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Because all devices for reading e-books are computers and, in order to download, all are capable of connection to the Internet, the information you have on the device and the information you generate by using the device can, with the appropriate (and usually hidden) software, be sent back to the provider of the books. There was a considerable fuss some time ago when it was realised that Amazon could, remotely, remove all the books you had “bought” from your Kindle. Of course you hadn’t bought them, you had only licensed them – a crazy situation which is perpetuated because governments these days don’t like to tangle with big business. I imagine that Amazon uses this power only very occasionally and perhaps when someone fails to pay their bills – but the fact remains that the power is there.

Now we learn that if your device uses Adobe Digital Editions 4, information on how you are using the individual book is being sent back to Adobe. The amazing thing is that it was doing this “in clear”, i.e., as ordinary, readable text and numbers. This means that, not only is Adobe collecting information on the e-books you have bought, it is also collecting information on the e-books you have borrowed from the library, if your reader uses Adobe’s software.

The American Library Association is, naturally, up in arms about this, since the practice clearly negates the libraries’ promise of anonymity for its readers and, so the ALA reports, it also suggests that the practice infringes the privacy laws of a number of states in the USA.

In today’s “surveillance society” what we find out about infringements of privacy often turns out to be only the tip of the iceberg: how many more e-book providers are surreptitiously monitoring what we read and how we read – and why does Adobe or anyone else need to know?

Update: the debate continues and MIT recommends using an earlier version of ADE.