Last week, thousands of people discovered that Amazon had quietly removed electronic copies of George Orwell’s 1984 from their Kindle e-book readers. Little did anyone know but Amazon was revealing how easy censorship will be in the “Kindle” age.

And while in this case the e-book removals were motivated by copyright issues, the ease and stealthiness of the operation should give us pause.

MobileReference, who did not own the copyrights to 1984 or Animal Farm, had uploaded both books to the Kindle store and began selling them. When the rights owner heard about this, they contacted Amazon and asked that the e-books be removed. It was then Amazon’s decision to erase them not just from the store, but from all the Kindles where they’d been downloaded. Using the Kindle wireless network, called WhisperNet, they quietly deleted the books from people’s devices and refunded them the money they’d paid.

Obviously, an uproar followed. Angry and outraged customers pointed out the irony to Amazon: how could they delete copies of a novel about a fascist media state that constantly alters history, by changing digital records of what’s happened? Did you know, in the U.S., under the “right of first sale”, people can do whatever they like with a book after purchasing it- that includes giving it to a friend or reselling it? There is no option for a bookseller to take that book back once it’s sold.

And The New York Times reports that until last week, Amazon claimed it wouldn’t ever take back purchased books either. In their published terms of service agreement for the Kindle, there doesn’t appear to be anything that gives them the right to delete purchases after they’ve been made. It does however say that Amazon gives the right to “permanent copy of the applicable digital content”.

However, regardless of their posted service agreement, this isn’t the first time there has been a problem with deletings done in secret; customers have reported the disappearance of digital editions of the Harry Potter books and the novels of Ayn Rand as well.

Thanks to public outrage, Amazon has promised to behavior better. Drew Herdener, an Amazon spokesman, told reporters that in order for this NOT to happen again, Amazon will change their system. In the future, books will not be removed from customer devices, “in these circumstances”. Hmmm…not sure what that last bit means. Does that mean that there might be another, yet to be identified circumstance, where they might delete a book or two?

I hate to ask this but, does this reach have further implications? If Kindle’s WhisperNet service allows Amazon to delete books- silently- from a device, what other information might they have access to? Could they monitor what we’re reading and when? Could that info be passed along to law enforcement?

Something to chew on.

Stay vigilant, Health Nuts. There isn’t a boogie man under every bed, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

Source: io9 gizmodo