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The Kindle FAIL: Mistrust well-placed?



kindlefailThe revelation that Amazon can delete content off users’ Kindles has raised more than a few questions on privacy and ownership rights (and, I hope, gets people questioning the wisdom of the extended  copyright laws in the States). That the books deleted, George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm, evoke themes of censorship and revisionism is delicious irony. What it does for me is reinforce my mistrust of some aspects of  the Cloud.

I fully support using the Internet for storage, web applications, and data sharing. What I don’t support is  trusting your data entirely  on someone else’s server. If a local copy can be kept, great. But if not, I don’t trust it,  and that’s the problem with ebooks bought  from Amazon, as I wrote on  my blog  when the Kindle was introduced:

…when you buy a book for the Kindle, you’re actually buying the right to read that book. The data resides primarily on Amazon’s server and temporarily on the Kindle for access.

…Your rights to Kindle ebooks have an undetermined lifespan and are non-transferable. If Amazon loses the right to distribute a book, you could lose the right to read it, since the data resides primarily on their server.

The title of that blog post was “Why Amazon’s Kindle could fail.” Now before anyone pats me on the back for my prescience, I did also pen a companion piece called “Why Amazon’s Kindle should succeed.” My point  in that one  was to describe how Amazon could make the Kindle a success. Wish I had listed “don’t delete people’s ebooks  off their Kindles” as a way to do that.

Update: The Consumerist has posted a list of ways to dodge Big Brother on your Kindle, which includes backups and turning off Whispersync, as mentioned in the comments here by Phil and Will. Basically, don’t trust the server and read in secret. Sounds good to me.



  1. Phil

    07/19/2009 at 7:50 pm

    well, “If a local copy can be kept, great. But if not, I don’t trust it” – you love the Kindle. Copies can easily be kept on your PC – just back up your Kindle via USB cable. Most of us do that.

  2. Sumocat

    07/19/2009 at 10:05 pm

    Phil: And what happens when you try to reload a deleted ebook? How long can you read it before it gets wiped? Will you be reloading that backup every five minutes? Too many unanswered questions for me.

  3. Will

    07/20/2009 at 8:50 am

    I don’t believe most Kindle owners keep the wireless on at all times (I know I don’t). As long as it doesn’t connect to Whispernet, then Amazon can’t connect to the Kindle. Since there is no need to renew a license (like subscription-based music), you can keep the Kindle from connecting to Whispernet indefinitely.

    My guess is that anyone who has these two books and has had their wireless off for the past few days still have them on their Kindles and can continue reading them.

  4. Rob Bushway

    07/20/2009 at 9:06 am

    @will – that’s all fine and good until you want to buy another book…

  5. SAM

    07/20/2009 at 11:36 am

    Gloried, expensive book rental system.

    What happens when Amazon decides the Kindle program
    isn’t worth maintainingi in a few year down the road,
    do your book become non-readable/

  6. Clayton

    07/20/2009 at 11:56 am

    You’re kidding me, they delete books from Kindles? That’s absurd!

  7. J

    07/20/2009 at 12:29 pm

    If Amazon kills the Kindle, the only thing that is broken is your whispernet. Amazon cannot disable the ability to load books via USB onto your Kindle. So your Kindle will still be useful as an eBook reader, it won’t have the wireless sync/purchase capabilities.

    Just a tad bit of perspective, Amazon pulled books that some publisher wrongfully claimed they could sell those books. They pushed 1984 and Animal Farm into their Amazon “store” as public domain books. The true rights owner complained, and books were pulled. You can read more about it here:

  8. Techni

    07/21/2009 at 12:04 am

    I remember the good ol’ days, when buying something gave the USER rights.

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