You are always the product

I just discovered that Amazon allows anyone to “follow” a Kindle user, and there is no way to turn that feature off or to block followers. They say your followers can only see notes that you explicitly make public, but they don’t say anything about whether they can see your book list, which is the union of books you’ve bought, books you’ve reviewed and books on your wish lists—and not just eBooks, but paper books as well. Wish lists can be made private, but the FAQ doesn’t say whether that means they don’t appear in my book list on kindle.amazon.com.

This makes me extremely uncomfortable. I didn’t realize until now that Amazon has absolutely no privacy settings whatsoever, beyond the option of marking a wish list private (which should be the default, but isn’t). It’s also interesting that they describe public lists as “lists your friends can see” and not as what they really are—lists anyone can see. Arguably, that’s what wish lists are for, so I don’t really mind, although I have now marked all my wish lists private until I can look through them and think about what they say about me, and whether I really want to share that with the world.

(I am tempted to create a single public wishlist with nothing but My Little Pony merchandise)

In hindsight, I shouldn’t be surprised that this feature exists. When I found out about kindle.amazon.com a few months ago, I was slightly baffled: I could not see the use of it, as the only functionality it offers that “Manage my Kindle” on the main site doesn’t is the ability to view my highlights so I can more easily copy-paste them to my blog, in here, or wherever else I may want to quote something I’ve been reading on my Kindle. Now I understand: the purpose of kindle.amazon.com is to sell me.

There is an oft-repeated aphorism that goes “if you’re not paying for it, you are the product”. What people may not realize is that even if you are paying for it, you may still be the product. Amazon may not sell information about their customers to marketeers, but they use it to make their products and services more attractive to other customers, viz. your friends, family and cyberstalkers.

O brave new world that has such websites in it.

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