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Amazon continues big business' Big Brother thinking, with a very Orwellian twist

Seems Amazon has not been reading up on their recent history.  For some reason, most consumers don’t like it when you quietly make changes without asking.  In 2005, the Sony rootkit debacle was a case study of how not to deal with customers.  It was 2007 when Microsoft decided their Windows Update service should update itself, even with auto-update permissions turned off.  Now, here we are two years later, and Amazon is re-learning the lesson through their Kindle electronic book readers and Whispernet service.   Unauthorized copies of Orwell made their way onto the Kindle store through a provider self-service option.   The provider, MobileReference, posted “1984″ and “Animal Farm” apparently without proper copy rights.

“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,” said Drew Herdener of Amazon.

This did not win Amazon any fans.  Angry users noted that when they connected to Kindle’s Whispernet archive/bookshelf service, books were removed from their devices.  A customer using the nickname “Caffeine Queen” sarcastically warned,

“I wonder if Amazon will sent representatives to customers’ houses to retrieve dead tree copies? Orwell fans, lock your doors!”

One user, Brian Wheeler, did give advice on how to avoid the situation entirely.

“Actually, if you want to ensure that you are able to keep ALL copies of your Kindle books, make sure to ALWAYS download copies of your Kindle book purchases to your computer. That way, even if Amazon removes a book from your Kindle at any point that you have Whispernet on, you can reload that book onto your Kindle via the copy from your computer. Now, if it’s a pirated book that should never have been sold in the first place, that’s up to your own good conscientious as to what you should do. :)

The main issue should be that Amazon’s terms of service says nothing of deleting purchases or removing files from customer devices.  In fact, customers are granted a “permanent copy of the applicable digital content.”

“It illustrates how few rights you have when you buy an e-book from Amazon,” said Bruce Schneier, computer security expert and 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.”

In addition to the changes in their publisher processes, Amazon has publicly said that in the future, when they are notified of an unauthorized book, they will remove it from the online store, but not remove it from archives or Kindle devices.

This should serve as a lesson in customer policy on two fronts.  First, did it make sense to reach past the store – most people probably would have considered the real world analog.  If a customer buys a counterfeit product unknowingly through legitimate channels, there is not manner to forcibly remove it from their possession.  Second, Amazon’s terms of service did not match their actions.  This is a real sticking point with the Federal Trade Commission, especially in situations where privacy policies are not followed.

Lastly, it is interesting that this isn’t the first time Amazon issued refunds and removed books from customers.  More importantly, why are third party rules and agreements would allow this to repeatedly happen.  It’s too bad it took a high profile, intrusive incident before they reviewed corporate procedures.  If they had simply put a trust/credibility status on providers before they could use the self service option, this whole debacle would probably have been avoided.

CIPP Candidate Preparation

In preparation for the Certified Information Privacy Professional exam, a privacy professional should be comfortable with topics found in this post including:

  • Privacy policy development (Foundations:I.G.b) and Managing third parties (Foundations:II.G.c)
  • Enforcement of US Privacy & Security Laws (CIPP: II.B)
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