Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Adobe, Amazon, and the Great "Spying" Scandal

Alarmist stories at Gigaom, Arstechnica, and elsewhere have recently villainized Adobe Systems for collecting e-book analytics (in unencrypted form) from readers, surreptitiously. "Adobe is Spying on Users, Collecting Data on Their eBook Libraries," a headline from http://the-digital-reader.com blares. Arstechnica is shocked, shocked that people's reading habits are being monitored. And the data's being sent over the wire unencrypted! OH MY GOD!

Give me a freakin' break.

Let's get something straight. Amazon "steals" your reading stats every time you read an e-book. So does Apple. (See the WSJ story "Your Ebook Is Reading You.") Oh, and by the way, who do you think owns Goodreads (which knows a lot about your reading habits)? Amazon, that's who.

Google processes your Gmail to uncover keywords that help it put customized Amazon ads in your face every day. Somehow that's not news, but the fact that Adobe slurps e-book analytics from users of Adobe Digital Editions is treated as if it's the scandal of the century.

Analytics is a big (and I mean BIG) part of what Adobe does now. Do you remember when Adobe acquired Omniture in 2009 for $1.8 billion? What do you suppose that was all about?

It was about analytics, that's what.

Some of the largest web properties in the world run on top of Adobe's Experience Management suite. The latter ties world-class content management to world-class analytics solutions.

Read up on Adobe's SiteCatalyst here.

Arstechnica, by the way, is a Conde Nast property, and Conde Nast is a bigtime Adobe customer. So for Arstechnica to run a sensationalistic screed saying Adobe is stealing people's private reading data is a bit silly. Every time you visit Arstechnica's site, every detail of your visit is captured, rest assured.

Folks, everything you do online is captured, measured, stored, analyzed, by someone, somewhere. Sure, Amazon knows how fast a reader you are, what you like to read, what you finish and don't finish reading, etc. Apple knows this stuff too. Adobe too.

That world we used to live in where no one knew this stuff about you? That world before web analytics? The world of paper-and-ink books that could be read in private? That world is pretty much gone with the wind. Unless you do, in fact, still mostly read paper books. (As I do.)

Let's drop the hysterics about Adobe "spying on readers." Everyone with a web connection is being "spied on" (if that's what you want to call it) nonstop, all the time.

If you don't like it, write your Congressperson. Start a petition. Unplug from the Internet.

But don't heap scorn on Adobe. That's just plain immature.

Disclosure: I used to work for Adobe Systems. I do not work for them, in any capacity, today. These are my opinions. They come solely from me. No one handed them to me. Got it?


  1. Right, everything online should be considered as being tracked. But whatever Adobe is doing in ADE, and why it's a valid scandal, is tracking reads of EPUB format books that were never purchased via nor in ant way connected with the Adobe Content Server Mechanism (.acsm file) distribution and licensing mechanism. Reporting back to the Adobe "mothership" on those EPUB files, which are none of their business. ADE doesn't provide any cross-device page sync the way native Kindle, Kobo, Nook, Google Play Books apps do, so there is zero user benefit that requires or justifies that snooping. No, not even if I choose to use Adobe Digital Edition's functionality as just another locally installed program on my PC/Mac to read those EPUB files. Especially not in that case of reading an EPUB file not encryped by Adobe DRM.

    If I buy a DRM book from Kobo or Google and want to download it in a universal format to read in my preferred ereading application, one where I can legally combined all my non-Kindle books on one bookshelf, rather than be stuck with books isolated in sellers' different apps, then Adobe DRM, Adobe .acsm files for the license rights, the Adobe Content Server infrastructure for the actual book file download, my Adobe ID, and use of Adobe Digital Editions Windows/Mac program are all part of the deal. Including Adobe having the right, and the responsibility, to ensure that I only use that file within the terms of my license. ADE, in its role as an eBook reading app for Adobe DRM books being one of its optional functions. On such Adobe DRM books, tracking and reporting my reading being (arguably) with the terms of the license to the book and to the software to which I agreed in order to legally read that book. Reasonable (arguably, if we posit that DRM is ok at all.) ADE likewise required to legally copy that book in readable-by-me access onto Adobe DRM-equipped devices like Kobo and Nook e-ink eReaders and Nook Color, and eReader apps such as Bluefire Reader for Android. But for when I read non-AdobeDRM books in locally-installed program ADE? Not Adobe's business. When I have other EPUB files on my computer that I'm not even reading in nor importing to the library management function of ADE? Definitely not Adobe's business yet ADE is reporting on those.

    That's the scandal, and it's naive to deny there's a difference in those cases. Unless it's deliberate disinformation to make Adobe look good. The "Everybody does it" argument is deceptive and in detail absolutely incorrect. Nor does it work on digital freedom advocates any better than it did on anyone's mother!

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