Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Writing Wibbles

I always feel like
somebody's watching me
(And I have no privacy)
—Rockwell

I had a couple of things to share this week—an interview with the creator of the #amwriting hashtag was at the top of the list—but something else reared its ugly adobe head, and vaulted to the top of the list.

Nate Hoffeider at The Digital Reader broke the story a little over a week ago. Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) version 4 “[seems] to be sending an awful lot of data to Adobe’s servers.” Most EPUB-based eBook readers on the market use some version of ADE, although I’m not sure whether any are using ADE4 just yet. Older versions are less intrusive.

How intrusive is this? Let me quote Mr. Hoffeider here:
Adobe is gathering data on the ebooks that have been opened, which pages were read, and in what order. All of this data, including the title, publisher, and other metadata for the book is being sent to Adobe’s server in clear text. …

Adobe isn’t just tracking what users are doing in DE4; this app was also scanning my computer, gathering the metadata from all of the ebooks sitting on my hard disk, and uploading that data to Adobe’s servers. …

And just to be clear, this includes not just ebooks I opened in DE4, but also ebooks I store in calibre and every Epub ebook I happen to have sitting on my hard disk.
(emphasis mine)

The Passive Guy, a lawyer who writes on self-publishing issues, has an excellent summary and links, both in the article and from readers in the comments.

Much of the outrage in the tech side of the community focuses on Adobe’s use of plain text. That is a little disturbing, yes—it means anyone who can put a packet sniffer anywhere along the path between you and Adobe can see all this data. But for me, it’s what the people owning the servers are doing that’s more important. Scraping your hard drive for eBooks makes ADE4 spyware, in my opinion.

When pressed for an explanation, Adobe finally said (in the typical corporate lawyer speak of any company caught with their hands in your pockets) that it’s part of their DRM, and they gave themselves permission to do it through their “privacy” policy.

Now I can already hear the Kindle haters shouting “Amazon does it, too!” Well, yes, Amazon does send some information back to the mothership, but there are (as I see it) three important differences:

  1. Amazon is pretty up-front about what their Whispersync feature does, and it gives back by letting you sync your books across devices. Adobe gives you nothing (or maybe they use the info to target advertising at you, who knows?). You can also turn it off at any time.
  2. Whispersync isn’t a DRM mechanism, at least primarily. It works just as well with non-DRM books sold through the Kindle store.
  3. Amazon doesn’t presume to scrape your hard drive, looking for any MOBI or AZW files you might happen to have, just because they feel like it.

To Panic or not to Panic (probably not)


Since I handle all eBook formatting for Green Envy Press, and I work in EPUB format, I’m pretty sensitive to the idea of some corporation scraping my hard drive and looking over works in progress. Fortunately, I don’t use Adobe software in any part of my production toolchain.

But this is the problem: if people with access (legal or otherwise) to Adobe’s servers were to target a publisher’s typesetting department, they could get advance notice of upcoming titles or other intelligence. Or they could target individuals for blackmail purposes. I find it quite likely that Adobe’s legal department will use this info to shake down unfortunates who land in some kind of piracy profile (whether they’re actually pirating eBooks or not)—or sell the info to large publishers, so they can do the shaking down. I also expect Adobe to “share collected information with our third-party partners” (i.e. sell information about your reading habits to anyone who wants to spam you to death).

On the other hand, this affects only a small but growing number of individuals—those who have been suckered into installing ADE4 on their computers. I don’t know whether any eBook readers use ADE4, or will load that Trojan Horse in a near-future update. Obviously, people in the Kindle ecosystem are immune (beyond the Whispersync issues I mentioned earlier). Apple’s iBooks ecosystem is also Adobe-free, or so I’ve read. Earlier versions of ADE are not nearly as intrusive, so you’re safe in that case as well.

Fortunately, and I’ve said this before, eBook DRM is ridiculously easy to disable. Buy your eBooks from any authorized retailer, strip the DRM, and use Calibre or a third-party eReader to read on your computer. Or buy from those of us who make sure the “use DRM” selection is turned off when we publish.

And then, there’s the technical fix: block the IP addresses assigned to Adobe’s servers at your router. Whether you use DSL, cable, or fiber to get your Internet fix, your router has a fairly simple way to set this up. Look for something like “outgoing filters” and add the addresses shown in the image below. Here’s what I’ve added to my DSL router, just in case:


That won’t stop ADE4 from getting all chatty if you take your laptop outside the house, but it’s a start.



If you haven’t tried my eBooks—DRM-free, available for both Kindle and the rest of the world, and priced to move—why not check them out? The Crossover is free, and the rest are cheaper than a large latte. And unlike a latte, you can enjoy them again and again.

3 comments:

  1. Looking forward to the interview when you do get a window to post it.

    I've been finding it very word that there hasn't been a louder uproar over the ADE4 spyware. Adobe should be completely hung out to dry over this. As you pointed out, they're pulling all sorts of information that isn't ready for dissemination (not to mention it's not theirs to scrape).

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have to say although that mainly went over my head, it all sounds very interesting ^_^

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  3. Urgh things like that make me feel very uneasy! I only have Digital Editions installed on my laptop so I can see what ePUBs will look like before I upload them to Smashwords (I can at least use my Kindle app for MOBI files) but now I'm going to feel very awkward using it at all.

    ReplyDelete

Comments are welcome, and they don't have to be complimentary. I delete spam on sight, but that's pretty much it for moderation. Long off-topic rants or unconstructive flamage are also candidates for deletion but I haven’t seen any of that so far.

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