I read an article in MacLean’s yesterday about e-reader tracking software (Your e-reader is watching, by Mika Rekai) that upset me a little. The Kobo, the Kindle, and the Nook are all collecting hard data, and it’s not just sales data. Apparently they are tracking things like the amount of time spent reading, what time of day reading is happening, at what pages readers abandon books…if you highlight a passage that you particularly like, it can track what passage it is and how many times you’ve gone back to it.
I suppose there is nothing to prove that your eyes have indeed scanned the words and absorbed their meaning. Perhaps you had your e-reader on between eleven and midnight (one of the peak reading hours, according to data thus far), but was in conversation with your partner instead.
But still! Do they really need to track data for this? If someone asked me to guesstimate the most popular reading hours, I would know from just being observant and logical that the most popular hours are likely in transit and just before bed—doesn’t take a spy for us to figure it out.
Am I surprised that e-readers are tracking? No. Am I creeped out? Yes.
Is there no privacy in reading, even?
This doesn’t come down to being shy about someone else knowing how many times one has read the dirty bits of a book. How does knowing that someone else is seeing your reading patterns affect your reading experience?
Personally, I would be nervous of someone seeing how slow I read (though now that I’ve put that out there, maybe it doesn’t matter anymore). I might also choose not to buy certain books, in the same way I choose not to put certain pictures on Facebook (gotta keep it professional, right?). I might feel more guilty about not finishing a book. Out of spite, I might “flip through” pages at random and highlight non-substantial passages in an effort to throw off stats.
Regardless of whether one has anything to hide when it comes to reading patterns, it’s still awkward—like when you’re on the train and you know the person next to you is peeking into your book. (Have you ever felt like you needed to ask him/her if (s)he was done so you could turn to the next page?)
I am all for books being sold and for publishers using sales data to help make the market better, but there are limits, and I am not for hindering readers’ experiences with the feeling that someone is watching.
Thankfully, the Kobo has a little-known option to turn off the tracking. And yet this whole thing has me feeling suspicious and so even then one has to wonder… is it really off?