last posted anything here. I guess I just didn't have much to say. Well, that's not strictly true, but I didn't have anything I wanted to post on this blog. Until now.

A couple of months ago I took the plunge and bought an e-reader. Or an ereader. I've seen it spelled both ways, not sure if there's a right/wrong yet. Is it in the dictionary? Let me look. shows it as "ereader," also "e-book reader." But not e-reader. says it should be "e-reader."

If I text it on my iPhone the spell correct says either "e-reader" or "eReader" is correct but it doesn't like "ereader."

I use "e-reader" because smushing it all together just looks odd. I like "e-book" rather than "ebook." But I also like "co-worker" instead of the ubiquitous "coworker." I always see "cow" in there.

Anyway - I'd been thinking about it for a few months. I wasn't sure if I'd use one. I like holding a Real Book in my hands. I like the tactile nature of reading. Turning pages, feeling the texture between my fingers, reading the back cover, and seeing books on shelves. But I could see the advantages of e-books, too - especially for travel. Carrying books while flying is a hassle, and now with planes charging extra for checked baggage, physical books are not practical. An e-reader is the solution.

I decided against an Amazon Kindle because I wanted to read other file formats easily and also I don't like the monopoly that Amazon is becoming. I think diversity in books and accessories is vital. Doing my tiny piece to encourage that.

Thought about the Nook from Barnes and Noble, was pretty well set on that but the uncertainty swirling around B&N's future was a deterrent.

What did that leave? I'd heard about the Kobo, and had looked at them in person at Powells Bookstore in downtown Portland.

One evening I looked at Powell's website and the Kobo Mini was on sale half price at $39. That was a low enough price to take a risk on, so I snapped it up.

Took me a couple of weeks before I actually fooled around with it. And then took me an hour or so to figure it out.

Now I've got some books loaded onto it, a couple purchased from the Kobo website and the others from Smashwords. 

For the most part I like reading on the Kobo, but it has a few quirks I don't like.

  1. There's no way to password protect the device. It's open to anyone who picks it up. Anyone can see what books I've loaded onto it, and more importantly, can see the personal information stored on my account. When I bought books, either from the Kobo Mini itself or from the Kobo website, with a credit card, my name, address, and phone number were saved. And that info was visible to anyone who turned on the Kobo Mini. I've heard that the full-size Kobo e-readers have device passwords, but haven't been able to confirm that. My solution was to erase all of the personal info after each book purchase. This makes buying books on the fly impossible - I have to find my credit card and enter all the info each time. The lack of a device password seems foolish.
  2. I can change the font size for the actual books that I read, but not the system itself. E-readers have been touted as beneficial to baby boomers and older eyes, with the ability to increase the text size, but browsing through the library and performing other tasks is limited to the fixed small font. So I still have to find my reading glasses to use the Kobo.
  3. The touchscreen is sometimes slow to respond, but I've been told that's due to the e-ink technology. So it might be universal for all e-ink readers, not just my Kobo. 
What features do I like?
  1. Portability. I can carry the Kobo Mini in my handbag - that's 1000 books in there! 
  2. Reading outside. That's the e-ink technology. Some e-readers have it, some have the screens that are like laptops and phones - in other words, difficult to read in bright light. But my Kobo Mini - no problem. This photo was taken on a bright sunny day. (Text fuzziness is photographer fault, not e-reader fault.)
  3. I can download books from my county library onto it. So - free books, just like print. 
  4. If I get the bigger Kobo Glo model, I can read in dark environments without additional light. Reading in bed without disturbing a partner, on airplanes, or for kids, under the covers when they're supposed to be asleep. No more hiding the flashlight under the pillow!
I still like the feel of paper books, but the e-books have their own purpose. I wonder if there will ever come a time when most new or reprinted books will only be available as e-book? When printing books will be unusual, or reserved for certain categories, such as the books for small children, or coffee table picture books.

I'll be flying cross country next month and am looking forward to giving my e-reader a proper workout.  I think I'll be pleased.