December 6, 2010 | By Cindy Cohn

2010: E-Book Buyer's Guide to E-Book Privacy

With the 2010 holidays upon us, it's time to update EFF's E-Book Buyer's Guide to E-Book Privacy, which summarizes and comments on the privacy-related policies of several e-readers.

What's new. We've added in the iPad and also added in the software used by many libraries and devices for e-book access, made by Adobe called Adobe Content Server. Adobe doesn't keep a list of libraries that use their software, but it does have a list of supported devices. Remember that the list only tells you what information is available to Adobe, not what information may be made available to the device itself. The information about the Adobe Content Server comes directly to us from Adobe.

What the Guide is and isn't. The guide is simply a review of privacy policies, to the extent we've been able to find them, plus additional information we received directly from Adobe and the Internet Archive. We haven't been able to do independent testing to verify how these e-book providers work in practice. Also, in discussing whether individuals are linked to their reading we have only addressed direct ways (i.e. Amazon or Google directly keeps that information in your account information) as opposed to indirect ways that require action from third parties like the ability to use your IP address gathered by logs to subpoena your ISP for your name).

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 or if you'd like to help us add to it.

Can they keep track of book searches, either on their website or on the website of other e-book sources?

Google Books Yes/Not applicable 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/Unknown 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. It is unknown whether searches for books done at locations other than Amazon are also reported back to Amazon, but the Privacy Policy does not exclude this possibility.
B&N Nook Yes/Unknown 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. It is unknown whether searches for books done at locations other than B&N are also reported back, but the Privacy Policy does not exclude this possibility
Sony Reader Yes/Unknown The privacy policy is unclear, but if a customer uses the Reader Store, Sony will log IP address and message information on the Store website, and can associate data with the Reader Store account (you must be logged in to browse store). It is unknown whether searches for books done at locations other than Sony Reader Store are also reported back to Sony, but the Privacy Policy does not exclude this possibility
FBReader No FBReader does not collect data about book searches.
Internet Archive No The Archive does not collect IP addresses/user-identifiable data about book searches
iPad Yes/No Yes if purchased from iBookstore or other Apple applications; otherwise no.
Adobe Content Server No The Adobe Content Server software cannot monitor what a user reads.
 

Can they monitor what you're reading and how you're reading it after purchase and link that information back to you? Can they do that when the e-book is obtained elsewhere?

Google Books Yes/Not applicable Logs specific book and page viewed on website. They may also track annotations.
Amazon Kindle Yes Exact parameters of information logged is unclear, but includes books and pages read. May also keep track of annotations, with some user settings.
B&N Nook Unkown It does not appear that B&N can monitor reading after purchase, but the Privacy Policy and various applicable terms of use are unclear.
Sony Reader No Sony does not record info about content on device.
FBReader No FBReader does not collect information from users.
Internet Archive No The Archive does not collect user-specific information (including IP addresses) about what is read/downloaded. If, however, a user makes use of the Archive’s bookmark feature, it will by definition associate that item with the user’s account. A forthcoming lending library of modern books will retain some user information for a time to implement the system – the extent of information to be collected and the duration over which it will be stored are yet to be determined.
Adobe Content Server No The Adobe Content Server software cannot monitor what a user reads.
iPad No The Terms of Use claim that any information gathered is non-identifiable.
Adobe Content Server No The Adobe Content Server software cannot monitor what a user reads.
 

Does the device have limited compatibility with books not 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. Kindles also have PDF support. Amazon also allows publishers to offer books without DRM.
B&N Nook No Supports popular eBook formats like EPUB and PDF 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.
Internet Archive N/A Internet Archive’s text collection is not a reading device, but is compatible with many different devices. Among the formats offered are PDF, EPUB, MOBI, Daisy (for sight-impaired/print-disabled), DJVU and OCR-generated txt formats.
iPad No Supports EPUB and PDFs. Supports AZW with additional software.
Adobe Content Server No The Adobe Content Server is compatible with many different devices and books in many different formats, but also can be used to restrict formats.
 

Can they keep track of book purchases? Can they track book purchses or acquisitions made from other sources?

Google Books Yes All book purchases must be associated with a Google Account.
Amazon Kindle Yes/Unknown Amazon will compile a purchase history for users from Amazon. It is unclear whether Amazon will include in that history books purchased or obtained elsewhere but read on the Kindle
B&N Nook Yes/No 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/No 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 FBReader does not collect data about book purchases.
Internet Archive N/A The Archive does not sell books, but some of its associated sites (e.g., www.openlibrary.org) link to bookstores.
iPad Yes/No Yes if searched on iBookstore or other Apple applications; otherwise no.
Adobe Content Server No The Adobe Content Server software does not obtain information about what users read.
 

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 information is collected.
Internet Archive The Archive does not collect user-specific information (including IP address) about the searching, reading, or downloading of texts, and so cannot provide it. Books, bookmarks, reviews, and forum postings are publicly available.
iPad Law enforcement or civil litigants as required by law, Apple's service providers, vendors and strategic partners within Apple Group.
Adobe Content Server The Adobe Content Server software does not collect user-identifying information and so cannot share it.
 

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 so nothing can be shared.
Internet Archive No The Archive does not collect user-specific information (including IP address) about the searching, reading, or downloading of texts, so nothing can be shared. Books, bookmarks, reviews, and forum postings are publicly available.
iPad Yes Users may opt out of use of information only for certain marketing and personalized advertising uses.
Adobe Content Server No No information about users is collected so nothing can be shared.
 

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.
Internet Archive No No user info/IP addresses on searches/reading/downloads are collected. Bookmarks may be deleted.
iPad Somewhat Users may delete book titles within personal account but will likely lose ability to read them. There is no right to access or delete search and purchase history.
Adobe Content Server No No information about users is collected.

Updated 12/2/10.


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