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Your e-reader is spying on you – sort of…

Posted Jul 05 2012 5:41am

That, at least, is what the Guardian is trying to convince people of, ramping up fear of their e-readers, especially the Kindle which, frankly, is despicable. Not least because the information gathered is so trivial that it’s not remotely worth worrying about.

My Kindle isn’t telling anyone anything particularly useful or marketable –  what value is there in knowing that I tend to read a particular author’s books in one session, for example (which isn’t recorded accurately anyway, as every time I break off to do something else, like eat, it turns itself off after about 20 minutes)? Or that I might abandon the book I’m reading in favour of something different, and then go back to it? And they don’t know, when  it turns off automatically, whether I’ve dropped off, watching TV, eating, gone for a pint, or switched to print.  All are possible, as are many other scenarios, rendering the information that my Kindle has turned itself off of zero value.

I’m at a loss to know the Guardian’s motives for this article, as the fact that Kindles, and doubtless other e-readers, gather and disseminate information about your reading habits isn’t exactly a secret.

You also, should you have an exaggerated sense of your own importance, have the ability to input comments as you read and have them broadcast. I can’t imagine why I’d ever want to do that, not least because my opinion of a book can change while I’m reading it. Some, for example, pretty much need a crowbar to get into, but are, subsequently, deeply rewarding; others can draw me straight in, but yield little satisfaction. In both cases, posting interim comments, which are likely to be proven wrong, is a waste of everyone’s time. If I want to review a book, I’ll do it properly, on my blog.

The Guardian comments are interesting, too, starting out mainly along the lines of this post (which started life as a comment of my own, yesterday, which I forgot to publish and have only just done so), before moving to outright paranoia.

And for anyone worried by this tripe, don’t be. Turn off wi-fi by all means, though it’s possible, even probably, that data will still be uploaded next time you buy a book over wi-fi but, as I said, that data will be extremely trivial and essentially useless unless you choose to engage with the system by inputting information yourself. If you resist that temptation (and unless you’re the sort of numpty who scribbles in the margins of print books, resisting the temptation isn’t hard?), what it uploads is of no real value to anyone, and is certainly not worth worrying about.

For spoonies…

On a slightly different tack, one Luddite demanded to know what the point of an e-reader was – the sort of attitude which, if widespread, would stifle progress in any field – the point is, for me, that it’s light and holds loads of books – what’s not to like?

My Kindle has several functions. It holds many books in one place, as I said; it enables me to have several books on the go at once, without clutter, but it’s the spoonie aspect that I find most appealing, and the reason I bought mine in the first tranche, without a second thought.

Why? Because I’d just finished Stephen King’s Under the Dome, a grossly over-written doorstop of a book that should really have been a short story (indeed, the underlying premise was lifted entire from a short s-f story from the fifties – the concept being the Earth, or in this case a small New England town, as an ant-farm for aliens, since you ask).

Apart from the fact that it was overblown tripe (the editor who used to exert control over King’s excesses died some years ago, sadly), the damned thing was heavy, and reading it caused me considerable pain, so I promptly ordered a Kindle the moment it was offered, and I’ve never looked back. I still buy print books, even ones which are too heavy to hold, like Claudia Roden’s The Food of Spain, and until e-readers with colour screens** come along, that will continue to happen.

**I have an Android tablet, which would display colour content very nicely, but the battery life is that of a mayfly – literally – compared to the Kindle’s.

Kindle is a brilliant, and brilliantly simple, device which really didn’t need complicating with a touch-screen version  (I also have Kobo Touch, I’m not impressed), and for any spoonie for whom holding books is painful and/or tiring, I’d have no hesitation it recommending a Kindle.

Sadly, the only version with a keyboard (really essential, trust me), is the Kindle Keyboard 3G, at £149 but, frankly, any Kindle is well worth having, and is  streets ahead of the opposition. Treat yourself if you can, you won’t regret it.


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