Is it creepy that Amazon is tracking most-highlighted Kindle passages?

Amazon is now displaying a list of the passages that readers most often highlight on their Kindles. Is that intrusive?

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    What you highlight on your Kindle as you read is being tracked.
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Tracking bestselling books tells us about the reading habits, or at least buying habits, of the American public. But is there anything we can learn from tracking what information people consider important in those books?

We may find out, because Amazon is now displaying lists of the passages and books most heavily highlighted on the Kindle. It’s a relatively small sample – the current #1 passage, from Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller “Outliers”, was highlighted by 1,698 Kindle users. (For the record, it was this: “[T]hree things – autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward – are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying.")

The entire Top 10 list of highlighted quotes was made up of "Outliers" and fellow bestsellers “The Shack” by William P. Young, and “The Lost Symbol” by Dan Brown. In the category of most highlighted books, "The Lost Symbol" beat out the Bible for the #1 spot. I assume that says more about the narrow sampling parameters and the demographics of Kindle users than the depth of Brown’s prose.

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Business management website Bnet worried that publishing such information could erode consumer trust. Amazon notes on its website that it doesn’t show which customers made the highlights.

I do find the idea that such information is being tracked post-purchase a little odd, almost as if the supermarkets tracking my food-buying habits were also measuring whether I made omelets or scrambles once I got my eggs home. But I also admit to being curious about just what the information means. In my life, highlighting was restricted to academics, useful mainly for biology notes. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to underline a passage from a novel or a general-interest read.

Am I in the minority here, or do people highlight differently on an electronic reader than they do using neon markers on paper? The next time I see someone reading a print copy of “Outliers” or “The Lost Symbol” I’ll be looking over their shoulders to see if any phrases leap off the page.

Rebekah Denn blogs at eatallaboutit.com.

Do you think Amazon is invading privacy by tracking which passages readers most often highlight on their Kindles? Join the Monitor's book discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

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