January 6, 2010 | By Cindy Cohn

Updated and Corrected: E-Book Buyer's Guide to Privacy

Click here to see our newer guide.

A few weeks ago, EFF published its first draft of a Buyer's Guide to E-Book Privacy, which summarized and commented on the privacy-related policies and behaviors of several e-readers. In that first draft we incorporated the actual language of the privacy policies as much as possible, which unfortunately created some confusion since companies generally use different language to address similar issues. We also did a few other things clumsily.

Since then, thanks to the feedback and corrections we've received, we've made some updates and corrections to the guide which we hope will make it more useful. First, we've re-written many of the questions and answers to provide more clarity about the behavior of each e-reader. Second, we've tried point out where companies' privacy policies themselves are unclear on particular issues. And finally, we've made the whole thing easier to read by changing its visual layout.

This guide continues to be a work in progress. So, please continue to let us know whether it's helpful and what additions you'd like to see.

EFF's E-Book Buyer's Guide to Privacy v1.1

Can they monitor what you're reading?

Google Books Yes Logs specific book and page viewed on website.
Amazon Kindle Yes Exact parameters of information logged is unclear, but includes books and pages read.
B&N Nook Unknown
Sony Reader No Does not record info about content on device.
FBReader No It does not collect information from users.
 

Is the device ONLY compatible with books purchased from an associated eBook store?

Google Books N/A The Google Books service is not a reading device, but does allow downloads of public domain books in unprotected PDF or EPUB. Other books must be read online through Google's web interface.
Amazon Kindle Yes Only Amazon's proprietary AZW and unprotected TXT, MOBI, PRC files are directly compatible with Kindle. Newer Kindles have native PDF support.
B&N Nook No Supports popular eBook formats like EPUB and PDB from other sources (if Adobe DRM or non-DRM), BUT they will not be compatible with many Nook features. Does not support AZW.
Sony Reader No Supports books in multiple DRM formats including EPUB (Adobe), PDF (Adobe), and BBeB book (PRS) in addition to non-DRM formats. Does not support AZW.
FBReader No Supports a wide variety of open, non-DRM versions of formats like EPUB, FB2, MOBI, PRC, OEB, etc. Does not support PDF or AZW.
 

Can they keep track of book searches?

Google Books Yes Logs all search data with IP address. Will also associate searches with user's Google Account if logged in. Will not associate searches with users account if not logged in.
Amazon Kindle Yes Logs data on products viewed and/or searched for on the device, and associates info with Amazon account. Searches inside book require login to account which associates with credit card information.
B&N Nook Yes The privacy policy is unclear about whether searches made on the Nook are recorded, but B&N generally logs data on searches made and pages viewed on B&N website. B&N does not disclose whether it associates book searches with a user's account if logged in.
Sony Reader Yes The privacy policy is unclear, but if a customer uses the Reader Store, Sony will log IP address and message information, and can associate data with the Reader Store account (must be logged in to browse store).
FBReader No Does not collect data about book searches.
 

Can they keep track of book purchases?

Google Books Yes All book purchases must be associated with a Google Account.
Amazon Kindle Yes Amazon will compile a purchase history for users.
B&N Nook Yes For purchases from the B&N eBook Store, the privacy policy is unclear. B&N says it will associate book purchases with the user when he or she enrolls in a membership loyalty program, but it is silent as to whether purchases are associated with a B&N online account. B&N does not keep track of books obtained elsewhere that are read on the device.
Sony Reader Yes While the privacy policy is unclear, Sony appears to keep track of purchases from the Reader Store since the user must log in to purchase books and Sony assigns a identification cookie to users for licensing purposes. Sony does not keep track of books obtained elsewhere that are read on the device.
FBReader No Does not collect data about book purchases.
 

With whom can they share the information collected in non-aggregated form?

Google Books Law enforcement, civil litigants and within Google's own products.
Amazon Kindle Law enforcement, civil litigants and within Amazon's own products.
B&N Nook For information collected through the B&N eBook Store: law enforcement, civil litigants and within B&N's own products.
Sony Reader For information collected through the Reader Store: law enforcement, civil litigants, within Sony's own products, and with Borders, its Reader Store partner.
FBReader No No information is collected.
 

Can they share information outside the company without the customer's consent?

Google Books No User must opt-in to have personal info shared outside Google.
Amazon Kindle Yes Users may opt-out of use of information only for certain promotional and marketing purposes.
B&N Nook Yes Users may opt-out of use of information only for certain promotional and marketing purposes or for certain analytic uses of info by third parties.
Sony Reader Yes For information collected through the Reader Store: User may refuse to share information (on either an opt-out or opt-in basis) only for promotional or marketing purposes. To opt-out of further sharing of information by Borders, which operates the Reader Store, user must contact Borders directly.
FBReader No No information is collected.
 

Do they lack mechanisms for customers to access, correct, or delete the information?

Google Books No User may delete or disassociate book titles with account, but may lose ability to read them. Users can delete their search history.
Amazon Kindle Somewhat Users may access and update info in account profile, but Amazon may retain prior versions for its records. There is no right to access or delete search and purchase history.
B&N Nook Somewhat Users may access, correct, and change info in account profile at any time. There is no right to access or delete search and purchase history.
Sony Reader Somewhat For information collected through the Reader Store: Users may send a request to have certain personal information updated and it will be done in a reasonable time. There is no right to access or delete search and purchase history.
FBReader No No information is collected.
Updated 1/1/08: Changed AZM to AZW.

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