October 27, 2021

A Quick Comment: Library E-Books, Reader Privacy, and Transparency

Comment From Gary Price, infoDOCKET Founder/Editor:

This morning, Bradley Chambers shared a comment on 9 to 5 Mac titled: Amazon Kindle’s US Public Library Integration is Exactly What Apple Books Needs.”

My hope is that if a service similar to what Amazon and OverDrive offers becomes available from others it will be, from the outset, more transparent to end users vs. what we have seen from these to providers since day one.

The library community places a large amount of importance on reader privacy (as we should, now more than ever) and data transparency but in my view, this has not been the case for the past 8 years when it comes to Amazon/OverDrive service.

In a nutshell, when a library user borrows a book from their local library (via OverDrive) and puts it on their Kindle device, the library borrow data is shared with a third party, Amazon.com.

This data is now part of the Amazon user’s account and can be used to sell books to these customers (and library users) via email (vs. asking if they might want to borrow other titles), and if any notes are made in the book, this material remains on Amazon’s servers in perpetuity UNLESS the user manually deletes the material.

The library community asks for transparency when it comes to governments and others but not with the Amazon/OverDrive relationship.

Transparency means providing a clearly written explanation in a location where it can be discovered and understood.  Plus, let’s not be afraid to share this information with our users during library training sessions, etc.

As I’ve said for many years, I am NOT SUGGESTING THE ELIMINATION OF THE AMAZON/OVERDRIVE service but rather providing our users with the necessary information to understand what’s going on. This is no different than what the library community asks of others.

We must make sure that reader privacy remains as important as it has always been to our profession. People trust libraries and librarians. We cannot afford to lose this trust.

On a related note, let’s not forget that the library community via the Amazon/OverDrive service has now provided Amazon.com with years and years of library user data. Amazon knows exactly what library users read, how much they read, what they highlight, how often books are returned early, and more.

Precisely how or if Amazon users this data is not clearly known but let’s not forget they have it and can use it and/or share it with a variety of companies and organizations if/when needed.

This issue was raised by Tom Mercer, SVP of Digital Products, Bibliotheca, this summer and is worthy of discussion.

See: Bibliotheca Calls Out Amazon for Meddling in the Library E-book Market (via PW)

See: Tom Mercer’s Letter to Customers (Summer 2019)

See Also: Similar Comments were Shared in this 2013 infoDOCKET post, “Adding Transparency to the Ebook Transaction”

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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