Amazon Risks Kindle Sales By Tracking, Reporting What Readers Highlight

Last Updated Apr 30, 2010 12:38 PM EDT

Amazon (AMZN) is now watching what its Kindle users are highlighting -- and publishing the results. This bold, unnecessary move may erode consumer trust and hurt Kindle book sales, two things Amazon can't afford as it wages war against Apple (AAPL).

From MediaBistro's GalleyCat:

Amazon recently launched a "Popular Highlights" feature that showcases the book passages underlined by Kindle readers--a 21st Century twist on literary quotation.

So far, the list has been dominated by bestselling books: The Shack by William P. Young, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, and The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown.

Here's more about the program: "AmazonKindle also introduces a "Popular Highlights" feature that identifies the passages that are most highlighted by the millions of Kindle customers. We combine the highlights of all Kindle customers and identify the passages with the most highlights. The resulting Popular Highlights help readers to focus on passages that are meaningful to the greatest number of people."

MediaBistro's stance is rather happy-go-lucky, especially since Amazon is publishing what are, essentially, readers' private thoughts. The digital issue is fairly clear. For instance, I'm reading one of my favorite books, Robert Greene's The 48 Laws Of Power, and highlight a particularly nefarious passage, as there are a lot of them. The dog-eared copy on my bookshelf is safe and sound, only available to friends, family and, need be, authorities with my approval or a search warrant. The Kindle version, however, which I was actually considering buying because of the large paperback size, would instantly pass on any highlighted passages of interest to Amazon. I don't have a dark past and, knock on wood, don't have a dark future ahead, but any information I deem important in my book library can now be used as ammunition against me.

The most disturbing issue here isn't Amazon's data gathering and the public listing, or even the potential for the information to be passed to authorities deemed worthy by the company. No, the problem here is context -- as in, there is none. Purchasing a landmark cultural title like William Powell's The Anarchist Cookbook is a soft coincidence, but someone highlighting specific passages found related to a suspected crime is a step towards intent.

How can a customer feel comfortable in the environment Amazon has created?

As a company, Amazon has no problem wielding its knowledge against consumers and suppliers. In the past it has:

Amazon just released the multiplatform Kindle app, so we can expect more control freak shenanigans to ensue as it fights Apple and other e-reader manufacturers. For right now, though, customers have to be careful what they highlight. Amazon has brazenly told them it is watching. RELATED: