Why this guy hacked his Kindle to email Jeff Bezos

“Interface artist” Johannes P Osterhoff

As part of the terms of use for Amazon Kindle devices, users grant the company permission to collect data including their bookmarks and the last page they’ve read. This information helps the company synchronize the reading experience across devices. It also feeds into advanced analytics that give Amazon insights into reading patterns across its user base, which Amazon can ultimately use to boost its business.

Amazon isn’t alone in this practice. But if the company is that interested in what people are reading, why not just send the information straight to the top?

That’s the tongue-in-cheek idea behind “Dear Jeff Bezos,” an online performance piece by Berlin-based “interface artist” Johannes P Osterhoff. The project aims to make a statement about privacy in the digital age, with a unique twist.

Osterhoff hacked his Kindle to automatically send an email to what’s believed to Bezos’ email address whenever Osterhoff sets a bookmark in his Kindle. The messages are also posted on the project page, at bezos.cc.

For example, the most recent message reads … Dear Jeff Bezos, I just read “Daemon” by Daniel Suarez until position 478. Sincerely, Johannes P Osterhoff.

Osterhoff described the project in an interview with Rhizome, explaining that he jailbroke the Kindle and used PHP script to automatically send a message to his server whenever he sets a bookmark, which in turn sends the email to Bezos.

He tells the site, “Not so long ago it was very simple to read a book in private. With the Kindle and Whispersync it is impossible. I am required to surrender my privacy during reading on my Kindle. So sending e-mails about my reading activity directly to the CEO of Amazon was just the next logical step.”

Bezos presumably has plenty of automated filters and staffers screening his email, so even if he were interested in Osterhoff’s reading patterns, there’s a decent chance that he’s not getting these messages. Osterhoff just responded to our own email and, as you might have expected, Bezos hasn’t yet replied to the messages.

Image of Osterhoff via Flickr.

  • http://post404.com/ Randall “texrat” Arnold

    Props to Osterhoff for creativity.

  • Cody ChesnuTT

    Daemon is appropriate book choice for this exercise.

  • Adam

    Stunts like this are asinine. If Osterhoff is sincerely worried about his privacy in regards to using Amazon’s services he can simply purchase hard copies of books.

    I’m disappointed that this sort of stunt is reported on by Geekwire, especially since it’s a non-story (man automates emails to go to another man that in all probability never sees them).

    • Billy Bob

      I agree with you that this is basically a non-story. Bookmarks and notes are shared with Amazon and then synched across multiple devices. I like having my bookmarks shared between the same book that i’m reading on my Kindle Fire, on my iPhone using the Kindle app, and on my Mac with the Mac’s Kindle app.

      That said, I do believe that there are legitimate privacy concerns with the Kindle, personal notes, and sharing.

      I have a Kindle Fire and I really enjoy it, yet the specifics of Amazon’s privacy rules governing http://www.kindle.amazon.com still completely baffle me.

      I discovered two bugs with what Amazon is displaying publicly at http://www.kindle.amazon.com:

      This bug: https://getsatisfaction.com/amazon/topics/kindle_sharing_privacy_settings_arent_working_for_me

      And this bug: https://getsatisfaction.com/amazon/topics/im_seeing_notes_from_personal_documents

      Both of these bugs were (I felt) privacy issues with the Kindle Fire and both of these look to still be active.

      Perhaps I read the privacy policy at http://www.kindle.amazon.com completely wrong, but Amazon’s own privacy rules appear to specially state that sharing from anything labeled as a “personal document” isn’t allowed.

      Yet I am able to scroll through the public profiles of people who must likely don’t know they are displayed at kindle.amazon.com, and I am able to see… notes shared from “personal documents”.

      I also had problems with my own account, problems that I documented on getsatisfaction (which has Amazon.com employees who are supposed to respond to public complaints). I never got a reply.

      I agree that the above story is basically click bait. The real story should be that we really need a more comprehensive debate about the rules governing privacy and our reading habits.

      And i’m no Amazon basher – I love my Kindle Fire.

  • anonymous

    Um. You can disable whispersync. Dumbass

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