Jeff Bezos's Kindle apology: please tell us what the Kindle can do

As Mark posted yesterday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has extended a really heartfelt apology for Amazon's ham-fisted remote deletion of Orwell's 1984 from Kindles last week. The company offering the book for sale through Amazon didn't have the US rights (but US copyright law doesn't say anything about Amazon chasing down customers and taking unlicensed books back from them if it makes a mistake like this). I believe Jeff is sincere. I think he's a good guy, and I think that Amazon, is, generally, the best etailer around, with incredibly customer-friendly terms of sale and service for physical goods. Amazon is my first choice for everything from hard drives to CDs to electronics to small furniture items.

But when it comes to digital delivery, the picture is very different. Amazon won't even tell publishers, writers, or readers what kinds of mischief the Kindle can do -- in the months since its release, we've learned that Amazon will shut off your Kindle account for returning physical purchases if it doesn't think you're sincere; we've learned that Amazon can remotely delete files from your Kindle; we've learned that Amazon has a secret deal with some publishers to limit the number of times you can download Kindle books; we've learned that Amazon can selectively switch off features on books after you buy them, such as the text-to-speech feature.

And what's more, we've learned this all the hard way, because it bit customers on the ass.

Further, Amazon won't say what else is lurking in the Kindle. Specifically, they won't say:

* Whether the Kindle EULA or other terms forbid moving Kindle's "DRM-free" books to competing devices

* Whether there is a patent or other encumbrance that would make it illegal to build a competing device that can read or convert the "DRM-free" files

* What after-purchase control Amazon can exercise on "DRM-free" files: can they be remotely deleted? Can they have features revoked?

This is basic stuff: if you're going to sell a product, you should tell the purchaser what she's getting. It's not a radical proposition, and the fact that Amazon, with its stellar, customer-oriented real-goods business won't disclose these basic facts shocks me silly.

I want to love the Kindle. It's my kind of gizmo. If Amazon comes clean about what it can and can't do, and offers a way to sell and buy books without any of this control stuff, I'll be their biggest cheerleader. In the last year, my Boing Boing book reviews sold 25,000 (real) books through Amazon -- given half a chance, I'd start reviewing DRM-free ebooks here, too.

This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. Our "solution" to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we've received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.

With deep apology to our customers,

Jeff Bezos
Founder & CEO

An Apology from Amazon (via Make)


  1. Amazon’s problem – which has come back to bite it – is that it described its ebook transactions as being the sale of a limited license rather than the sale of an item. As other people have said, when you buy a book the sale is final. In contrast, the limited license that Amazon “sells” you exposes Amazon to all sorts of problems. What will Amazon do when it gets a court order to cancel other licenses?

    Suppose, for the sake of argument, an ebook is alleged to contain a commercial secret; a libelous statement; instructions for circumventing DRM. Plaintiffs would previously demand that books be recalled. Now they will almost certainly demand that Amazon cancel the ebook license. Every time this happens Amazon wwill become a party to the lawsuit, and every time Amazon complies with a court order it will look like the bad guy. It has set a very bad precedent for itself.

  2. I think that’s good analysis, Joe, but it doesn’t bear on whether Amazon has any additional liability associated with disclosing what the Kindle and can’t do with different kinds of files.

  3. i’ve never really got this…i can read e-books on this if i spend $300 ($250?) for it, but i’ll have to put up w/ all this?

    sorry…i think i’ll pass…

  4. Though probably sincere I also think this apology is rather empty, like a rockstars’ apology for his drug use or a politicians’ apology for visiting an escort. Just sorry, no promises or guarantees about future behaviour.

    Jeff Bezos has become the captain Beatty of ebooks.

  5. I’m a brand-new Kindle owner – I’ve had it for about a week. I’m also responsible for more than a few of the 25,000 purchases made through your “downandout” Amazon Associate’s account, Cory. I buy or click-through to wish list just about everything you ever review here.

    I was so excited about the Kindle when they announced it, however I held out for v2 which I knew would fix any number of problems were apparent with the first version. I also held out for this latest price drop.

    My two-second review is that I absolutely love it, but have been mildly surprised at a few minor shortcomings. I’d still give it 5 Amazon Stars.

    Amazon should be able to answer all of the questions you’re asking of it. Ironically, all of the questions are related to what I think is the coolest aspect of the device/system – the interactivity it has wirelessly in both directions between the device and “The Kindle Store” on Amazon’s servers.

    Bezos would do well to answer your questions.


    Only slightly off topic:

    Are you aware of the scores of FREE books available for download for the Kindle through the Kindle store?

    Indeed, Chris Anderson’s “FREE” was available for free for a limited time last week. Public Domain classics like Kipling’s Jungle book and Autobiography of Ben Franklin are available for free by the dozens. Since the device holds 1500 books, there is almosy zero incentive not to download a free title.

  6. OK, the Kindle is a joke. Everybody knows by now.

    What’s the best e-book reader that’s not a Kindle, and how is it better?

  7. I very much appreciate the apology.
    But the problem is not in the fact that Amazon deleted 1984 book. Anybody can download the book from Australian Project Gutenberg site.

    The problem is, Amazon wants us to think we are buying the book when we click on “buy now with one click” button. The language on site is misleading, the price indicates that it is indeed a sale and not a rent. And they have been very, very successful in misleading their customers. The fact that the vast majority of people were very surprised by the events is very good proof of that. Very few people read the small print in the long and complicated EULA and Service Terms. Very few people considered that Amazon was deleting old versions of their newspaper subscriptions.

    When you click on “buy now with one click” button you are in fact paying for a very limited license to read the book for limited time, on limited number of devices. The number of times you can download the book is limited as well and you can not find out what the limit is, the number of devices is limited and you have no way of knowing the limit. The amount of text you can put into your clippings is limited as well. Text To Speech might be forbidden for that particular book. And you can not sell (or give) the book when you are finished the way you sell the dead tree version. Yet, you still pay the full price.

    People are only now starting to realize they only rent the books,
    People are only now starting to realize the their Kindle phones home with a very detailed log every time it connects to the Whispernet.
    People are only now starting to realize the Amazon has the ability and the inclination to delete the books from their Kindle.

  8. And people laughed when I said I wanted an ebook reader that was _just_ an ebook reader.

    Networking isn’t something required for reading. Amazon’s actions are reasons I won’t get a Kindle, or any other reader for that matter, that does anything more than load a book from USB or SD.

  9. Interesting! One thing I don’t quite understand: Amazon won’t tell us “whether the Kindle EULA or other terms forbid moving Kindle’s “DRM-free” books to competing devices”. Wouldn’t you be allowed to do so unless explicitly stated otherwise? Are the EULA/terms that ambiguous? Am I missing something here?

  10. I just end up converting my previously purchased non-drm books into Amazon .azw format using Stanza and I rarely have to worry about Amazon’s digital content issues. It is a great e-book reader, but I am not fond of the whole “limited amount of downloads” thing. I do, however, love reading blogs and magazines on the device.

  11. Now that AT&T is getting into this watch how the prices start to fall…$10 for a ‘limited license’ book? I’ll wait for an real download!..

  12. i agree with flink. a thin, but durable, high resolution matte finished monochrome display with a simple interface to load ebooks from an sd card is what i want. the kindle doesn’t sound like that to me. a proper device as i describe it could have a passive display that only requires power to alter its image and would therefore be very light and portable with a very minimal battery required to permit many many hours of enjoyable reading.

  13. Regarding #1, I don’t think that’s a problem. I don’t think it’s that they don’t want you to put Kindle books on competing devices, it’s they don’t want you breaking DRM. So if you could take a DRM book and put it on a device and not break the DRM, I don’t think there’s anything in the TOS that would be broken. Same way, if you have a non-DRM book, there shouldn’t be any reason you can’t put it on another device. Since there’s no DRM to break, there’s no TOS issues. I’m not a lawyer or an expert of any kind, but that’s just my thoughts. This is also easy to do. A non-DRM Kindle book is just a Mobipocket file, so you just rename it to .MOBI and you can read it on any software or device that supports Mobipocket (on your PC, Blackberry, WinMO device and etc). Of course you can also crack the DRM on your other Kindle books and do the same thing, but I believe in that case, you would be violating the TOS. Not because you are reading them on something other than a Kindle, but because you broke the DRM.

  14. @9: Anyone who’s actually tried to read an ebook on your typical 9-10 inch display of a netbook, knows all too well how much it sucks. Especially if you are trying to read a PDF. Anyone who is serious about reading (at least a couple books a month), invest in some kind of e-ink display. Whether it’s Kindle, Sony, Plastic Logic or whatever… you’ll be much more satisfied. If you aren’t a big reader and just want to pick up the latest best seller or ‘it book’ every once in awhile, then go for a netbook or smartphone. Something you can get more and other uses out of.

  15. @ Gecko:

    ‘Very interesting – what would people recommend as a workable ebook reader?’

    I have the Sony PRS505 eBook Reader and it’s awesome. Much the same screen as Kindle and the usual Sony build quality. Unlike Kindle it supports the ePub format which is becoming something of a standard between eBook vendors. There’s also support for PDF and even MP3 if you like audio books.

    You have to use Adobe Digital Editions if you want to buy books through Sony or their partners (such as Waterstone’s in the UK) and at the moment it is tied to Windows (there are Mac get arounds and Mac support is promised real soon now).

    I’ve had it a year and I haven’t regretted it once. I even got into the habit of reading books by an author – oh what’s his name – Cory something or another – the dude can write, and (you’re gonna love this bit) – he GIVES his stuff away!!!

  16. You have hit the nail on the head. Amazon is, in my experience, a fantastic retailer of physical goods and and, from what I can see, a deeply suspect retailer of ebooks. I am so glad that Bezos looks like he is going to sort out the lawyerisation that appears to be going on in the ebook realm. I can see that the transition to ebooks is deeply threatening to their business but they are getting too sweaty handed.
    What can they do better? Two things:
    1. Stop their ebook strategy being run by the narrow Kindle tactic. They made their money selling books, not “Amazon books” and they should drop the idea of selling only Amazon ebooks to Kindle owners. They are not selling in many countries because the Kindle platform relies on such a specific ecology. They are not selling to people who do not own a Kindle.
    2. Sell the book to the consumer and let the consumer own it.
    I write books so I could hardly be against profit from written words but the use of DRMs to gain the commanding heights of a market (that is what it is about, not piracy, whatever the less insightful publishers might think) is going to seriously harm Amazon’s standing and is likely to get them blown out of the water by someone who can guarantee that the book I buy now is my property for ever to use as I want: ie. a thing can go on multiple ereaders in my home indefinitely. The tunes I buy on itunes feel like they are mine. That is why I buy them.

  17. @flink

    For whatever it’s worth, you can use the Kindle just like that, if you want. I have a DX that I bought before the 1984 kerfuffle, and it was disheartening to see this all go down. On the other hand, I don’t ever have the wireless turned on, and almost everything I have on mine is DRM-free content I got elsewhere, like Project Gutenberg, including PDFs. (I would have gone with the cheaper Kindle 2 had it not been for the PDF support.) I could see the argument that you’re paying for something (wireless) that you don’t want, but the other reader of that size that’s currently out there, the iRex one, is quite a bit more expensive.

    I can’t see how Kindle can do anything to my content as long as the wireless isn’t on.

    I’m probably sounding like a Kindle sales rep, which isn’t my intention. It isn’t perfect. But the real probably with eBooks isn’t with the device itself, but rather how Amazon handles the electronic content they sell. If you like the device and weren’t planning on buying any DRM’d content anyway, you can completely bypass that.

  18. Holy crap, I’d never buy a kindle or anything like it (I prefer uncrippled netbooks) but that’s the best apology letter I have ever seen from an American corporate head. Give the man some respect for that, at least. He owned it.

  19. It’s always easier to ask for forgiveness than it is for permission. After the many times Amazon has shown complete disregard for consumer/customer rights, I don’t see why anyone should believe that this apology is any more than lip service.

  20. Are you listening and watching, B&N / Plastic Logic?

    This kind of PR debacle is something you can avoid with your new partnership, and if you were to have the temerity to actually come out in the beginning and state what your device and partnership can do, and what the rules are, you’ll be ahead of the game.

    Companies have to get over being afraid to converse with customers in this way. The days of “we’re the provider of the whatever and don’t worry your little head about how it works” are long over.

  21. @Joe: I think you hit the nail on the head, but the unfortunate situation you outline is owed to a self-inflicted architectural problem that Amazon almost certainly has the means to solve.

    The Kindle system needs to be redesigned if it’s to be trusted again. Local storage needs to be exclusively under the user’s manual control, an exclusivity enforced at the filesystem level, and this fact needs to be transparent to the user.

  22. Here’s another interesting thought to consider in an electronic book world.

    Given what we’ve seen so far I would assume that Amazon can update a book on a Kindle without notifying the user.

    I’m sure there are a lot of governments in the world that would love to have that feature.

    Printed content leaves a history that electronic content does not.

    This is another case where open source would make sense, because it makes it much easier to verify what your device is actually doing.

  23. A bullshit apology means nothing – I want that ability to remove books or even see what is on my Kindle removed. Anything else is just face-saving crap.

  24. Cory,
    Do you still have issues with all of Amazon’s digital delivery?

    My understanding is that Amazon used to offer DRMed music files. They changed their policy due to consumer demand, and now only offer DRM-free MP3s.

    I would think that provides hope, that if we, as consumers, can push back on ebooks, like we did with music, then we would see similar results.

  25. That apology sounds exactly like the laughing attack he had during his interview in the daily show: FAKE.

    The reason, he is sorry because Amazon got busted by all the horrific things they did to their customers. The irony of the Orwell books made it even better.

    I wonder if he would have apologized if he hadn’t been busted.

  26. how about if all Kindles sold get jail-broken and a huge underground of kindle-compatible downloads appears and a basically good idea gets taken away from it’s cruel, abusive step-parents?

  27. look, all these debacles cannot just be put down to stupidity. No one is THAT dumb. What they are doing is trying us on to see how much they can get away with, bad faith in other words. Such conspiracy and cynical attitude should be met with stern correction.

  28. I’m sorry, I’m just not buying it.(The apology or the Kindle).
    This, to me, is Amazon’s rootkit moment. They’ve just proven that they are completely willing and able to punish the customer for their mistakes. If there had been anybody at the helm of this issue other than the slimeball lawyers and mid-level weasels, they would have made their apologies to the legitimate publisher, doled out a settlement and left the books on customer’s Kindles. But they didn’t. They chose the quick, easy, low-cost Corporate Coward way out and shifted the burden of their mistake onto their customers.

    I’m not even sure I buy their explanation of what happened either. Some random publisher out there is the *ONLY* publisher that Amazon has for Orwell?!??! That doesn’t smell right. Last time I was in a bookstore you could find that and other classics on the shelves from 3 or 4 different imprints(which may possibly devolve to the same corporation at large, but that’s another issue).

    Nobody noticed the irony that the disputed titles were “Animal Farm” and “1984” !?!?? Nobody bothered to think that MAYBE, just this once, they should think of another solution??
    This story wouldn’t have 1/4 the kick it does if the titles in question were “Biggles combs his hair” or “The Weaving Techniques of Lower Elbonia” ?

    Sorry, I’m not buying any of it, especially not a Kindle. Sony lost my trust w/ the rootkit debacle, Amazon now loses it with the Kindle. I will probably continue to buy their books, but I won’t be buying their electronics.

  29. What’s stopping you from downloading any text you want to on your kindle? This is the part of the argument I don’t get.

    People keep wishing for a freer kindle, but you can put ANYTHING ON THE KINDLE YOU WANT. (provided it’s in an understood open format. .txt works relatively well. reflowed .pdfs on the older ones and natively on the DX.
    (There are some issues with tables and whatnot- I know that ORA has asked for support of more open formats for formatting’s sake.) But it’s not as if the Kindle doesn’t support un-DRM’d documents.

    There’s no need to jailbreak!

    You’re tied to one source of DRMd books.
    You pretty much have an infinite sources of non-DRMd books. This is pretty much how all of the e-readers work. The BN/plastic logix isn’t going to support the Kindle’s DRM, I’m pretty sure. But I bet you can download files on to it… just like you can the kindle. The iPod doesn’t play other DRM formats. Apple doesn’t allow other non-apple sources to play DRM’d itunes songs. It’s pretty much the same thing. Get rid of that, and all the ereaders do a pretty decent job of displaying text and graphics.

    Name a free-er e-reader- one that allows you to buy DRM’d content from anywhere.
    Or, name a source of content that sells their stuff without DRM, and how it’s impossible to put that stuff on a kindle.

  30. Had a Kindle, but managed to avoid getting the shaft (I already had “1984”, so maybe that helped; anyway-). But I had a better idea that worked very well: get one of the OLPC laptops from ebay (I paid about 160 bucks for a new one in the box), and use that as an ebook reader- the screen flips over and lays flat on the keyboard, they’re inexpensive (when you can find one, that is), and you can expand the memory easily with a flash drive or something. I dunno if Amazon’s purchases can be used on it- I stopped messing with Amazon about the time that it became clear they weren’t to be trusted- but, obviously, you can read any major text type, even if you have to put Acrobat Reader on it.
    Forget Amazon and its corporate “apologies”- they’re merely calculated to avoid losing more customers and money, while pledging to fix very little and make almost nothing right. Getting drawn in by it is a mistake; I’ll get my reading materials elsewhere henceforth.

  31. in the absence of observable behavior with which to evaluate the veracity of statements such as these, the words mean precisely fuck-all.

  32. OK, “jail-broken” isn’t quite right… need a term for the separation and armouring of a device away from it’s initial instigators…

  33. Cory,

    Where’s your switchblade? This is not the time to say nice things about Amazon or Bezos. Sincere good guy?

    It is time to punch Amazon and keep punching. It doesn’t matter what they do with physical goods. It matters what they do with their data.

    When I see Bezos down I kick him. But that’s just me. I’m a creep.

  34. @takuan

    Since the wireless is off on mine, I tend to think of it as “severing communication with the mothership.” But that might be a little ungainly for a catchphrase.

  35. What’s stopping you from downloading any text you want to on your kindle? This is the part of the argument I don’t get.

    Yeah, we know. But I don’t want to reward them by buying the device that’s the central part of their terribly flawed scheme. Not even given that the device’s non-DRM features are pretty nifty — I don’t want to encourage them. If they want my money, they’ll need to stop trying to sell people on the idea that tethered devices are a good thing.

    In the meantime, I have no shortage of physical books to read, and if I really want to read a freely available ebook, FBReader on my Nokia n800 is passable, if not as good as an e-ink reader.

  36. Cory,

    Have you ever actually emailed Bezos your questions just to see what would happen? As a niche celebrity, I wonder if you swing a big enough stick to get a response. If I’m using you guys as a news source to vet whether I will purchase a Kindle then there’s probably a few thousand others doing the same.


  37. I think that Amazon, is, generally, the best etailer around, with incredibly customer-friendly terms of sale and service for physical goods.

    I don’t. I’ve quit using them.

    Any retailer who will not accept returns for defective goods more than 30 days after the sale is customer-HOSTILE. Many defects don’t show themselves until later than that.

    I purchased a DVD box set (32 discs) from Amazon this past January. Six weeks later, I found that one of the DVDs had a defect. Instead of offering to exchange that DVD, Amazon asked me, in condescending terms (“That’s not our policy, but we’ll make an exception” — as if they were doing me an extraordinary favor), to return the entire set for replacement, which would be a lot more trouble for me.

    Again: THIRTY-TWO discs. What the hell was I supposed to do, take a leave of absence from my job so I could check the entire set for defects within thirty days? That’s absurd.

    So I don’t intend ever to do business with them again. What happened last week just gave me an *additional* reason not to buy a Kindle.

    PS I’m really enjoying my Sony PRS-700.

  38. I’m torn. I have a Kindle, and it’s a tough one for me. I hate the idea of opaque file formats and Amazon’s approach to licensing rather than selling.

    That said, the Kindle has become an indispensable gadget for me; I have tons of books from a ton of different sources. It’s a mobile library for me, and I can’t imagine living without it OR not having the network capability (which is, in my mind, essential for travel).

    If this was a game, or movie, or music… I would resist spending money on it to avoid supporting this crap. But I find myself buying (licensing) Amazon’s ebooks regularly, because even though I philosophically disagree with it, the product is so perfect for me that it’s hard to resist.

  39. Ok… so I’m a dinosaur, but I’m reading all sorts of things on this here laptop that I’m tapping away on, and I can download all sort of books on it (legally) and I can pick up real actual books and read them too. So why do I need a kindle again?

  40. As usual, Cory “conveniently” forgets to mention when grandstanding about the conditions he demands before he will put content on the Kindle…

    … BB is a licensed Kindle-delivered blog. These very words about how Cory is keelhauling Kindle are being read on Kindles.


    I know the last 8 years of politics have lowered the bar about full disclosure and conflicts of interest, etc…. but I for one would love an entry on the finances of the BB/Kindle deal and I would also love for that entry to be linked every time a pro-Kindle post is made.

  41. If you use the kindle to put your own product on it, Amazon can’t delete the stuff you put on. (or at least, that’s not what happened here.)

    What amazon deleted was files in their managed datacenter cloud, and the side-effect was that of a magazine subscription- the kindle phoned home, saw that the file didn’t exist in the cloud, and the design of hte workflow indicated to the kindle that the product was no longer supposed to be there. By deign of the customer or the overlord, it coudln’t tell- it was just following its phone home design.

    Amazon did NOT send a mass delete command out to the kindles. What it did was mass delete the files on its own store, and then when the kindles called home, they assumed that deletion = no longer wanted.

    What amazon SHOULD have done is just not offer the book for sale, but left it in the cloud where it was. Didn’t happen.

    I’m willing to chalk this up to short-sighted stupidity, rather than deliberate malice.


    And the point about “why do I need a kindle when I have a netbook” misses the point of e-paper entirely. It’s easier to read on. That’s the extent of it. You can read it all day and not have eyestrain. Read read read read read. No backlight, no fussing with brightness in the sunshine, no power bricks after 8 hours on the beach sipping pina coladas.

    e-paper is a great device for voracious readers. The world hasn’t figured out how to own or make money from bits yet, though- and that’s what the kerfuffle is about.

  42. @styrofoam

    You say “If you use the kindle to put your own product on it, Amazon can’t delete the stuff you put on. (or at least, that’s not what happened here.)”

    How do you know that?

    “Use of Digital Content. Upon your payment of the applicable fees set by Amazon, Amazon grants you the non-exclusive right to keep a permanent copy of the applicable Digital Content and to view, use, and display such Digital Content an unlimited number of times, solely on the Device or as authorized by Amazon as part of the Service and solely for your personal, non-commercial use. Digital Content will be deemed licensed to you by Amazon under this Agreement unless otherwise expressly provided by Amazon.” — From

    So the user gets a copy to view an unlimited number of times. BUT Amazon can also change the number of downloads by reverring back to the “as authorized by Amazon” statement, which means they can also revoke authorization to unlimited views/downloads (like we’ve seen). The last sentence says that as long as Amazon tells you they’re taking it away, they can just take it away.

    I can’t find the part of the EULA that says they can’t take away your files (bought from Amazon or uploaded from Project Gutenberg). I can’t find the part of the EULA that says they won’t record what you are reading (outside of records of your purchases of course). If I am to have the kind of tight relationship with Amazon that is required to bring the Kindle to its full potential I need protection from what you chalk up to “short-sighted stupidity, rather than deliberate malice”.


  43. “Upon your payment of the applicable fees set by Amazon, Amazon grants you the non-exclusive right to keep a permanent copy of the applicable Digital Content and to view, use, and display such Digital Content an unlimited number of times”

    This is regarding THE MEDIA THAT YOU PURCHASE FROM AMAZON. It’s not regarding the text and .pdfs I put on my kindle by myelf- but I can’t find any legalese surrounding material that I’ve put on by myself. Of course, that part of legalese also says “you get to KEEP” the file, which obviously isn’t what happened here. Amazon’s stance must rely upon the “upon receipt of payment” bit, which, since they refunded your payment… they didn’t have your payment. I disagree with that. You disagree with that. I’m not arguing that. But the EULA says you get to keep it. The EULA doesn’t say anything about being able to delete material on my device, but I don’t see anything in the EULA that indicates that they CAN delete material on my device. (in the cloud, I can see how they can technically do that- but the EULA doesn’t explicitly allow it, either.) The last sentence you mention doesn’t read to me that Amazon can take your files away – it says, “you don’t own the file- you’re licensing it from us. Unless we expressly give you the right to own it.” I also understand the squeamishness about licensing vs. ownership, but it should be license until the end of time- the license as indicated doesn’t mention an expiry.

    The “limited number of downloads” is also a misnomer- it’s not a limited number of times you can download the book, it’s a limited number of devices you can download the file to. It’s possible to link multiple devices to your Amazon account- a kindle or two, your iPhone, your friend’s iPhone, whatever. The download restriction (as I understand it) is the number of devices that you can download that file to. You can download it to your own kindle indefinitely. That does need to be cleared up, however- can you authorize/unauthorize devices? If you break your kindle, does that mean it’s irrevocably tying up a device slot? Amazon has not been as forthcoming on this issue as I’d have liked. There’s confusion within customer support on the issue, as evidenced by the last storm over this problem. But the initial impression was “limited downloads”, but if you followed the thread, it turned into “limited devices” as the issue evolved over time.

    As for the “record of what you’re reading”, that’s a different matter. Amazon does get log files of what files you’re reading. The following bit of legalese is going to have you mortified, I’m sure, but it’s part of the way the Kindle works. (Turn off wireless, and you don’t have this issue.) The kindle does keep track of what you’re reading. Keeps track of what page you’re on. And if you’re annotating with notes ore making bookmarks, it keeps track of that.

    In the grand scheme of things, it’s doing this for a customer experience standpoint- if you turn your kindle off and come back to a book later, it opens right up to the page you left it at. If you read it on your kindle and then open it up on your iPhone, it’s right where you left it. If you make notes on your kindle, you can access them online.

    It’s certainly no worse than trusting a company to host your email, or a grocery store to track the purchases you make by either a debit card or a membership card of some part. I understand the squeamishness, though- if you’re that into privacy, a kindle still works fine- just leave the wireless off, increase you battery life, and you’ll never have to deal with any of this. Amazon couldn’t delete your files, Amazon could n’t know what you were reading, and amazon will still happily sell you books and allow you to load them onto your kindle via USB.

    Information Received. The Device Software will provide Amazon with data about your Device and its interaction with the Service (such as available memory, up-time, log files and signal strength) and information related to the content on your Device and your use of it (such as automatic bookmarking of the last page read and content deletions from the Device). Annotations, bookmarks, notes, highlights, or similar markings you make in your Device are backed up through the Service. Information we receive is subject to the Privacy Notice.

  44. Just something else to back up my astroturfing. I’m starting to feel like Bezos’ toadie. I just really love my kindle, and hate seeing it tarred unjustly.

    Content from the Kindle Store: Most books and other non-subscription items you purchase from the Kindle store may be simultaneously accessed for your personal use on to up to six Kindles (or Kindle compatible devices) registered to your account.

    If you have reached the device limit and wish to replace one of your current devices with a new one, you must first deregister and delete the content from the device you wish to replace before you can access the content in question from your new device. Please see the “Registering Your Kindle” section of our Managing Your Kindle Settings Help page to learn how to register/deregister your Kindle. There is no limit on the number of times a title can be downloaded to a registered device.

  45. @Styrofoam:

    What’s stopping you from downloading any text you want to on your kindle? This is the part of the argument I don’t get.

    Perhaps nothing, but there’s no way to know the answer to that question for certain. There’s no way to know if the data you put on your Kindle will:

    • remain there until you delete it,
    • be readable without tracking,
    • and remain intact and unedited unless edited by you.

    The freedom users need to control their own devices is not present with the Kindle. You have repeated yourself about how the Kindle shared storage likely works and you seem to be saying this as if its an excuse. When I read that explanation I’m reminded of George Hotelling’s problems selling his iTunes tracks and how centralized management is designed to frustrate leveraging one’s first sale rights: One should not have to go through a gatekeeper to sell one’s Kindle books (regardless of where they are stored and whether they have DRM). I have to conclude that if reading, re-selling, lending/borrowing, and managing issues sound like problems one wishes to avoid, one should avoid getting a Kindle.

    The Kindle was designed to operate as it does; they could have chosen a different design that gives users more freedom. As long as the Kindle runs on proprietary programs there is no way to know what you claim to know:

    If you use the kindle to put your own product on it, Amazon can’t delete the stuff you put on. (or at least, that’s not what happened here.)

    Yes, that’s not what happened here but for all we know it could happen later. You are making a claim here that cannot be backed up. Proprietary programs are always untrustworthy. Only the proprietor knows what they’re capable of doing. So unless you’re the proprietor, you don’t know what that code can do (hence Cory Doctorow’s call for getting Bezos to tell us what the Kindle’s hardware and software can do). You don’t know the full extent of Amazon’s powers (nor do we know what they’re willing to do for a publisher). Reading the EULA won’t help you figure out all of those powers.

    So the device is untrustworthy, and apparently can’t be trusted to exercise their power in the customer’s best interests either. Best not to buy a Kindle and wise to avoid doing business with The Kindle is still just a Swindle.

  46. If you don’t use the kindle’s wireless, the issues dealing with the privacy and content on yor kindle are all moot.

    Now you’re picking an e-reader based on price, feaures, aesthetics, and availability of content.

    The Sony seems to win the aesthetics war. I haven’t been that impressed with the store yet, though- the books available to me on the Kindle are better. (I do like the navigation on the kindle a bit better too. But sleek and silver seems to be everybody’s favorite.)

    The Iliad is a very impressive piece of hardware- but currently more expensive than I can justify, and the store is, again, not as expansive as I feel that Amazon’s store is.

    As far as content stored in the cloud, I’m not usng it as an excuse, as much a I am saying that there is a certain amount of trust that has to be exercised when using a cloud provided service- whether it’s facebook, gmail, or anything else.

    I’m not denying the fact that the 1984 incident is ugly, but it still doesn’t prove to me that there’s malice involved.

    Yes, amazon could change book content in the cloud.
    yes, google could be forwarding all of your email to the government.
    Cell Phone providers could be broadcasting your calls over the intercom in their offices.
    The admins here at BoingBoing could be editing our posts to make some of us look like idiotic fools.

    Your points are valid, but they’re not specific to only the Kindle, is all I’m saying. if you can provide me a comparable product that doesn’t suffer from the same limitations, I’ll gladly conceed that point.
    I don’t know of any other similar product that allows you to sell an e-book that you’d previously purchased. Would I like a way for that to happen? yes, but nobody’s come up with a standard for that yet.

    (It’s somewhat of a moot argument, as there AREN’T any other comparable devices- unless you turn the wireless on the kindle off and quit using the cloud services. At which point, the kindle behaves exactly as you’re suggesting it should. So yes, the wireless cloud is the trust issue involved. Don’t use it, and buy your stuff and annotate, andback up all the files on your computer via USB. it’s pretty simple. No possible chicanery by anybody else. That wireless switch is a big chunk of trust that you have to deal with or ignore.

  47. As you say to not use this or that feature on the device, you implicitly concede that the device has major problems on the order I described. Nobody would want to spend money on a device where they know they have to do without features they’re paying for so they can avoid abuse.

    I don’t care if there isn’t a product similar to the Kindle that allows as easy resale as paper books. I’ll just continue to read paper books waiting for a digital book reader I can use in freedom. I’m under no obligation to think well of the Kindle even if resale works without fault. I think most ordinary customers who learn of this Orwell episode will conclude that that is enough to disconsider the Kindle. It’s simply too much of a risk of one’s freedom.

    So yes, the wireless cloud is the trust issue involved. Don’t use it, and buy your stuff and annotate, andback up all the files on your computer via USB. it’s pretty simple. No possible chicanery by anybody else.

    Again with the unverifiable claims. The software used to operate the Kindle is proprietary. We don’t know what it can do with or without a wireless connection. Timebombed proprietary software exists, so one need not possess much technical imagination to know that proprietary software can behave radically differently at different times leaving people unable to do anything to alter that behavior, even if they’re willing to install modified software they trust more.

  48. I don’t care how “heartfelt” Bezos’s apology may seem, without answering the specific questions in the post, how heartfelt can it really be? It’s not just the Orwellian deletion of files but the tepid response that leaves a taste in my mouth I don’t think I’ll get over. I’m done with Amazon, period – I’ll never spend another dime with that company. Like any corporation, Amazon will only REALLY respond when they realize the damage done to their reputation, and then it will be too late. I hope this really damages Amazon financially (the only way a corporation CAN be damaged) and the Kindle sunk, as a warning to companies in the future who would cross the lines of unethical commerce.

  49. Cory: Sorry for not addressing most of your points. Here’s my layman’s response:

    1) Nobody should ever say “Here’s what our EULA means”. If they do that they’re effectively substituting one EULA for another. The EULA means what it says, and if you’re unclear about its application in a particular instance you can always go to court and let a court make a definitive ruling.

    2) Amazon has patents. The patents are publicly available, so you can form your own opinion over what is covered and whether the patents are enforceable. If Amazon thinks you’re infringing on a patent it may sue you, but it will never say upfront “this is not infringing”. It’s like the EULA: by making a statement it may be altering its legal rights, and this will always be to its detriment – it can’t get stronger patent rights by claiming that something is prohibited but it can certainly weaken its rights by implying that something is permitted.

    3) Can the Kindle …? Yes, as I understand it. Amazon has complete technical control over content stored on a Kindle. The question is whether they have a right to do this under the EULA, and whether they will choose to do this. As I said in my earlier post, a court order might require them to take any action they are capable of. This might include deleting content, scrambling it, or replacing it with rude limericks.

    I don’t think Amazon realised the hole they were digging for themselves when they chose this business architecture. As other people have said, this is the root of their problem. They set up a system where they retain control over your “purchase”, and now they’ve found that liability comes with control. I believe that they would have done much better to have treated sales as being equivalent to physical sales, but I suspect the book publishers asked for the ability to control content. So this may not have been an option. It might simply be that given the current copyright regime, Amazon’s Kindle model is the best deal that book publishers are willing to grant consumers.

  50. I own a Sony PRS-505, which amazingly (considering the source) is more open than the Kindle. I can buy DRM-crippled best-sellers from multiple sources because it supports Adobe’s epub and PDF formats.

    Best of all, when I buy e-magazines from Fictionwise I can keep them until I’m ready to read them, which is good because I tend to read them in job lots.

    The real benefits of the Kindle come with too many costs for my liking.

  51. it appears that Kindle can not be purchased directly in Canada through a retail outlet. Just wondering if and when this will happen???

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