The New York Times reports that, “In a move that angered customers and generated waves of online pique, Amazon remotely deleted some digital editions of [two books by George Orwell] from the Kindle devices of readers who had bought them.” Amazon deleted the books because the books were added to the Kindle store by a company without rights to the works.
And this is not the first time Amazon has done this. “Customers commenting on Web forums reported the disappearance of digital editions of the Harry Potter books and the novels of Ayn Rand.” After the Orwell fiasco, however, the company has said it is changing its system “so that in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances.”
The irony of Amazon’s actions is that one of the books, “1984,” is about a dystopian society where “Big Brother” watches over every individual every second of every day. Conformity is not just a way of life, but it is how you stay alive.
Amazon’s published terms of service agreement for the Kindle does not appear to give the company the right to delete purchases after they have been made. It says Amazon grants customers the right to keep a “permanent copy of the applicable digital content.”
Retailers of physical goods cannot, of course, force their way into a customer’s home to take back a purchase, no matter how bootlegged it turns out to be. Yet Amazon appears to maintain a unique tether to the digital content it sells for the Kindle.
You might recall that last year there was controversy when Apple admitted it has a “kill switch” for the iPhone that “allows Apple to remotely delete malicious or inappropriate applications stored on the device,” the Telegraph UK reported.
Advances in technology make many things possible that were once thought impossible — such as a company being able to delete or destroy, without your consent, something that you own. It is difficult for laws to stay ahead of technology, because no one knows what will next be possible. That is why there should be laws protecting data or property no matter what its form or what technological advance occurs. If a company can’t come into your home to steal back a book you lawfully purchased, then a company should not be able to come into your electronic devices to steal data you obtained through lawful means.