New thoughts on ebooks

Posting to NGC4LIB

Here is an article “Your E-Book Is Reading You” from the Wall Street Journal (freely available)

A small part of the article:
“Barnes & Noble, which accounts for 25% to 30% of the e-book market through its Nook e-reader, has recently started studying customers’ digital reading behavior. Data collected from Nooks reveals, for example, how far readers get in particular books, how quickly they read and how readers of particular genres engage with books. Jim Hilt, the company’s vice president of e-books, says the company is starting to share their insights with publishers to help them create books that better hold people’s attention.”

There is much to consider here, (possibilities of strange types of feedback loops are my first thought) but my first reaction is to think that the internet is becoming more and more a version of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon. Bentham’s idea was that in an institution (primarily prisons but not only prisons), those in charge should be able to easily see the people inside, and these people would know they were being watched but have no idea when they would be watched. Since no one would know when you were being watched and when not, individuals would tend to act as if they were always being watched and thereby behave as if they were controlled by actual constraints. Some older and newer prisons are built on these designs. It was also the idea of the telescreen in Orwell’s 1984:

“Behind Winston’s back the voice from the telescreen was still babbling away about pig-iron and the overfulfilment of the Ninth Three-Year Plan. The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it, moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live — did live, from habit that became instinct — in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”

The idea of the internet as modern-day Panopticon is not new. Of course, computer servers all over the world record everything you look at and how long you look. That is general knowledge now and apparently few care very much. If we assume that everyone in charge is nice, there is no problem but that is difficult to assume of course. Now even your *book* is recording what you do with it, so that others can use the infofmation for whatever their own purposes happen to be. In any case, the collector of this information can sell it for a profit.

But there is another, new development that I just noticed: “Oracle cannot block the resale of its software, top EU court rules”

“Oracle has found itself on the losing side of a judgement by Europe’s top court, which ruled on Tuesday that software licences can be sold on a second-hand basis, even when the software in question is downloaded rather than sold on physical media.”

“Where the copyright holder makes available to his customer a copy — tangible or intangible — and at the same time concludes, in return [for] payment of a fee, a licence agreement granting the customer the right to use that copy for an unlimited period, that rightholder sells the copy to the customer and thus exhausts his exclusive distribution right. Such a transaction involves a transfer of the right of ownership of the copy,” the CJEU said in a statement.”

“Therefore, even if the licence agreement prohibits a further transfer, the rightholder can no longer oppose the resale of that copy.”

This is a very positive development, but I can’t find out if this applies only to computer software, or if it would apply also to digital books. If it does apply to ebooks, what would happen if you bought an ebook, sold it, it was resold and resold again, etc. Will the file continue to collect information? And to attribute all of the habits of these unknown people to you?

Curiouser and curiouser!