Are Kindle Books a threat to your personal privacy?

kindle drink bookWe 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?


  • Sawyer
    Richard Stallman has issues. Of course he doesn't believe in Kindle books - he also doesn't believe in using a mobile phone because of location-tracking, and according to some articles is essentially a homeless person who sleeps in his office at MIT. I have a Kindle and am fully aware that I don't own the books - they're just licenced to me. I don't care. It doesn't affect my ability to read and enjoy them. And for what it's worth, I downloaded and read 1984 on it as well (after the debacle, that is). Besides, Amazon have long been tracking what I'm buying, as that's where I bought all my paper books. Given that they keep recommending Disney films and bath bombs to me based on past purchases, I'm not too worried about any customer profiling.
  • anon m.
    Don't forget region locked too. I was trying to get a copy of fuzzy nation for my kindle.... and it's only available in the US.
  • MarkG
    "people could just share or swap ebooks. Just as they currently do with actual books, then." That's utter freetard bullshit. With a paper book you can give it to one person, they can read it and perhaps pass it onto another person until it's so dog-eared it's unreadable. With ebooks, if there were no DRM, you could upload it to BitTorrent and share it to 10,000 people and it will never wear out... Hardly a parallel.... Amazon and Kindle are indeed Evil thou, they are trying to lock up the e-book market like Apple did with iTunes, and consumers to too stupid to see this. They should be buying EPUB, an open (but still DRM) format...
  • The B.
    Frankly, I try not use anything that has DRM, I'd love an e-book reader but the lack of cross reader connectivity and standard format is what puts me off, so I'll stick to reading my chopped down trees for the foreseeable future.
  • Sawyer
    @ anon a moose Can you not purchase from the US store? All my ebooks came from there as I had a Kindle before the UK store opened. It lets me switch back and forth as I like, so I presume you can do the same with the new ones.
  • Freaked
    Hang on, isnt the document that Richard Stallman is using to complain about the evils of ebooks also an ebook? Now I dont know what to believe.... As mentioned previously, im not that bothered by any of these perceived "evils", I dont have anything to hide so if a company wants to track me in some way they are more than welcome, I doubt itd make any real difference to my spending habits
  • jsoap
    It's clear they know about what you buy from them, but do they know what else is on your kindle? It would be interesting to know what the tracking pixels on IMDB are used for also.
  • Paul N.
    I think Stallman has it wrong here. Kindle isn't locked down like an iPod/iPhone. You can use Calibre and synch any books out of your library that you want to your Kindle. The Kindle reads MOBI format just fine without any DRM.
  • John J.
    Removing a book from a Kindle without consent? That's a criminal offence loosely called "hacking" isn't it? Unless express permission to do so was included in the Terms and Conditions of the Kindle or the book BEFORE it was sold? Test case anyone who had "1984" deleted?
  • Matt H.
    Fortunately, piracy exists...
  • what b.
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