It is practically a given to many people that some amount of what you do on the internet is being tracked. There is occasional outrage over this, such as when even their less tech savvy subscribers began to catch on to the fact that they were Facebook’s salable resource more than its target audience, but that is just going to be the case when you’re talking about “free” services. Consumers are usually even less forgiving when they pay full price for something and get their activity tracked anyway. Why is the Kindle so amazingly popular despite being fairly open in demonstrating that at least some tracking is obviously going on, then?
We can’t say that it is the result of Kindle owners being complacent. Glance at the reviews of the Free App of the Day in Amazon’s Appstore for Android and you’re likely to see Kindle Fire owners outright attacking app developers for including anything that tracks or otherwise exploits users in what is supposedly the fully paid version of their application. This is not a shy or understated bunch of people we are talking about, when the situation calls for more forceful reactions.
Where these app developers are chastised for sneaking in tracking, however, Amazon is openly displaying the fruits of their analysis. This is one part of why they are able to get away with it. They never deny that user data is being tracked and analyzed. It is something that people know when they buy into the line. Amazon is going to keep a list of what you buy, sometimes even what you consider buying, and they will draw conclusions from that.
There is more to it than that, though. Amazon might be collecting this data for any number of purposes that work for the benefit of the company, but they are offering a clear service to their customers by offering the tailored suggestions that come standard in any Amazon account’s home page. The popular theory that I have heard voiced is that this alone accounts for the general complacency with which Kindle users in particular take this situation. At least there is a visible tradeoff here.
I would say that the real explanation is slightly different, although that is a part of it. Amazon has done a lot to make itself a very customer-friendly company. More often than anything else, their customer service receives glowing praise. They not only brought us eBooks in a major way for the first time but actively got into disagreements with suppliers to try to bring them to us at reasonable prices. Amazon really seems to be one of the few companies left that puts customer satisfaction first. That makes it easy to trust that they will use any information they collect in a responsible manner.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that there is an unconditional trust here. We all remember the congressional inquiry into the Silk Browser’s privacy features around the time of the Kindle Fire launch. If there are concerns, they should and do get brought up. I just find it fascinating that the sort of behavior that causes outrage in other areas gets more or less ignored here. Maybe Kindle owners are really satisfied enough to feel that Amazon deserves some trust?