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Posted by on Jul 24, 2009 in Science & Technology | 4 comments

Amazon’s Bezos Apologizes For Orwellian Kindle Moment


An apology from Amazon:

Jeffrey P. Bezos says:

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

That got the company some good attention. Boing Boing’s Mark Frauenfelder says he “Sounds sincere…now Amazon needs to walk the walk.” Cory Doctorow goes further. He wants Bezos to tell us what the Kindle can do:

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.

In that same vein, the Free Software Foundation welcomed the Bezos apology but asks Amazon to free the Kindle:

FSF’s executive director Peter Brown explained, “Unfortunately this matter requires more than just changing internal policy. The real issue here is Amazon’s use of DRM and proprietary software. They have unacceptable power over users, and actual respect necessitates more than an apology — it requires abandoning DRM and releasing the Kindle’s software as free software.”

The deletion of the Orwell ebooks was Amazon’s third blatant demonstration of the control its software provides over users. In June, Amazon remotely deleted copies of Ayn Rand books, and prior to that, they disabled Text-to-Speech functionality for select titles — a move which was a slap in the face to all users and particularly to the visually impaired community.