Amazon Starts Sharing What You’ve Highlighted on Your Kindle

Amazon (s amzn), in a potentially controversial move, has started collecting information on what readers highlight in the e-books they’re reading on the company’s Kindle reader, and sharing it with others. The service doesn’t say which sections of which specific books a reader has highlighted, but it aggregates that information and displays it — including the most popular passage of all time, a selection from one of Malcolm Gladwell’s books. Judging by the initial reaction from Kindle users, some feel that Amazon may have crossed a line, although others seem to like the idea.

Screenshot from Flickr user Michael Sippey

The new feature is one of several enhancements added to the latest version of the Kindle software, along with the ability to share content via Twitter and Facebook. According to a description on the Amazon site:

We combine the highlights of all Kindle customers and identify the passages with the most highlights. The resulting Popular Highlights help readers to focus on passages that are meaningful to the greatest number of people. We show only passages where the highlights of at least three distinct customers overlap, and we do not show which customers made those highlights.

Some users have raised Big Brother-themed concerns, including wondering whether Amazon is keeping personal data without permission and whether it might share such information with the government. Several users have expressed surprise at the move, calling it “scary,” as well as “nasty” and “spooky.” Not everyone sees the new feature as a bad thing, however. Some describe it as “awesome;” others say they love it. Some writers and e-book fans say they think the privacy issues are overblown, and others have even asked for this feature in the past.

Sharing features seem like a natural addition to the Kindle, not to mention a necessary move to help the e-reader remain competitive with Apple’s (s aapl) iPad. It remains to be seen whether the majority of Kindle fans will see them as a positive thing, however, or whether their addition will become a privacy issue, the way sharing personal data has for Google and Facebook. If you use a Kindle, post a comment and let us know what you think of these new features.

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Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user a.drian