Buying DRM-free e-books is about more than backups

Tracking reading habits is one of the more sinister aspects of Digital Rights Management.

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The recent news that Adobe records reading habits through it's Digital Editions software is another example of why DRM isn't a simple case of "I'd rather read it on a Sony Reader." DRM is a fundamental lack of control over the hardware, software and digital files that we use and consume every day.

"Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a class of technologies that are used by hardware manufacturers, publishers, copyright holders, and individuals with the intent to control the use of digital content and devices after sale;"

from the Wikipedia page on 'DRM'

It's the reason I maintain a list of DRM-free E-Bookshops.

Adobe Digital Editions is advertised as an e-book reading application, when it is, in fact, the front-end to a centralised DRM system. Digital Editions does one job, ensuring that you can only read Adobe DRM'd e-books through its own software. That's it. The only way it can do that is by:

  • recording your purchase of a book
  • sharing the details of that purchase with a central database
  • forcing you to create an account with Adobe (which isn't exactly secure)
  • forcing you to use Adobe Digital Editions on a computer (so, you must have one)
  • forcing you to log-in to that software using your Adobe ID (you know, the secure one...)
  • forcing you to transfer the DRM'd books to your e-reader by only using Digital Editions

...and then have everything recorded on a central server and fed back to Adobe so that they can report on your reading habits. If that's not bondage, I don't know what is.

The fact that Adobe has now confirmed it encrypts the data on your reading habits it sends to HQ is little comfort, since the data is already recorded and has been sent in the clear for years. It, in no way, detracts from the dodgy practice itself and seems to be spinned to suggest that all is now well.

My intention is not to suggest people suddenly change practices, dump their hardware, software, boycott or protest, although those could help. My goal is to raise awareness, help people understand the issues and to suggest alternatives.

My main suggestion is to take some time to investigate bookshops that do not use DRM at all. As I said, I maintain a list of all the DRM-free bookshops I find.

Be aware. Understand the issues. Make informed choices.

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