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Hiptype Wants to Spy on Your Reading Habits

July 31st, 2012 by · 11 Comments · software news

As you sit here reading this post you probably have any number of companies spying on you. At a guess, I’d bet that right now Facebook, Google, and the maker of your web browser are all watching what you’re doing online. (And if you found this post via Twitter, you can add them and Bitly to the list.)

With that in mind it should probably come as no surprise that a new start up is planning to start watching you while you read.

Hiptype is coming out of the shadows today, and they’re pitching themselves as the “Google Analytics for ebooks”. This start up has developed a new platform which will let publishers know virtually everything about your reading habits as well as personal details like your location, age, and income. Basically it’s going to let publishers know all the juicy details that Amazon, B&N, and Kobo have but don’t share.

(like any drug the first hit is free)

Publishers can get the data by first signing up with Hiptype and adding a script to their ebooks before they’re released to distributors and ebookstores. Hiptype is offering a free script for publisher’s first ebook, and they’re charging a monthly fee of $20 to $100 for the various packages, with the higher prices offering greater detail on a larger number of readers.

The data gathered by the scripts is sent to Hiptype’s servers, and I’ve confirmed that it’s only going to be transmitted over Wifi, so it won’t be chewing up your data plan. Publishers can log in and see a dashboard with data organized by title. Hiptype has a demo online,and I’ve clipped parts of it for this post. As you can see, the data is quite thorough. But I’ve also been told it is has also been anonymized  while it was processed, and there’s no indication that publishers can get the specifics about a single reader.

The Hiptype platform doesn’t work everywhere, and in fact it has only been stated to work in iBooks. It won’t work on the Kindle or the Nook platforms because the script involved is written in JavaScript. Neither the Kindle format nor Epub support JavaScript, and if that little bit of code won’t run then there’s no way for the info to get to Hiptypes servers (good).

But the platform is expected to expand beyond iBooks as more apps and devices add support for Epub3. Right now Epub3 support is limited to Readium and iBooks, though I do expect more apps to be released later this year.

And as far as legal concerns go, Hiptype emphasizes that the first time someone opens an ebook that uses a Hiptype script they’ll be shown a short privacy notice. Readers will also have the option to opt out at any time.

Hiptype launches into a private beta this week. I’m told they’re working with several publishers and self-published authors, though none were named when I spoke to James Levy, the CEO and founder of Hiptype. Nor would I expect them to be; this is not exactly the kind of thing that publishers would like to be caught doing.  Sure, you know you’re being tracked by everyone, but there’s still a social stigma attached to the idea.

Publishers and self published authors can request to join the beta on Hiptype’s website; new customers are being accepted in clumps as Hiptype expands their servers to support the load.

As interesting as the tech details are, one detail I’ve picked up over the years is that readers who use one app don’t always behave like readers who use a different app. If publishers start tweaking ebooks based on data from Hiptype, there’s no guarantee that the tweaks will have the same effect across all ebookstores.

Speaking of other ebookstores, I’m going to make a prediction. I bet that someone at Apple, Amazon, Kobo, or B&N will notice Hiptype and decide to respond by either sharing similar data with publishers (or selling it).  And it’s a tossup which it will be; Amazon tends to jump on new ideas first but Kobo is already known to have this kind of info going through their servers and they’re still building out Writing Life.  It wouldn’t take them long to  build a new dashboard so publishers can see the data.

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