Friday, October 17, 2014

Let's Talk Ebook Privacy

If you borrow ebooks from the Free Library of Philadelphia, you may need to take some steps to ensure your privacy. Public libraries have always tried to protect their patrons' reading privacy but we don't always have control over how ebooks are managed by other companies.

Reader privacy seems like no big deal, but imagine these examples. Someone has an abusive spouse and wants to read about others who were able to walk away from an abuser. A student has a research paper due on terrorism and has to focus on specific hate groups and crimes. A person wants to read about suicide signs to watch for because they are concerned about a friend. There are any number of legitimate reasons why people don't want others to know what they are reading, or where what someone is reading could be taken the wrong way, and librarians believe everyone has the right to keep their reading private.

Ebook distributors like Overdrive use Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) to manage permissions and rules for library ebook users. Adobe recently released a new version of their software. Version 4 collects a large amount of information about the ebooks viewed using ADE, on your computer and any connected ereaders. It does not include your name and other contact information, but given that the information is sent to Adobe in a non-secure format and includes a vast amount of other detail, a savvy computer snoop could figure out the source. You can read more about this on the Free Library's Blog and from the original report of the problem (thanks to Nate Hoffelder of The Digital Reader).

The easiest way to protect your reading privacy is to use Adobe Digital Editions version 3, which can still be downloaded from the Adobe website. If you haven't updated to the latest version, your information has not been shared.

As the Free Library's blog post notes, this is not a security breach but a privacy breach. Adobe made the changes because they wanted to offer more services to ebook readers, but those things come with a heavy price. Librarians and ebook readers across the country have started calling for Adobe to reverse some of the changes that were made, but until then staying with an older version of ADE will keep someone else from knowing what you are reading.