a common reader

Amazon as Big Brother

· 3 August 2009 |  by Janantoon
· Published in: English texts · miscellanea · Nineteen eighty-four

This is not what you call hot news, I don’t believe in hot news anyway.
But I can’t deny myself the pleasure to publish this bit of news. For the complete story, see this article in The New York Times.

On July 16th Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener had to publicly present their apologies for a blunder. Amazon had sold several books for their reading machine — superb thing, it seems — named Kindle. Apparently the editor did not have the rights to sell the electronic version for several of the sold books.

So, Amazon ‘recalled’ the books and refunded the owners. So far so good, a pity for the buyer, but no real harm done. Or not?

Fact is that Amazon did not actually recall the books, they just deleted them on the Kindles of their customers. In at least one case, a student had already made a lot of annotations on the book he was reading for a paper, and those remarks were also deleted.

Apart from the indignation about the way Amazon proceeded in this case, customers became aware of the fact that Amazon has the power to erase files on their personal Kindles! If they have this power, “what more can they do?” seems an obvious question. Makes one think of Amazon as Big Brother.
An article in The Guardian puts it like this:

This early Kindle book-burning episode also provides a reminder of how closely ebook devices monitor their users’ reading. And that provokes quite a few questions. What’s to stop advertisers paying to find out about your preferences, for instance? What’s to stop churches finding out about people reading pro-choice literature in their area? What’s to stop governments finding out about your revolutionary reading preferences?

Ironically, one of the involved books was George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, the very book that introduced Big Brother and the memory hole, newspeak, etc.

Thank you Amazon, you gave me one more good reason to stick to my real books, skilfully printed on fine paper, hardbacked. You can’t take them out of my library, you can’t delete them by just pushing a button, you can’t control when and what I am reading. I intend to enjoy this freedom for many years to come.


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