Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Amazon Imitating Big Brother?

Last Friday, Amazon stirred controversy once again.

The Amazon Kindle "ships" books to readers across a wireless network. Some of those readers were alarmed to discover that this network flows in two directions.

According to the New York Times, "Amazon remotely deleted some digital editions" of George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm from "the Kindle devices of readers who had bought them."

Amazon said:
. . . the books were added to the Kindle store by a company that did not have rights to them, using a self-service function. “When we were notified of this by the rights holder, we removed the illegal copies from our systems and from customers’ devices, and refunded customers.”
Reportedly the publisher who sold the editions of Orwell's works was MobileReference.

Amazon later admitted that this move was a poor decision and indicated they would make process changes so that, in the future, books are not deleted from the devices of readers who purchased them.

Anyone familiar with Orwell's 1984 will recognize the irony of having that book removed from readers' Kindles. The book was published in 1949, but depicted Great Britain as part of a futuristic nation called Oceania. The protagonist is Winston Smith, who works for the bureaucratic Ministry of Truth in London in the year 1984.

Smith's job is to revise historical documents to make them comply with the ruling party's version of history. He deletes the names of persona non grata, retouches photographs and rewrites the historical record. Then he drops the original document or book into a chute that leads to an incinerator known as the "memory hole."

The sheer deliciousness of 1984 disappearing from Kindles made me wonder if some lone employee at Amazon actually has a sense of humor.

Charles Slater, one of the readers whose copy was deleted, was quoted in the Times article: “I never imagined that Amazon actually had the right, the authority or even the ability to delete something that I had already purchased.”

“It illustrates how few rights you have when you buy an e-book from Amazon,” said Bruce Schneier, chief security technology officer for British Telecom . . . “As a Kindle owner, I’m frustrated. I can’t lend people books and I can’t sell books that I’ve already read, and now it turns out that I can’t even count on still having my books tomorrow.”
Go here to read the entire Times article.


Silicon Valley Diva said...

I read that also. And yes, talk about the irony.
We had downloaded both 1984 and Animal Farm on the IPOD, we still have those.

Sharon said...

This would be funny if it wasn't so eerie.