July 11, 2012
"It Is The Way That Things Are": Your eBook reading is being mined for usage analysis
When one of my colleagues mentioned awhile back that he had just heard a news report about how eBooks are being mined for usage data by eBook sellers that is being shared with publishers my response was "damn I hadn't thought of that but it makes sense because it is doable." The source for this information was WSJ reporter Alexandra Alter's Your E-Book Is Reading You (updated June 29, 2012). A quick snip from Alter's story:
The major new players in e-book publishing—Amazon, Apple and Google—can easily track how far readers are getting in books, how long they spend reading them and which search terms they use to find books. Book apps for tablets like the iPad, Kindle Fire and Nook record how many times readers open the app and how much time they spend reading. Retailers and some publishers are beginning to sift through the data, gaining unprecedented insight into how people engage with books.
eBook reading monitoring can go very deep as in (1) how long it takes to finish reading an eBook (2) what text a reader highlights, (3) what sections the reader skips over, and (4) whether a reader stops reading the book before finishing it in its entirety. Much but not all of the WSJ article focuses on how useful this data can to publishers to help them create books that will hold readers' attention better.
[Barnes & Noble vice president of e-books Jim Hilt] says that the company is still in "the earliest stages of deep analytics" and is sifting through "more data than we can use." But the data—which focuses on groups of readers, not individuals—has already yielded some useful insights into how people read particular genres.
I think we all know that just because this sort of data analysis is not focused on individuals it doesn't mean that data collection on eBook reading cannot track individuals. The first mainstream media report on eBook reading deep analytics I found was published in December 2010. See Martin Kaste's Is Your E-Book Reading Up on You (NPR's All Things Considered). In that episode, Cindy Cohn, EFF's legal director, warned that if the collected data is retained long-term the information could be subpoenaed to check someone's alibi, or as evidence in a lawsuit.
And it's not just what pages you read; it may also monitor where you read them. Kindles, iPads and other e-readers have geo-location abilities; using GPS or data from Wi-Fi and cell phone towers, it wouldn't be difficult for the devices to track their own locations in the physical world.
"Ultimately, this sort of thing scares the hell out of me," [author Steven] King says. "But it is the way that things are."
As law librarians should we be concerned? I think we should. I'm not sure the data is retained long-term by general trade eBook retailers but there is no doubt in my mind that collecting deep data of the Law eBook usage by WEXIS (and other vendors) for Law eBooks sold to individual consumers can be and hence likely will be, if not already is, collected just like all manner of legal search usage has been.
Our Law eBook publishers may make the case the general trade industry is making that such metrics will help them produce better enhanced law eBooks. For example, "[p]inpointing the moment when readers get bored could also help publishers create splashier digital editions by adding a video, a Web link or other multimedia features." Quoting from Alter's WSJ story.
With reader metrics Law eBook publishers can discover with some level of predictability what it takes to make an eBook a "best seller." Collecting reading habit metrics for Law eBooks can be crucial to the success of legal publishers who are crafting new normal sales models that are just as retail-centric as general trade publishers in the march towards No Touch eCommerce.
I seriously doubt our Law eBook reading users has even thought that their reading can be recorded and analyzed and that is doable down to the level of their user accounts. How do you think billing by user account is created on the fly? Law librarians know what is and has been going on.We know that database usage is mined and has become incorporated in crowd-sourcing, oops, I mean, usage metics for today's search engine designs.
Unlike the general eReading population, when attorneys are reading an eBook, they are typically doing so in their professional capacity. I seriously doubt data crunching vendor programming gurus and their Mad Men give this much thought. However, law librarians should be concerned about the deep data mining of Law eBooks reading.
UNC Law Library Director Anne Kleinfelder certainly does. See her When to Research is to Reveal: The Growing Threat to Attorney and Client Confidentiality from Online Tracking, 16 Virginia Journal of Law & Technology No. 1 (Spring, 2011) and Library Standards for Privacy: A Model for the Digital World?, 11 North Carolina Journal of Law & Technology 553 (2010) [SSRN].
The issues presented in both of Klinefelter's articles will be featured at Boston 2012. She will be presenting this year's well-deserved Distringuished Lecture Address.
Should Librarians Retire the Privacy Ethic?
Monday July 23, 2012, 2:45pm - 4:00pm in HCC-Room 208
Can we really protect library users from being tracked individually by database producers, search engines, websites, and mobile reader devices? And does government access to this collected data undermine our PATRIOT Act advocacy? Should librarians retire the privacy ethic and instead embrace the content, customization, remote access, cloud efficiencies, collection control, and safety benefits we can now purchase with privacy?
Klinefelter is also an organizer/presenter for the following Boston session:
Attorney-Client Confidentiality and the Law Librarian
Sunday July 22, 2012, 3:45pm - 5:00pm in HCC-Room 304
Attorney-client confidentiality is challenged by cloud computing, passwords that identify database users, vendor advertisements that identify subscribers, employer access to employee email, Internet Service Provider and web tracking access to online research activity, and some uses of social media. A Boston attorney with expertise in confidentiality and privacy law will outline the scope of ethical and legal requirements for attorneys and for the librarians and IT staff who support them. Participants will receive tips on how to support compliance with confidentiality requirements. A significant portion of the presentation will be devoted to audience questions in order to address specific concerns of those attending.
Clearing interest in the rise of Law eBooks offering from our major vendors is evidenced by the below-listed pre-Conference and Conference session programs featuring Law eBook vendor reps..
PLL Summit III Session
E-books: Is Colecting Vinyl Appropriate in the 21st Century?
Saturday, July 21, 2012, 2:30-3:15 p.m. at Marriott Copley Place
From the PLL Summit session announcement:
Are the new apps of e-books truly necessary/helpful for modern day research or are they a throwback to albums, eight-tracks and CD ROMs? A panel of vendor representatives will share their perspectives on this rapidly changing medium.
Presentations by Scott Meiser, LexisNexis, Brian Kundeson, Thomson Reuters and John DeFeo, Wolters Kluwer Law & Business.
If you can only attend regular AALL program sessions, PLL is offering the following eBook session:
Law Firm Libraries: Your E-book Future Has Arrived
Monday July 23, 2012, 1:15pm - 2:15pm in HCC-Room 306
With little fanfare, LexisNexis has begun offering some content in e-book format (e.g., the color books such as the Redbook New York Civil Practice Law and Rules). Thomson Reuters has indicated court rules for New York and others will be in e-book format in the fourth quarter of 2011. The ABA and Apple have entered into a partnership to publish legal e-books for sale in the Apple bookstore. Visions of attorneys waving their Kindles and iPads in front of our faces demanding e-books have begun to haunt our dreams. So many questions come to mind: What will the functionality be like? How will updates work? Will attorneys want both print and e-book formats, and what will that do to our budgets? What happens when an attorney leaves, along with e-book content paid for by the firm? A panel of two firm librarians who have conducted e-book trials, and two vendors will talk about this experience, as well as what vendors are doing with regard to functionality, pricing, and administration.
Presentations by some (all?) of the above-listed Summit III vendor reps?
Clearly saving the dates and times for the above-listed "Should Librarians Retire the Privacy Ethic?" and "Attorney-Client Confidentiality and the Law Librarian" should be included in your AALL Boston 2012 schedule if you are attending Boston 2012 IMHO. [JH]
Our presentation will be myself (Caren Biberman) and Bess Reynolds talking about the ebook trials at our firms followed by a panel Qa&A with Scott Meiser of LexisNexis and Colin McKay of Thomson Reuters. Our program was chosen by the AALL membership for live streaming. I was promised by the PLL Summit organizers that they wouldn't cover the same ground as our program was.
Posted by: Caren Biberman | Jul 12, 2012 6:26:58 AM