Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Are Adobe Secretly Watching You Read Via DRM?

The question of privacy on the internet has once again raised its head with the posting by Digital Reader on Adobe’s ACS DRM system and what is claimed to be excessive data gathering of personal information from consumer’s elibraries.

We can’t comment on whether the facts as presented are true or false, but we are able to say that if true, they are a significant shift from where Adobe started from and seriously question the role of DRM and whether consumer privacy rights have been breeched.

Abobe DRM history goes back many years. ACS3 was widely used by retailers but effectively broken and open. The start of the latest ebook revolution was initiated with the introduction of the eInk readers and when Sony entered the fray they wanted a DRM system which would effectively give them a march on the rest. Adobe also wanted to regain control of a space they had clearly lost. Overdrive had also built a ACS4 beta that they were using to control their market. We remember Adobe’s introduction of ACS4 and their lack of market awareness and often rigid mind-set and coupled with Sony’s desire to rule the world, we had many often fraught conversations with the two of them but the rest of the market wasn’t ready and so they won the initial battle. Years later it’s a different story and many have either migrated to their own DRM. Amazon and Apple never did join and Kobo and Nook grew alternative offers and Overdrive stuck with their own variant.

Adobe then went into what can best described as the Dark Ages where they still championed interoperability, but where leaderless and gave up trying to manage micropayments and gave this up to a small handful of agents who managed the retail facing activity and collected the money. They then came up with ACS5 or a tighter model which was part born out of the fact that ACS4 could easily be broken by anyone who asked the right questions on the Internet and part by the fact that they were clearly being squeezed out by the big channels. Unfortunately ACS5 has some basic issues which forced Adobe to retract their initially statements and backtrack on their timelines to force full migration to the new platform.

So today we have the news that Abode appear to be data gathering consumer usage information at title level and also at library level. What was read when, what wasn’t read, and probably much more? Is this right or wrong?

Well Adobe provide a DRM locking service aimed at validating ownership and stamping this such that they can ensure rights are managed with respect to devices, etc. Why on earth do they want to gather data on usage other than to sell back to publishers, retailers and libraries. Did they offer and opt in, or opt out to consumers is a mute question and we would suggest that they had to in order to snoop.

They apparently doing this not through the standard interface with hosting sites but through a mole application in Digital Editions that they plant into the consumer library or device. We would like to see the snooper application flagged as unauthorised by the security systems and users being given at least the choice of allowing it in. Whether the Adobe service will work without the mole is an interesting question.

We have to accept that Amazon, Apple, Nook, Kobo and Overdrive all can gather information on their consumers and their walled gardens allow this, but they are walled gardens. Adobe promotes itself as open and interoperable and importantly does not have consumer customer relationships to build in the same way. Again it begs the question what do they intend to do with this information and is it being resold and if so to whom?

However, all this a new news and we await more information about Abode’s intent and what is behind the intrusion into consumer’s private libraries and reading habits.

Personally, if the facts bear up to what has been reported, then Adobe has single handily done more harm to DRM than all the articles every written about it. Consumers if made aware of it will probably shun and question the violation of their privacy.

Finally, we hope that the wider media picks this story up and fully investigates it and if collaborated exposes it to the consumer.  

6th Oct 2014

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