I like the idea of e-books, and I have even read a few. Of course, I have read all my e-books on my laptop, and mostly they have been downloaded from Project Gutenberg, which, I may add, is a fabulous site.
The prospect of having to carry a separate book-reading device seems like an additional burden when one is traveling. We already carry a laptop, a cellphone and/or a Blackberry, an ipod/other music device, a camera, and chargers for all of these. Do we need another device to hold? In fact, if anything, we try to combine 2-3 devices, like use the cellphone as an ipod-cum-camera-cum-phone and so on. Ideally, it seems to me that a netbook can double up as a book, being much lighter than a laptop and the screen size is almost the same as most books; it should make for easier reading than a Kindle.
But these are not the reasons why I will never buy a Kindle. I will never buy a Kindle because I am outraged at Amazon’s action – erasing copies of a book that customers had purchased from it from their Kindles,without their permission.
The story so far – Amazon’s Kindle Store had carried digital versions of George Orwell’s “1984 and “Animal Farm” which had been, in Amazon’s words as quoted in the New York Times “added to the Kindle store by a company that did not have rights to them, using a self-service function.” So apparently, when Amazon heard from the original rights-holder about this snafu, it went ahead and remotely deleted the versions of “1984” and “Animal Farm” that people had purchased from its store. Yes, remotely deleted (apparently it can do that, which is scary in itself) and deleted without asking permission. Of course, it refunded customers their purchase price, if that was any consolation.
I have three issues with this:
1. The customers who bought these books from Amazon bought them in good faith. They are not responsible for any copyright violation – I would say, if anyone is responsible, it should be Amazon who should check who the vendors on its online store are.
2. If a customer had bought a counterfeit tool set at say, Lowe’s or Home Depot, and the store later realized its mistake, would a store representative come to your home and repossess it?
Remember, even product recalls that happen every now and then (due to salmonella contamination or lead paint or whatever) are entirely voluntary. You can always choose not to bother with returning your purchase.
Most stores allow returns too, but that comes with conditions and if those conditions are not met, they can chose to refuse to take back a product. My point is, no return is unilateral. This must be the first time that a unilateral return of a product has taken place. Surely, Amazon must be proud that it has made history.
3. The New York Times reports that Amazon’s published Terms of Service agreement does not give it the right to unilaterally delete purchases after they have been made.
It would have been bad enough enough it had been legal, hidden away somewhere in page 14 of the Terms of Service – after all, every time we are faced with an EULA or a “Terms of Service”, most of us unthinkingly hit “Accept” and move on without reading a word of it. But Amazon does not seem to have had that contractual right to delete the books.
Was this the best way of dealing with the issue? Why could Amazon not simply removed the vendor from its store, publicly acknowledged the mistake and refunded the original rights holder for the amount of royalty lost? Or couldn’t it have asked user’s permissions before deleting the book? Surely, it has their email ids, or their phone numbers or addresses? Yes, some customers will refuse, and yes, they do have a right to refuse since they can keep what they legally bought, but most customers, I believe, will be quite willing to let Amazon delete the book from their Kindles.
It’s somehow appropriate that this happened to “1984”, for Amazon truly acted like a Big Brother in this case. The other issue I have is the loss of privacy – think about it, if Amazon can remotely access customers’ Kindles, what else can it find out about them? Of course it knows what books they buy and read, it knows which book they are reading right now, right down to the page. It will probably know if they linger longer on a certain page, and so on.
Then, what else does that customer buy on Amazon – what kind of products, what kind of music? Can he/ she be steered towards buying more similar products?
This is not idle speculation – I already get emails from Amazon based on products I have purchased, or added to my cart, or saved. I will like these products too, I am told. They are on sale now.
So yes, Amazon is already modeling to become a Big Brother of sorts. But I think they have crossed the line with the way they handled the Kindle issue.