Are Kindle Books a threat to your personal privacy?
We quite like ebooks here at Bitterwallet. However, software freedom activist (no, I haven’t made that job title up) Richard Stallman has now told us we are wrong to like Kindle and that it and Amazon are evil privacy thieves.
In an article entitled The Dangers of eBooks, the founder of the Free Software Foundation warns that "technologies that could have empowered us are used to chain us instead" and has called on consumers to reject eBooks until they "respect our freedom". Heavy stuff.
His issue is with the Digital Rights Management (DRM) code such as that embedded in Kindle books sold by Amazon as an example of such restrictions on our personal liberty. He also thinks it’s all a bit Big Brother (as in the original 1984 book, rather than a trashy TV programme) as a cash buyer can purchase a book anonymously from a book shop, but Amazon requires identification to by a Kindle book, and can therefore identify you and your reading habits. Best not purchase ‘Bombs 101’ or ‘How to rob a bank’ then. In an exquisite turn of irony, Amazon actually used its DRM in 2009 to wipe a book from everyone’s Kindles without permission. The book? George Orwell’s 1984...
Stallman, founder of the GNU project offering free software, unsurprisingly also has an issue with the proprietary software used by Amazon on Kindles. He also points out that in some countries the Kindle book purchaser does not actually own the book. Amazon does. Sounds like we’re getting back into Spotify argument territory here...
Of course, companies like Amazon using DRM claim that the controls are necessary to ensure author protection, as in the absence of such tight restrictions, people could just share or swap ebooks. Just as they currently do with actual books, then.
Stallman reckons that levying a tax on ebooks and Kindle books that is then distributed out to authors based on their popularity, or building in a non-compulsory ‘thanks’ payment mechanism into ebook readers would help protect and reward authors. Bearing in mind that ebooks are already subject (in the UK) to VAT at 20% where printed books are not, and the fact that some paperback books are cheaper than their electronic counterpart, adding tax may not be the best move here. And how many people really ever pay for something when they don’t have to? Do you?
So what do you think- is the ease of Kindle worth sacrificing your anonymity for? Do you care if Amazon know what you are reading? Have you read 1984? Are you scared?