July 17, 2009

"Steal Back This E-Book!" - Amazon Channels Big Brother

Update: Amazon says it will stop deleting Kindle books.

Greetings. In a turn of events so ironic that even the seediest Hollywood porn producer would have rejected the plot as ridiculously unrealistic, Amazon.com has demonstrated that the worlds of electronic vs. paper books are universes apart, and in one fell swoop magnified the worst fears of e-book detractors around the world.

The script sounds so ridiculous that it's almost embarrassing to recount. To retroactively satisfy a demand from one of their suppliers, Amazon reportedly reached electronically into privately-owned Kindle electronic book readers and deleted recently purchased copies of -- get this -- 1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell.

The irony drips so thickly that it practically coagulates on spinning disk drives. Just as 1984's Winston Smith's role was to delete and change unacceptable points of history from information databases, Amazon -- without any warning and without asking for permission from Kindle owners -- destroyed e-books that had been legally purchased, replacing them with a purchase credit.

This is precisely the functional equivalent of Barnes & Noble -- or Amazon itself for that matter -- using a crowbar or lock pick to break into your home or business, then stealing back a previous physical book purchase, replacing it with the equivalent value in cash.

That this act of seemingly legal larceny was facilitated by Amazon's "closed ecosystem" for Kindle purchases should not be lost on observers. With the clicking of a few keyboard keys at "Kindle Central Control," Amazon undermined years worth of efforts by e-book proponents to convince the public that e-book purchases are just "as good" as having physical books in hand from a transactional standpoint.

I don't care one nit what sort of fine print in the Kindle terms of service Amazon may use to justify this outrageous and unacceptable behavior. To my mind, it's breaking and entering, plain and simple.

If Amazon -- or any other players in the e-book industry for that matter -- can get away with this sort of behavior, it calls into question the entire foundation of trust that is necessary for a healthy e-book industry -- an industry I would very much like to see thrive.

For Amazon to cease future sales of particular e-books upon request of the associated vendor would likely be completely reasonable in most or all cases. But to retroactively remove legitimately purchased materials from customer-owned hardware is absolutely beyond the pale.

Amazon owes their customers, and the entire e-book industry, one hell of an apology. And Amazon had damn well better not pull a stunt like this again!


Posted by Lauren at July 17, 2009 03:12 PM | Permalink
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