A confession: I never finished Marcel Proust's
Remembrance of Things Past (aka In Search of Lost
Time); neither in English nor in French. I did finish Haruki
Murakami's IQ84; all 1186 pages of that book. Moby
Dick, too, even the whale dissection parts. I have high hopes
for completing David Foster Wallace's Infinite
Jest. But I wouldn't want the author or the
publisher to know what I had finished, nor what my lack of time,
tedium, or distraction had caused. I wouldn't want them to know
which sections I lingered on and re-read. Some readers of
Fifty Shades of Grey might really not want such
behavioral information shared.
Obviously, in the world of the physical book, the publisher and
author had no such data. The most data available might be
the discovery of a used book giving off clues via an old bookmark,
the cessation of handwritten notes, and coffee stains. Not exactly
what is today called Big Data.
But with this new technological capability, authors could be
like radio programmers (who use listener preference data to select
which songs to play) learning which sections of eBooks are read the
most, what sections turn off readers, and when and where
readers' eyes glaze over.
Would knowledge of what readers read help create more
user-friendly books? Or will authors become too self-aware, too
self-conscious, and as a result write to pander to their
readers' darker instincts?
The legal issues relating to eBooks are very similar to those
relating to websites. But, reader expectations derived from the
print world may be different. Are the typical kinds of privacy
policies that alert end users of websites sufficient to the task of
giving readers fair notice of the capability to collect, reuse, and
disclose eBook user data?
In reaction to the disclosure of video rentals by Robert Bork in
his Supreme Court confirmation hearings, The Video Privacy
Protection Act was passed in 1988 to prohibit "video tape
service providers" from disclosing certain personal
information about video rentals outside the ordinary course of
business. Should Congress give consideration to the privacy of
eBook readers? Should readers be able to opt-in or opt-out with
specific privacy controls as Facebook provides (to some
extent)? Or is collection and disclosure of this information
about our reading all part of the grand bargain that most of
us almost inevitably accept under which we obtain access to
data on the one hand and we lose privacy on the other hand?
No, I don't know how much of this posting you've read.
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