Another Reminder That You Don't Own Your eBooks: Amazon Removing More eBooks You 'Bought' From Archives

from the not-this-again dept

Last year, you may recall, Amazon got into some trouble for deleting a supposedly "infringing" copy of George Orwell's 1984 from peoples' Kindles. After this got a ton of attention, the company announced that it would change its system so books won't get deleted from Kindles any more. Of course, they never said they wouldn't delete them from your archive, however. Separately, you may recall that a few weeks back, Amazon got into a bit of a kerfuffle over a book concerning pedophilia. The company initially defended allowing this book for sale, by stating:
"Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable."
However, hours later, Amazon changed its mind and suddenly became one with its inner censor. Apparently, with its newfound willingness to go that route, it's begun unleashing those powers widely, taking down a whole bunch of "erotica" books without explanation. Apparently, many of the books in question include fictional accounts of incest. Of course, as some have pointed out, the Bible also contains accounts of incest -- and a book seen in a recent Amazon ad includes a fictional account of incest.

While the Slashdot account of this story says that the books are being removed from the Kindle that's not exactly true. They're being removed from your Kindle archive. This means that if you delete the book from your Kindle, you can't redownload it. In other words, it's like the bookshelf in your basement where you store books you might want to go back to some day, but probably won't touch for a while. However, for a company trying so hard to pretend that its ebooks are just like real books, it really ought to stop deleting things after you've supposedly "bought" them.

Update: Amazon emails me to say they've put out a statement saying this was a mistake that has now been fixed, stating:
Due to a technical issue, for a short window of time three books were temporarily unavailable for re-download by customers who had previously purchased them. When this was brought to our attention, we fixed the problem and those books were once again made available for re-download. We apologize for the inconvenience.
It still appears that the books themselves are no longer for sale. That's Amazon's prerogative, of course, but the lack of explanation still seems pretty weak -- especially after supposedly defending not being about censorship. Also, there is no explanation of just what kind of technical "glitch" this was. Considering the trouble the company got into for deleting books in the past, you would think this would have been more carefully reviewed. Finally, the fact that it took nearly a week and numerous high profile media mentions to get Amazon to respond to questions from the authors is pretty weak customer service.

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  1. identicon
    Richard Kulawiec, 15 Dec 2010 @ 5:49pm

    Re: Re: Personal Morals?

    You're certainly right about the DRM issue, but I think there's another one.

    Amazon's archive storage (for purchased books) falls into the category of "cloud services" -- something they now offer as a commercial product.

    Suppose I'm a customer of Amazon's cloud services. And suppose that today I choose to use that service to store a file -- a 1.4G file called "insurance.aes256". Storing this file on their service is -- TODAY -- well within their ToS, as I have permission to have this file (as do all of you as well). Suppose further that I choose to share this file -- again, via Amazon's cloud service.

    Now what's going to happen when someone sufficiently clueless, hysterical and powerful notices that Amazon is serving up a copy of the Wikileaks insurance file?

    That's an edge case, obviously, but I think it makes the point: Amazon has already provided existence proofs that it will cave to government pressure (Wikileaks) and rabid censorship pressure (pedophilia incident earlier, the incident discussed in this thread). What other pressures will it cave into when it feels it necessary or expedient to do so?

    And if it will cave so easily, why should I do any computational task using its cloud? There is, as far as I can see, nothing at all that stops them from deleting my data or stopping my computations whenever they choose. (Yes, yes, I could sue them for breach of contract, but after spending $2.7M on attorney fees I might see relief in 2017.)

    My point here is that while "cloud computing" is one of the buzzwords du jour, bandied about by clueless people who have forgotten that once upon a time, mainframes stalked the earth, it is not without significant risks -- no matter who the vendor is. And in the specific case of Amazon, those risks appear to be significant.

    (Note, please: I'm not arguing that Amazon (or any other cloud service provider) shouldn't place limits on what can be done with its cloud. For example, it should not permit its cloud to be used to conduct a DoS attack. It should not permit its cloud to be used to send spam -- although it does. What I'm arguing is that Amazon is, whether it realizes it or not, assembling a convincing argument that it will act as it sees fit without regard for its ToS -- and then will send out its professional spokesliars to "justify" these actions after-the-fact via a convenient parsing of its ToS or well, just by lying about it.)


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