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BY NICO VREELAND

Last week, Amazon got in some hot water when they remotely deleted ebooks from customers’ Kindles without permission or explanation. From civilian interaction with Amazon customer service, it was unclear whether Amazon remote-killed the books because they were sold by non-copyright holders (pirates) or because a legitimate publisher “decide[d] to pull their content from the Kindle store.”

Information Week (via) has since confirmed that piracy was the reason for Amazon’s creepy move:

Amazon says that that the books in question were added to its catalog using the company’s self-service platform by a third-party who did not have the rights to the books.

When the story broke last week, I guessed that Amazon wouldn’t apologize or reinstate the books in question if piracy was the culprit, and indeed they’ve done neither. They did, however, give this sinister sound bite:

“We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances.”

Information Week (quite charitably) took that to mean that Amazon won’t ever remove books from people’s Kindles, but I see a darker current running through that last phrase, in these circumstances.

In different circumstances, then, Amazon might very well remove books from your Kindle, or maybe they’ll just lock you out from your Kindle altogether, as they did to this user.

What concerns me is that there’s no contrition in Amazon’s official statement, and no sense that they understand why Kindlers were upset. Specifically, there’s no sense that they believe that Kindle ebook buyers own the books they buy.

Here, Paul Biba of TeleRead comes to Amazon’s defence (kind of), hypothesizing that incompetence, and not evilness, is at the heart of this and other bungles. Honestly, I’m not sure which is worse.

For now, the convenience of the Kindle shopping experience (which is the Kindle’s greatest advantage by far) still outweighs the downsides, but Amazon’s making a strong case not to buy ebooks from them. There are, after all, other options.

This entire incident underscores the fact that Amazon does not do what’s best for Kindle users. In the interest of fairness, here’s a very good counterpoint from Kindle Review, theorizing that Kindle haters are guilty of confirmation bias in their criticism of this latest blunder. That’s probably true, speaking for myself. However, even stipulating confirmation bias, it doesn’t mean we’re wrong.

UPDATE: OK, Bezos apologized. A week late (I’m guessing sales dropped), but it counts. File this under “precedent” and put Amazon on probation.

REUPDATE: Sales were indeed dropping. Not as a result of this debacle, but it wasn’t a good time to have people pissed at the company. As for customers (I’m an Amazon Prime member myself): even though Amazon customer service is great and Bezos seems harmless, it’s important to remember that Amazon is a corporation with a bottom line, capable of just as much deviousness as any other.

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