Amazon and Hachette kiss and make up

After nearly a year of Amazon (the largest bookseller on earth) refusing to sell books from one of the largest publishers on earth, they've finally made peace. Read the rest

Kindle Original vs Kindle Voyage

Jason Weisberger finally upgraded. Did seven years make much difference? The answer will probably not surprise you, but the details might.
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FTC sues Amazon over in-game purchases by children

Online retailer Amazon is accused of hooking millions of dollars from underage users making unauthorized in-app purchases. The Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit Thursday charging that the company willingly allowed kids to set up purchases without the consent of their parents.

Though most were for smaller ammounts, some of the charges ranged as high as $99, and typically were for game weapons, clothes and other virtual bullshit installed on its Kindle Fire gadget.

"Amazon’s in-app system allowed children to incur unlimited charges on their parents’ accounts without permission," FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez wrote in a press release issued by the comission. "Even Amazon's own employees recognized the serious problem its process created. We are seeking refunds for affected parents and a court order to ensure that Amazon gets parents' consent for in-app purchases."

Amazon's in-app purchase system, established in 2011 to help the firm catch up with competitors Apple and Google, was relatively rudimentary and lacked locks or passwords to prevent unuathorized users racking up huge bills. Within a month, internal emails show that Amazon was aware of "problems" that were "clearly causing problems for a large percentage of our customers," according to the FTC's lawsuit.

Amazon only added passwords months later, and did not apply them to purchases of less than $20 for a year. Even then, according to the suit, Amazon did not disclose that doing so once would enable further purchases for more than an hour.

The FTC settled a similar lawsuit with Apple earlier this year, when the company agreed to institute stricter policies and paid $32.5m in restitution. Read the rest

How Hachette made the rope that Amazon is hanging it with

In my latest Guardian column, "How Amazon is holding Hachette hostage," I discuss the petard that the French publishing giant Hachette is being hoisted upon by Amazon. Hachette insisted that Amazon sell its books with "Digital Rights Management" that only Amazon is allowed to remove, and now Hachette can't afford to pull its books from Amazon, because its customers can only read their books with Amazon's technology. So now, Hachette has reduced itself to a commodity supplier to Amazon, and has frittered away all its market power. The other four major publishers are headed into the same place with Amazon, and unless they dump DRM quick, they're going to suffer the same fate. Read the rest

Apple appeals against e-book verdict

Deepto Hajela with the AP: "Apple filed papers on Tuesday telling a federal appeals court in New York that a judge's finding it violated antitrust laws by manipulating electronic book prices 'is a radical departure' from modern antitrust law that will 'chill competition and harm consumers' if allowed to stand." Read the rest

Charity sends Amazon a cake celebrating 3d anniversary of unpaid invoice

Metabrainz is the charity that oversees Musicbrainz, a free/open music metadata service that has gained in popularity since Gracenote took all the audio metadata its users keyed in by hand and enclosed it, denying all but the top bidders access to it. Musicbrainz is free to use, but has a premium, higher-availability service for commercial operators, like Amazon.

For three years now, Metabrainz has been chasing an unpaid invoice at Amazon. Metabrainz is a tiny, charitable nonprofit that relies on grants and donations for the majority of its operating capital, but commercial operators are also key to its survival. And Musicbrainz is an integral part of the plumbing of the Internet at this point, a powerful check against one player achieving dominance through a chokehold on a key resource.

So Metabrainz sent Amazon Headquarters a birthday cake, celebrating the third birthday of good ol' invoice #144. As a volunteer board member for the charity, I'd mightily appreciate it if someone at Amazon would take the time to nudge this invoice through the system.

We just delivered this to @amazon HQ in honor of a 3 year overdue invoice. Can we please get this mess fixed? --ruaok Read the rest

Jeff Bezos, Amazon's switchboard operator

John Biggs interviewed Jeff Bezos: "What we’re finding right now is that even our heaviest Kindle ebook customers are still buying physical books. We’re seeing a lot of vinyl sales." [TechCrunch] Read the rest
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Indie booksellers sue Amazon and big publishers over DRM (but have no idea what "DRM" and "open source" mean)

A group of independent booksellers have filed a suit against Amazon and the major publishers for their use of DRM, which, the booksellers say, freezes them out of the ebook market:

Alyson Decker of Blecher & Collins PC, lead counsel acting for the bookstores, described DRM as "a problem that affects many independent bookstores." She said the complaint is still in the process of being served to Amazon and the publishers and declined to state how it came about or whether other bookstores had been approached to be party to the suit.

"We are seeking relief for independent brick-and-mortar bookstores so that they would be able to sell open-source and DRM-free books that could be used on the Kindle or other electronic ereaders," Decker explained to The Huffington Post by telephone.

Such a move would lead to a reduction in Amazon's dominant market position, and completely reshape the ebook marketplace.

A spokesman for Fiction Addiction declined to comment as legal proceedings are ongoing. The other plaintiffs and Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.

That sounds great, but when you read the complaint, you find that what they mean by "open source" has nothing to do with open source. For some reason, they're using "open source" as a synonym for "standardized" or "interoperable." Which is to say, these booksellers don't really care if the books are DRM-free, they just want them locked up using a DRM that the booksellers can also use.

There is no such thing as "open source" DRM -- in the sense of a DRM designed to run on platforms that can be freely modified by their users. Read the rest

Reviews for a Predator Drone toy

The reviews on the Amazon page for a toy Predator drone are pretty trenchant:

You've had a busy play day - You've wiretapped Mom's cell phone and e-mail without a warrant, you've indefinitely detained your little brother Timmy in the linen closet without trial, and you've confiscated all the Super-Soakers from the neighborhood children (after all, why does any kid - besides you, of course - even NEED a Super-Soaker for self-defense? A regular water pistol should be enough). What do you do for an encore?

That's where the US Air Force Medium Altitude, Long Endurance, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) RQ-1 Predator from Maisto comes in. Let's say that Dad has been labeled a terrorist in secret through your disposition matrix. Rather than just arrest him and go through the hassle of trying and convicting him in a court of law, and having to fool with all those terrorist-loving Constitutional protections, you can just use one of these flying death robots to assassinate him! Remember, due process and oversight are for sissies. Plus, you get the added bonus of taking out potential terrorists before they've even done anything - estimates have determined that you can kill up to 49 potential future terrorists of any age for every confirmed terrorist you kill, and with the innovative 'double-tap' option, you can even kill a few terrorist first responders, preventing them from committing terrorist acts like helping the wounded and rescuing survivors trapped in the rubble. Don't let Dad get away with anti-American activities!

Read the rest

Star Wars memoir "A Long Time Ago" is back in the Kindle store

A followup to yesterday's post about how Amazon had nuked the Kindle edition of A Long Time Ago, Gib Van Ert's memoir about growing up with Star Wars, citing nebulous and incoherent trademark issues.

The Kindle edition is back. Amazon PR person Brittany Turner wrote, "Wanted to let you know that this book is now available in the Kindle Store." Ms Turner didn't offer any further explanation.

Presumably, it was a dumb mistake to begin with, but one that couldn't be corrected until there was enough publicity to get senior people to look in on the issue. Read the rest

Meet the random shopper: Amazon gifts bought at a machine's whim

Boston coder Darius Kazemi's interest in chance led him to create a bot that buys stuff on Amazon: a human decision made ineluctably alien by the randomness of a computer's whim.

Amazon kicks self-published Star Wars memoir out of the Kindle store on nebulous and nonsensical trademark grounds

Update: The Kindle edition is back. Amazon PR person Brittany Turner wrote, "Wanted to let you know that this book is now available in the Kindle Store." Ms Turner didn't offer any further explanation.

Gib Van Ert sez,

Amazon has decided to remove the book I self-published on Kindle, "A Long Time Ago: Growing up with and out of Star Wars", from their store for an unspecified trademark issue. Their emails are vague, but they seems to being saying that I have to have Lucasfilm's permission before selling on their store a book that talks about Star Wars. It's a crazy position--Star Wars is a massive pop cultural and generational phenomenon, as my book tries to explain through a personal narrative.

No one has a right to have their book sold on Amazon, of course. It's their store and they can decline to sell things if they like. But given how they dominate the book marketplace, being banned from Amazon is a major problem for an independent author. And when it is done on a spurious ground--Amazon has never said that Lucasfilm themselves have complained, and why would they?--it verges on a free speech issue.

"A Long Time Ago" is in my review pile, and has survived several purges of books of similar vintage (I've had it there for a long time!), because it looks awfully good, and got a great review from Wired's GeekDad. I hope that this is just some junior functionary at Amazon having a freakout and that someone higher up will see sense and realize that there's no reason in the world not to carry Van Ert's book. Read the rest

Amazon Replacement Order Scam: anatomy of a social engineering con in action

Social engineering scams involve a mix of technical skills and psychological manipulation. Chris Cardinal discovered someone running such a scam on Amazon using his account: the scammer contacted Amazon pretending to be Chris, supplying his billing address (this is often easy to guess by digging into things like public phone books, credit reports, or domain registration records). Then the scammer secured the order numbers of items Chris recently bought on Amazon. In a separate transaction, the scammer reported that the items were never delivered and requested replacement items to be sent to a remailer/freight forwarder in Portland.

The scam hinged on the fact that Gmail addresses are "dot-blind" ( is the same as, but Amazon treats them as separate addresses. This let the scammer run support chats and other Amazon transactions that weren't immediately apparent to Chris.

Others have reported on this scam, but word hasn't gotten around at Amazon yet, and when Chris talked to Amazon reps to alert them to the con, they kept insisting that his computer or email had been hacked, not understanding that the con artist was attacking a vulnerability in Amazon's own systems.

A little bit of sniffing finds this thread where users at a social engineering forum are offering to buy order numbers. Why? Because as it turns out, once you have the order number, everything else is apparently simple.

If you’ve used at all, you’ll notice something very quickly: they require your password. For pretty much anything. Want to change an address?

Read the rest

Amazon reviews for "binders" (full of women) are funnier than Romney's original gaffe

You knew it was coming. Binders full of women, the funny Amazon reviews. (HT: Tara McGinley) Read the rest

Best Buy a bad buy for investors

Best Buy made just $12m in profit on revenues of $10.6bn in the last quarter, falling from $150m over the same period last year. With stock and sales alike slumping, the firm suspended its profit forecast and share buybacks. Best Buy knows exactly what the problem is—it freely admits that everyone uses it to check out gadgets they then buy cheaper online—but hasn't found a way to turn the tide. [BBC and Dealnews] Read the rest

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