Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Getting Scroogled and Amazon Attacks, Part II

Kimberly Hitchens is the founder and owner of Booknook.biz, an ebook production company that has produced books for over 1,000 authors and imprints with over 2,000 produced books up on Amazon and other retailers.

Hi, Gang!  We interrupt this incredibly insightful blog on Amazon's Persnickety Punctiliousness, Part II, to talk about Being Scroogled.

Are You Getting Scroogled?

For anyone that hasn't seen the ads, or the kerfuffle on the Net, Microsoft has made a point of letting GMail or Googlemail users know that they are being "Scroogled" by Google.  What's Scroogling, besides something that sounds like Big Booty Sex?  Being Scroogled is what happens when you use your GMail account and email someone--anyone.  If you email someone, say, Auntie Flo, telling her that you're shopping for a car, you might find it a bit startling that suddenly, everywhere you go, you see GoogleAds for cars and car websites.  Is Google prescient?  No, they're not:  they're reading your email.

"We don’t need you to type at all. We know where you are, with your permission; we know where you’ve been, with your permission; we can more or less know what you’re thinking about."
Google Chairman Eric Schmidt at the The Atlantic Washington Ideas Forum in 2010

"If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."
Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt on Consumer Privacy

What did he say?  Seriously?

Yup:  Google is reading your email.  You can see Microsoft's discussion about it, here:  CLICK HERE.  Oddly enough, and maybe it's because it's Google, I haven't seen the big outcry that was heard 'round the Net when people had their knickers in a twist about Facebook invading their privacy.  Frankly, to me, what you say on Facebook is public, and if that "privacy" gets invaded, it's the same thing as the goodies from a criminal endeavor lying about in plain sight.  But reading my email?  I don't care if it's bots or a program--I don't want Google or anyone else reading my damn email.  I wondered why, recently, I was seeing Google ads for the very same project management system I am already using at Booknook.biz; now I know.  I'd answered a GoogleMail question I'd received, asking about project management systems, and I'd said that I use TeamworksPM.  Now, everywhere I go--everywhere--I see ads for this self-same system.  To say it's annoying doesn't do it justice.

What Happened to My Privacy?

But the bigger issue is:  Google, get out of my damn email. In a day and age in which privacy is ever-dearer and harder to find, I don't want someone, mechanical or otherwise, poking around in my email skivvies.  I mean, seriously:  if I became angry and referred to someone as a "dildo" in an email (not saying it's happened, but, hey, I'm human), I shudder to think at what ads I might be seeing afterwards.


Amazon Strikes Again!

Meanwhile, back at Booknook.biz:  you may recall, faithful readers (ha!), that sometime ago, I blogged about "Amazon's Punctuation Punctiliousness," referring to it as "persnickety."  Well, we've had another event at Booknook.biz that has simply reinforced my irritation at what seems to be the unequal treatment of better-selling authors with regard to mere typos.  Now, I'm as keen for clean books as the next guy (maybe not as much as Jodie, but, hey, I'm a bookmaker, not an Editor), but anyone who believes that any book out there is "perfect" is deluding themselves.  So, what happened?
Believe it or not, today we received a "Kindle Quality Notice" ("KQN") for one of our top author clients, a bestseller on several continents with a large list of books.  What for, you may ask?  The book in question is a backlist title, and was scanned, OCR'ed, etc., so as scanning causes errors it's not that surprising.  The KQN was for TWO--count 'em, TWO--"typos."  Both were mere spacing errors, where the scan created a slight amount of space between the first letter of a word and the rest.  Not quite a full space--but a small gap.  TWO errors. Now, mind you, this is out of a book that has 220,015 words.  Yes, Two Hundred Twenty-Two Thousand and Fifteen words.  In print, 800 lovely lusty pages. 
I'm not a math whiz, but I make that an error rate of 0.00001.  Yes--one one-millionth.  That's the error rate; one one-millionth of 1 percent.  I wrote to Amazon again, as I do on almost every KQN that comes in (invariably for the  best-selling authors, as I noted back in July of last year), and asked them once more to establish a clearer and better threshold--something like, 1 word out of every 10,000 can have an error, or whatever they think is a reasonable threshold--and to apply it evenly across the board, to all authors and publishers--not just the best ones.  It's grossly unfair for people who have already paid good money for scanning, OCR, proofreading, cover design, book creation, etc., to get the short end of the stick, simply because they are the ones that get read, and whose readers report errata. 

So:  Why Not Fix Print, Then, Too?

I noted that they wouldn't dream of asking someone in print to "fix" their book--why ask those who've submitted professionally-created ebooks?  I understand their mindset; the bulk of their self-published authors type up a Word file and submit that, so fixing it isn't that big of a deal.  But what about the other thousands of authors who paid someone, just as they would have paid for a print book?  What about authors who have both up?  Why is it always the ebook that gets the Quality Notice?  Why the double-standard, both about curation and ebooks versus print?  In this day and age, much of what's sold in "print" on Amazon is made at Createspace or other POD houses--so why not make print authors "fix" their books, too? 
And I'd really love, love, love to know if KQN's get sent to Random House and the other legacy publishers.  I think that while Amazon certainly has every right to seek the highest-quality content, they need to start curation at a much more fundamental level.  If they're not going to do anything about the Broken Bones of the world (see my July post), then really, they need to stop telling first-rate authors, the bread-and-butter of Amazon's world, to fix books that have an error rate of one one-millionth of a percent.  That's just ridiculous.  Amazon, c'mon, think about this, will you? 

This is Hitch, over and out, until next time.



  1. So much to digest here. The scroogling issue annoys me as well. It's time for some public backlash.

    And I also wish Amazon would set minimum standards for all ebooks and get some of the crap out of their inventory.

    But I'm sure those letters are reactionary, responding to readers who complain as a way of providing customer service to those readers.

    And who is complaining about the spaces in that book? Her competitors! The same shitty little authors who post one-star reviews on their competitors' pages.

    Some people are always willing to abuse the system.

  2. Wow, Hitch… thanks. I had no idea about this Scroogle thing. Once again you've brought something important to my attention.

    I've received a few notices from Amazon, most of which were much ado about nothing but still required my time to reply. The last one was about an omitted word in the preview section for another book. Why the error wasn't in the original version I don't know. That one, I fixed.

  3. I know I'm in the minority on this one, but the email text scanning to serve customized ads doesn't really bother me at all.

    Google has to fund its excellent services somehow, and I'm sure Gmail users would be in an uproar if Google dared to impose any kind of fee. Their webmaster tools, map tools, translation tools, art archives, human body map, and all their other tools are free, too.

    It's not like there are actual humans poring over our emails, it's all done by 'bots and all they do is keyword matching to ads.

    Yes, theoretically a human at Google could spy on us, but that's the reality for anything we put online, and Google is the last company or person you need to worry about---it's the hackers that are out to do real damage, not Google. If anything, Google is highly invested in seeing to it that your data is secure.

    I'm actually pretty annoyed with Microsoft on this one, because their "scroogled" ads are misleading and promote unwarranted hysteria. If you think Microsoft isn't keeping track of what you're doing in Office, Windows Live, Outlook or Bing, you're naive.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. HA HA I tried to post a comment but forgot I was signed in as my horse! Stop laughing. He's got his own email and Twitter and Facebook page FOR A REASON, people!


    Wow, I guess I've dodged a bullet with Amazon, although I did fix the four typos in Hit or Missus (oddly enough, a reviewer claimed the "plot fell apart" with those errors and still gave it 5 stars).

    As for Scroogling, I use Yahoo email - is Yahoo part of Google and are they reading my emails? If so, I'm going to start discussing how much I'd like someone to give me a million dollars. Maybe I'll get Scroogled in a good way.

  6. Thanks for your two excellent rants, Hitch! You could have spread them out over two blogs, but I guess you really needed to get them both out now! LOL!

    Seriously, though, they're both well worth considering, as are all your topics!

    The one about Amazon finding fault with those two tiny little space issues over a huge long book is beyond ridiculous! I like the idea of basic quality control, but that's just nuts! And very surprising, considering the number of poorly written, poorly edited indie novels I see on Amazon, which are rampant with much more blatant errors, like "your" instead of "you're", "their" instead of "they're", etc.

    And I wondered why, several months ago, after googling various diet programs, I was suddenly inundated with ads for diets. But at least I was googling then, not emailing about it! Big brother is definitely watching us! Scary!

    Thanks for two eye-opening, thought-provoking posts in one, Hitch!

  7. Gayle, someday you'll have to explain to us why Snoopy has his own web-presence.

    I have both gmail and Yahoo mail accounts, although I use Yahoo much more. So I've never experienced the email "watcher", but I do notice that the ads I see on Yahoo relate to websites I've visited, and searches I've done. And I don't search using Yahoo.
    I think it's a Catch-22.

  8. The scroogling is very old news. The backlash happened when gmail first started and fizzled out almost as quick as it began. The only reason Microsoft is mentioning it again now is because they are losing and losing big time.

    And by the way, every single e-mail provider does it. The others just are not quite so blatant about it. Google brags about it in SEC filings and in their stock reports. One of the factors driving Google share price higher is this issue.

  9. Hi, Kevin, April:

    Kevin--no, every email provider does NOT do it, and what Google is doing now isn't what they were doing back when Gmail started. What you meant to say, I think, is that all FREE email providers do it, like Yahoo, Gmail Hotmail, etc. I pay for all my email accounts, and my mail does not get scrutinized. My CSR provider, Desk, doesn't sell my email information to outside sources, and my private email provider, Qwest, does not either. I agree that you "get what you pay for," and if people can't afford to pay for reasonably private email (I don't have to suffer through ads while reading my emails, either), or don't care about their privacy, that's their choice. As far as Microsoft "losing it," there's always been MS haters, and I doubt that will stop any time soon. They still have more money than half the third-world countries, and I suspect that will continue, as despite claims to the contrary, they still own the business and office markets. And the Surface Tablet, by the way, is a DREAM. It's night and day compared to the veritably useless iPad.

    April: I think that there's definitely a two ways of thinking about it. It's clear that younger people, for example, are quite a bit more accustomed to an utter lack of privacy; hence their enthusiastic adoption of products like Facebook, etc. I mean, they seem to have come 180° from what my generation would have thought acceptable behavior, even going to the point of tweeting about what they're doing every five seconds, as if anyone else really cares. But if that's how they feel, then they won't care if Google Scroogles them. I do. I have a Google account only because, of all the absurd things, you cannot open an iTunes Publisher account with my email extension(.biz), so I acquired one for those purposes, as I did not want to use my private email. Thus, I have one, and made the mistake of actually replying to someone who emailed me there--and now I am BOMBARDED with ads, for a product I already have and use, everywhere I go. I'm thrilled to pay for my email, first, so that my damn communications are *private,* and secondly, if it will avoid that type of intrusive, creepy tracking. Moreover, I don't like Google's attitude about their invasions of my privacy--or yours--regardless of whether or not they think that "we agreed to it" when we opened our accounts.

    I for one do not understand why some people will trade their privacy for a few bucks; but that's clearly your decision. I do think that people should at least know that their email is being crawled, so that they can make an intelligent decision as to whether or not they wish to have a "free" email at the cost of giving up a portion of their Fourth Amendment rights or whether they choose to keep what little privacy we still have in this day and age.

    I personally don't understand why people are cavalier about their privacy; but that's someone's CHOICE. As long as it's an informed choice, then I don't care. That's my $.02.

  10. While I do not know about your specific provider and can't provide proof, yes, they ALL do scanning and retention. You might want to start reading stuff on CNET and other computer information sites that will educate you on the situation.

    Selling your information is different than automated scanning. Quite honestly, you can't prove that they don't do that without a forensic audit of their books.

    But, everyone tracks every e-mail that goes through their network.

  11. Kevin:

    of course, every email provider "scans" email; we pay them to do so--they scan it to filter out spam and other crap, both at the server and the IP level. We all further scan our own mail, for the same reason, using TBird, Outlook, whatever.

    But that's a far, far cry from deliberately scanning my mail so that I can have ads that I don't want to see in the first place targeted at me. How would anyone feel, if they were emailing a relative about Auntie Sue's terminal condition, and future "arrangements" that had to be made, only to then be bombarded with Gmail ads about funeral homes, morticians, cremation, etc.? And I'll bet it's happened.

    Whether I log in to my paid email, via a web-browser, or use an email interface (Outlook, TBird), I a) don't get ANY ads on the webpage, and I'd pay for that alone, and b), nothing that I've ever discussed, in my email, which goes through Qwest and via Desk, and a 3rd server, has EVER shown up in an advert, anywhere on the Internet. I'm not being stalked by service providers (and, man, would I EVER be) based on the contents of those emails. Not when I use Bing, not when I use FF--nothing. I don't get ads for ebook cover designers, ebooks--none of the things that I discuss every single day, to the tune of 9,000 emails--yes, 9,000 emails per month-and that's just for my business. I do several thousand more personal mails monthly.

    What DO I get stalked about? The TWO things that I discussed via Gmail. TWO. I get ads for this stuff every single place I go. Now, given that I have email going through not one, not two, but THREE providers that are NOT Gmail, you can calculate the odds yourself. How can I be stalked over two topics--both discussed on Gmail--but not ONE thing discussed in the other 9,000 business, and over 2,000 personal, emails that go out of my computer per month?

    And, Kevin, I'm quite surprised that you would think I had not read up on the topic. Unlike far too many people, I don't parrot what I hear on the internet without research, and from more than one source. However, given the volume of email I've sent since the early 90's, and the VAST range of topics it's covered, the odds that somehow, the ONLY TWO topics I ever discussed on Gmail would be the two things that I get hammered on, every place a GoogleAd exists. This seems like very, very, very high odds of coincidence. I have email archives with over 20,000 emails in them, never mind my "live" email boxes. Two topics? Both only discussed on Gmail? Hmmmm....that math seems pretty damn indicative to me.

  12. What you are referring to is direct e-mail marketing. that is only part of the issue.

    You might wish to start watching CNBC and reading the stock filings of the companies. It is a hassle, but worth it.


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