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E-readers and e-book platforms track users' activity, says a new study

A new study shows that many major e-readers and e-book platforms track book searches, monitor what readers download, and can share information without a customer agreeing first. Is this the next step in satisfying consumers, or a little too Big Brother?

By Husna Haq / December 6, 2012

A new study found that many e-readers like the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook track users' activity without their consent.

Dominick Reuter/Reuters

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What does your e-reader know about you?

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More than you think, according to a new study by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The EFF, a nonprofit group that advocates for consumer rights and privacy, combed through the privacy policies of a number of e-readers and e-book platforms, including Google Books, Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Kobo, and Indiebound, and found many devices track book searches, monitor what and how readers read downloaded books, record book purchases, and in some cases, even share information without a customer’s consent.

“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,” writes the EFF in its 2012 report.

The Foundation created a nifty chart that shows, at a glance, the privacy policy for nine different e-reading options.

The study found that five of the most popular e-readers, including the Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and Sony Reader, as well as Google Books, track searches for books as well as record book purchases. What’s more, six of the nine platforms or devices, including Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Sony, OverDrive, and IndieBound, can share information outside the company without customer consent.

“For centuries, reading has largely been a solitary and private act, an intimate exchange between the reader and the words on the page,” wrote the Wall Street Journal in an article on the subject earlier this year. “But the rise of digital books has prompted a profound shift in the way we read, transforming the activity into something measurable and quasi-public.”

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