Over the years I have linked to many books from this blog, usually to an Amazon page with an affilliate link. In the early days (2003-2004) of such affilliate links I made 70 USD at one time, and then nothing. Over time linking to Amazon, links that included a tracking pixel for years, became less helpful for readers to find books, and more helpful for Amazon to track readers.

I stopped linking to Amazon last year April, but this blog still held the links I previously made. When I deleted my Amazon affilliate account they gave me a gift card with the outstanding balance: 35 cents. They still got their tracking on the links I used here though, so those links needed to go. Removing such links isn’t much work, but I wanted to maintain the usefulness of my postings, by linking to an author’s homepages, Wikipedia entries, as well as to the publisher’s page, Wikipedia page, Internet Archive or Open Library page for their books. That work does cost time, and is now finished. I no longer link to Amazon on this blog anywhere (nor Amazon’s Goodreads), and no Amazon tracking pixels remain.

I do still buy e-books from Amazon, although that too is ever so slowly shifting to other sources (directly from publishers for instance). It’s just that I no longer send any website visitor’s data their way as well.

Amazon has been fined 746 million Euro by the Luxembourg DPA (where Amazon’s EU activities reside). In its response Amazon shows it isn’t willing to publicly acknowledge to even understand the EU data protection rules.

There has been no data breach, and no customer data has been exposed to any third party. These facts are undisputed., said an Amazon spokesperson according to Techcrunch.

Those facts are of course undisputed because a data breach or exposure of data to third parties is not a prerequisite for being in breach of GDPR rules. Using the data yourself in ways that aren’t allowed is plenty reason in itself for fines the size of a few percentage points of your global yearly turnover. In Amazon’s case the fine isn’t even a third of a percentage point of their turnover, so about a day’s worth of turnover for them: they’re being let-off pretty lightly actually compared to what is possible under the GDPR.

How Amazon uses the data it collects, not any breach or somesuch, is the actual reason for the complaint by La Quadrature du Net (PDF) filed with the Luxembourg DPA: the complaint “alleges that Amazon manipulates customers for commercial means by choosing what advertising and information they receive.” (emphasis mine)

The complaint and the ruling are laying bare the key fact Amazon and other tech companies aren’t willing to publicly comment upon: adtech in general is in breach of the GDPR.

There are a range of other complaints along these lines being processed by various DPA’s in the EU, though for some of those it will be a long wait as e.g. the Irish DPA is working at a snail’s pace w.r.t. complaints against Apple and Facebook. (The slow speed of the Irish DPA is itself now the subject of a complaint.)

Meanwhile two new European laws have been proposed that don’t chime with the current modus operandi of Amazon et al, the Digital Markets Act and the Digital Services Act, which both contain still bigger potential fines than the GDPR for non-compliance w.r.t. e.g. interoperability, service-neutrality, and transparency and accountability measures. And of course there are the European anti-trust charges against Amazon as well.

Amazon will of course appeal, but it can only ever be an attempt to gaslight and gloss over the fundamental conflict between adtech and GDPR. Let’s hope the Luxembourg DPA continues to see through that.

Tom Critchlow last week wrote about a decentralised format for shareable bookshelves he came up with. I like the concept, it’s like the FOAF of old but for books, BOAF maybe? Like he mentions in the updates, while providing JSON is probably more fitting technology for the now, there is a world of RSS and OPML out there that might mean a more ready made environment. After all RSS can have very different payloads, as podcasting shows.

I’ve been writing here every now and then since a year or so about (not all of) the books I read. Like Tom says, there’s no getting around the dominance of Goodread and its owner Amazon, other than doing something yourself. I started writing here about my reading, not for the first time in the past two decades, precisely because I don’t want to add my effort to Goodreads. Although I do post affiliate links to Amazon here, as there is not reliable other way to link to books so that it makes sense for most readers. No way to dynamically link a book to your ‘local’ bookstore. Maybe I should just stop doing that, linking to Amazon. People can search a book in their own preferred way easily enough.

Donald Clark writes about the use of voice tech for learning. I find I struggle enormously with voice. While I recognise several aspects put forward in that posting as likely useful in learning settings (auto transcription, text to speech, oral traditions), there are others that remain barriers to adoption to me.

For taking in information as voice. Podcasts are mentioned as a useful tool, but don’t work for me at all. I get distracted after about 30 seconds. The voices drone on, there’s often tons of fluff as the speaker is trying to get to the point (often a lack of preparation I suppose). I don’t have moments in my day I know others use to listen to podcasts: walking the dog, sitting in traffic, going for a run. Reading a transcript is very much faster, also because you get to skip the bits that don’t interest you, or reread sections that do. Which you can’t do when listening, because you don’t know when a uninteresting segment will end, or when it might segue into something of interest. And then you’ve listened to the end and can’t get those lost minutes back. (Videos have the same issue, or rather I have the same issue with videos)

For using voice to ask or control things. There are obvious privacy issues with voice assistants. Having active microphones around for one. Even if they are supposed to only fully activate upon the use of the wake-up word, they get triggered by false positives. And don’t distinguish between me and other people that maybe it shouldn’t respond to. A while ago I asked around in my network how people use their Google and Amazon microphones, and the consensus was that most settle on a small range of specific uses. For those it shouldn’t be needed to have cloud processing of what those microphones tape in your living room, those should be able to be dealt with locally, with only novel questions or instructions being processed in the cloud. (Of course that’s not the business model of these listening devices).

A very different factor in using voice to control things, or for instance dictate is self-consciousness. Switching on a microphone in a meeting has a silencing effect usually. For dictation, I won’t dictate text to software e.g. at a client’s office, or while in public (like on a train). Nor will I talk to my headset while walking down the street. I might do it at home, but only if I know I’m not distracting others around me. In the cases where I did use dictation software (which nowadays works remarkably well), I find it clashes with my thinking and formulation. Ultimately it’s easier for me to shape sentences on paper or screen where I see them take shape in front of me. When dictating it easily descends into meaninglessness, and it’s impossible to structure. Stream of thought dictation is the only bit that works somewhat, but that needs a lot of cleaning up afterwards. Judging by all podcasts I sampled over the years, it is something that happens to more people when confronted with a microphone (see the paragraph above). Maybe if it’s something more prepared like a lecture, or presentation, it might be different, but those types of speech have been prepared in writing usually, so there is likely a written source for it already. In any case, dictation never saved me any time. It is of course very different if you don’t have the use of your hands. Then dictation is your door to the world.

It makes me wonder how voice services are helping you? How is it saving you time or effort? In which cases is it more novelty than effectiveness?

Some links I thought worth reading the past few days