Amazon using library cookies?

In the Technology section of the New York Times there is an article called An Icon That Says They’re Watching You that is about an idea to help companies target online ads and still protect your privacy: Mark ads with a special icon that, when clicked, displays what they know about you.

In the comments section there is a person claiming that Amazon used their library information to target products to them. Black helicopter time? Or possibility?

Excerpt of comment: the targeting wasn’t based on my prior purchasing patterns: Amazon pulled it from tracking my recent library borrowing requests.

Last time I looked, the government couldn’t get this info without a subpoena; but renewing my books online apparently allows Amazon to nibble my cookies indiscriminately. Moreover, there’s nothing to stop the govt from getting my library records the roundabout way, through Amazon. And had it not been for those come-ons, I would probably not have noticed or wondered what Amazon was up to.


That's completely implausible and almost certainly impossible. A website can't just read all of your cookies. To do that, Amazon would have to look for cookies under every library's domain - a completely ridiculous prospect. This person is mistaken or crazy.

Well 2 things are going on, and neither have to do with cookies from library catalogs - a cookie doesn't hold information about what you were looking at, rather it holds a session ID and/or some preferences or settings. When you look at a page on, it simply notices your cookie.

First, I think the scenario I described (in comment #15) is entirely plausible. I search the catalog, the catalog links to an review, I go read it there, finds its own cookie on my computer and notices what page I looked at, then I go check out the book (or in this case a Pete Seeger CD, sheesh). The next time I look at my Amazon page, it seems to know what I checked out of the library.

It may be more likely that Anonymous here is right - this person is mistaken - but the fact is that patrons will follow the links we provide to related information about library materials, and we need to think about if those links are dirty or not. The good news is we have - most catalogs I see use Syndetics, and even LibraryThing pulls in the reviews over the API. I can't find a library catalog that links to Amazon (holler if you do), but this scenario is far from impossible. It's time to recognize that we swim in this filthy ocean, too.

Secondly, people think this kind of thing about libraries, all the time. It makes for great illegal detective work in 'Se7en'. No matter what we tell ourselves about our privacy practices, people are still gonna believe this crap. Several people after this comment in the thread are all "thank you". This bothers me way more than the "technically possible" scenario I came up with.

what happens when we add google and amazon and everything else to our catalogs? and the library patron, who has this expectation of borrower privacy, has all of his library browsing history up for grabs. is it our job to keep the the "p" out of the pool? (or keep the "p" for privacy in the pool?)

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