all bits considered data to information to knowledge


BaaS: Books as a Service… and readers’ rights

Reading used to be a private experience… Walk along the shelves loaded with books, lightly touching the books’ covers, finding your prize, taking it cashier, bringing it home. Then you could read it in front of a fireplace,  or in the kitchen, or on a train, a subway, a lawn, a plane… If a storm knocks down a powerline you light the candles, and keep on reading. Alas, the days of unfettered access to your books are numbered, and I am not all that convinced that this change is for the good.

Just the other day, a company I took my training with had distributed its manuals through one of the ebook services that allow you to access material but prohibit you from printing or saving. Of course, you have to create an account, and agree to an umpteen pages unreadable legalese in which, in all likelihood, you give away your firstborn. The company reserves the right to collect data on you - your reading selection, your bookmarks, your reading habits (day, night, frequency), and offer you promotions based upon this information…. Now, don’t get me wrong - I’ve seen my share of the manuals weighing down on the shelves, unread, untouched, used as doorstops or BBQ fuel; and I am all for stopping the waste with replacing these with electronic copies. It takes some time to get used to but in the end we are all better for not having these almost-immediately-obsolete books around in hardcopy. Helps publishing companies bottom line, too, as it is significantly more difficult to pirate the content. Fair enough.

(But why do they have, for instance, “Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe advertized for just $0.99?! It has been around since 1839, and went through numerous prints, and is available  for free from the internet (Project Gutenberg site be but one example)…

But distributing contemporary titles through this channel has even more sinister overtones  - the Big Brother watching (potentially) your preferences of politics, literary tastes, drawing conclusions about your leanings, preferences, demographics… I can live with electronic media as long as I own what I’ve bought, even with the limitations imposed by the publisher, but I don’t want to surrender my privacy for the sake of dubious convenience! (or, at the very least, I want to make an informed decision about it)

It seems all but certain that the printed books will gradually become luxury items, with prices to match. The mainstream books will become a service: pulp fiction will be read exclusively on iPads/Phones, Kindles, Kobos and other electronic devices; the college textbooks will be rented electronically, and so on… I see it all but inevitable. But we - the readers - must not sell our birthright for the convenience of “bread and some lentil stew”.

We must insist on privacy provisions, similar to those afforded to credit card holders, on equivalents of "do not track" and "private reading" options found in web browsers. This is our birthright as readers.


Lots of little brothers… all watching you

Predictive analytics at its best... and worst.  Charles Duhigg's article How Companies Learn Your Secrets published in New York Times opens a big can of worms here. The truth is that we are getting better and better with predictive analysis aided by ever powerful computers and software, and better mathematical models... and we are getting closer to the point where our secrets do not even have to be stolen as they could be inferred from mountains of tiny clues we left behind as we are going after our daily lives.

The key to make this happen, the facilitator is unique identifiers we acquire with our credit cards, loyalty cards and other numbers that could be used to track your activities. It has its uses - such as prevent fraud, prepare for an eventual disaster and so on.. But there is more insidious side to the predictive nalytics - instead of Big Brother watching we have hundreds of small ones actively engaged into collecting and trading our personally identifiable information - something we are only too happy to give away for a few pennies in discounts on overpriced merchandise.  So goes our privacy - not with a bang but with a whimper