Friday, July 24, 2009

Kindle Now Actually Freaks Me Out

Amazon recently debased itself apologizing for their terrible solution to a copyright infringement error they created on the e-version of George Orwell's 1984 for their Kindle device.

I had heard enough good reviews about the thing that I was beginning to think about learning about them and (someday) acquiring one. No time soon. I don't do pleasure reading at present, and Amazon is not selling Adaptive Control e-books. But I was interested.

I'll include some words that Jeff Bezos used in the apology letter to set the tone for just how badly they screwed up:

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
He really doesn't go far enough in apologizing. He also doesn't mention just what it is he's done.

In short, they bought an e-book version of 1984 and Animal Farm from people not legally empowered to sell those properties. The correct thing to do would be to fess up, and pay the real copyright holder some moneyto compensate for the fact that a whole bunch of people interesting in owning those e-books now own pirated copies. Instead, Amazon tried to limit their damage done, and take back the pirated books.

It turns out that the Kindle does not simply download your new purchases when you link it up with the mothership (Amazon's server). Instead, it performs more of a hot-synch, uploading status, downloading new crap, deleting old stuff when told to... including pirated books... maybe stuff that says bad things about Amazon or the government, you know... just whatever.

Or maybe it lets you keep your copy of 1984, but subtly changes it over time, into something unrecognizable. Maybe the totalitarian govenment is benevolent, efficient, keeps people safe, provides economic justice, and oly hurts bad people from that group we hate.

When I buy a freaking book, I own the book. It stays the same. The ideas are only corrupted my my preconceptions, my failure to understand them, or mildew. But my Kindle e-book? Who has access to that? What is it doing as when it syncs?

Suddenly, every heavy-handed, dystopian polemic I've read, Brave New World, Farenheit 451, Anthem, If This Goes On-,... um, Animal Farm and 1984, jump, sharply focused, into my mind and I question the wisdom of e-books, web mail, netbooks, and digital resources in general.

Thanks to Bezos, I'm not afraid of, I'm afraid of the internet. I want a backup of my digital data with no physical connection to the rest of the cyber-world... possibly paper.

I understand the need for paranoia, but it's time consuming and hard work. Bezos has reminded me that it's worth it.

Apologize again. I'll see how I feel after putting a lock on my paper library.


Reverend0 said...

From what I heard, the real copyright owners had no interest in allowing 1984 or Animal Farm as an e-book format. Maybe I am too optimistic to think that our government/corporations won't change works be authors. That the same ideas and ideals from our printed works would be changed just seems to be impossible. What would be nice is the application of watermarks or other solutions by authors in this new digital age that says it is the original... I just don't know, but you are right, paranoia is a lot of work.

ish said...

Yeah, its creepy and I'm definitely not optimistic enough to think government agencies or corporations or religious movements or any sort of large group capable of getting the power to do so wouldn't take the opportunity. In fact, I currently have a whole lot of books on my Kindle from Project Gutenberg. Have I checked them to verify that they are the exact text of the works in question? That Dostoevsky hasn't been changed to reflect a pro-Scientology viewpoint? No, I have no idea, though I'd like to think I'd notice the changes.

So far, I like the thing, though. Its real handy way to keep books I want to read around, and is especially useful for the news, where I get Slate, NYT Headlines, The Atlantic, and Reason delivered automatically every time there's a new release.

But convenience is a very common entry point toward tyranny. It would be really handy if I also had a National ID card. And if I had one central ID that I could use to login to my bank, Amazon, facebook, credit card companies, and so on.

So I don't know. One thing they said about Mussolini, he made the trains run on time.