Amazon's removal of George Orwell ebooks from every Kindle with a paid entitlement is not only ironic in context but has frightening ramifications in terms of privacy and content ownership.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

Amazon's removal of George Orwellebooks from every Kindle with a paid entitlement is not only ironic in context but has frightening ramifications in terms of privacy and content ownership.

Without warning or any sort of advance notification on Friday, Amazon removed every single copy of British novelist George Orwell's classic paranoid-dystopian works Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four from every Kindle in the world which they had been stored on, and then issued a refund to the Amazon customers that had purchased them. Oh the irony!

As others on the web have commented, this is roughly the electronic equivalent to someone from a large book store chain breaking into your house, walking into your personal library, stealing some of your books which you had purchased from them and leaving you cash in their place. The creepyness and utter wrongfulness of this action is just so unconscionable that Amazon cannot be allowed to continue this practice.

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Now, Amazon deleted the Orwell books because as it turns out, according to the company, the publisher who provided the content on the Kindle store for those books did not have the rights to publish them in electronic form in the first place, so Amazon immediately removed them from the Kindle store for purchase and on every device it was stored on. I understand the rationale for this, but that doesn't necessarily mean this was the correct way to handle the situation. The company has since issued an apology and a pledge that it will not remote delete books from Kindles ever again, and it will go through the proper due diligence with publishers to ensure they have the rights to the content.

Be it is it may, If Amazon can remote delete books on your Kindle -- and you have no method on the device for backing that data up, since the DRM-locked e-book files purchased from Amazon cannot be transferred to a PC or any other storage device without violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and other laws due to the completely closed nature of the Kindle platform -- what else is Amazon capable of doing on your Kindle?

It would seem that if it can remote execute instructions and download and delete content on a Kindle, it stands to reason it can inventory ALL content on a Kindle device, such as PDF files, text documents and anything else a Kindle can read. It can also stand to reason that if it can inventory your entire digital library of material stored on that device, that it may even be able to search for key words and phrases and download those to a data warehouse of Amazon's choosing.

Much like the way Google handles volumetric data and spiders the 'net, this would allow Amazon to develop metrics and business intelligence (if they haven't done this already) that would enable them to do sophisticated trend analysis of what the collective Kindle zeitgeist is reading, when they read stuff, or when they give up on books. Much like the way Apple handles its music content, like a remote Nielsen system for e-books, including books downloaded in 3rd-party formats such as Mobipocket by competing E-Book stores.

The implications go beyond trend analysis. With remote execution and data transfer capabilities, Amazon can spy and retrieve content from individual Kindles -- perhaps at the insistence of government agencies such as the NSA or the CIA, or even the FBI under the auspices of the Patriot Act. Or sell your trending data to a 3rd party. We'd have no way of knowing Amazon was doing this, because the end user has no idea what the Kindle's 3G Whispernet connection is doing whenever it is on. An end-user doesn't get traffic reports or volumetrics or transfer logs for their Kindles or anything like that. We damn well should.

Here's a more practical and less tin foil hat example of why we need to know what our Kindles are doing and why we need archival capability. What if someone wrote a work of non-fiction, such as a biographical tell-all of a well-known person or entity, and then sometime down the road after initial publication, the publisher has to redact, retract or change the wording of a book because of litigation or for any other reason? In print, they can issue a second or third printing. The paper books from the initial printings will always be in the hands of the people who bought them, or in libraries. But in electronic form, and in Kindle's model where the data cannot be externally archived, a publisher can insist on a legal contract with Amazon where they can transparently change editions on you, and you wouldn't even know it.

This could not only happen with books, but with newspapers or magazines on e-subscription. Not unlike what Winston Smith did for a living in his role at the Ministry of Truth as the main protagonist in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

This is not to say that remote updates could not be a beneficial technology. In the case of newspapers or even cookbooks where a correction is required or even desirable, we can solve the problem of a transparent content switcheroo by standardizing on ebook formats which are journaled and have version tracking logs. So if 1 teaspoon of sugar in a baking recipe on a electronic cookbook needs to be corrected to a tablespoon, or if in fact the Yankees beat the Red Sox in the final game of the World Series by 7 to nothing instead of 17 to nothing as reported the sports section of the New York Times, there needs to be an audit trail in the log with the changes -- a la Wikipedia -- so a user can refer back to the original material and see what was changed.

[EDIT: I am a sports dumbass, obviously, the Yankees and the Sox could only meet in the ALCS, not the World Series. But see, I'm not going to edit it out to cover up that I was a dumbass like Amazon might.]

We should not only demand that e-books be permanent, but that we should have access to the reports of every single transaction that Kindles are doing with the mother-ship, particularly when handling our private data. If it goes for financial and medical institutions for data under Sarbanes-Oxley controls, then it should be the same for ALL subscriber digital content services, not just the Kindle.

Should Amazon and digital content providers be forced to provide all end to end transaction data with end-users who subscribe to their services? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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