According to Martin Bekkelund, a Norwegian Amazon customer identified only as Linn had her Kindle access revoked without warning or explanation. Her account was closed, and her Kindle was remotely wiped. Bekkelund has posted a string of emails that he says were sent to Linn by the company. They are a sort of Kafkaesque dumbshow of bureaucratic non-answering, culminating in the customer service version of "Die in a fire," to whit, "We wish you luck in locating a retailer better able to meet your needs and will not be able to offer any additional insight or action on these matters," a comment signed by "Michael Murphy, Executive Customer Relations, Amazon.co.uk."
As previously advised, your Amazon.co.uk account has been closed, as it has come to our attention that this account is related to a previously blocked account. While we are unable to provide detailed information on how we link related accounts, please know that we have reviewed your account on the basis of the information provided and regret to inform you that it will not be reopened.Back in 2009, when Amazon settled the lawsuit over its remote deletion of Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (you really can't make this stuff up), it promised that it would not perform any further deletions unless ordered to do so by a court. I repeatedly asked Amazon whether DRM-free ebooks, or files that users load onto their Kindles themselves, could be remotely deleted. I never received a response of any kind.
Please understand that the closure of an account is a permanent action. Any subsequent accounts that are opened will be closed as well. Thank you for your understanding with our decision.
I appreciate this is not the outcome you hoped for and apologise for any disappointment this may cause.
My guess is that Amazon has the capability to wipe any file from any Kindle, and likely also has the ability to read any file on any Kindle. I'd further speculate that the policy violation that Linn stands accused of is using a friend's UK address to buy Amazon UK English Kindle books from Norway. This is a symptom of Amazon's -- and every single other ebook retailer's -- hopelessness at managing "open territory" for ebooks.
"Open territory" is a publishing term describing places where no publisher holds exclusive retail rights. In English-language book-contracts, it's almost always the case that countries where English isn't the native or official language are "open territory," meaning that if a writer sells her English language rights in Canada and the US to Macmillan, and her UK/Australia/NZ/South African rights to Penguin, both Penguin and Macmillan are legally allowed to sell competing English print and electronic editions in Norway, Rwanda, India, China, and Russia.
However, the universal approach taken by ebook retailers to "open territory" is to pretend that it doesn't exist. If no publisher is registered as the exclusive provider of an edition in a given country, the ebook retailers just refuse to sell to people in those countries. I've spoken to e-rights people in the major publishing houses, and they hate this, because a) it just drives piracy; and b) it represents lost sales. But there's no shifting the etailers, apparently.
If my conjecture about Linn's offense is correct, then she has not violated copyright, nor has she done anything that would upset a publisher. She's merely violated the thousands of words of impossible fine-print that comes with your Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and iPad, as have all of us. This fine print will always have a clause that says you are a mere tenant farmer of your books, and not their owner, and your right to carry around your "purchases" (which are really conditional licenses, despite misleading buttons labelled with words like "Buy this with one click" -- I suppose "Conditionally license this with one click" is deemed too cumbersome for a button) can be revoked without notice or explanation (or, notably, refund) at any time.
It's likely that the EU's open market directives prohibit any kind of discrimination of sales based on national borders within the EU (though Norway isn't technically in the EU). However, the EUCD's strict prohibition on DRM circumvention (which Norway both voluntarily adopted and exceeded) means that purchasers of ebooks and ereaders can't take any steps to enforce their legal rights, nor can any business or nonprofit assist them in these matters.
I was a bookseller for many years. I have no idea whether everything that my customers did with their books was legal. It's likely that some of them photocopied their books and passed them around. Embarrassingly enough, I once sold a small stack of rather excellent novels to a guy who bought them with a counterfeit bill. Despite all this, I -- as a bookseller -- was never, ever expected to repossess those books. I was not expected to police my customers' use of those books. I did not have -- nor did I want -- the facility to know what else my customers shelved on their bookshelves next to the books I sold them.
Reading without surveillance, publishing without after-the-fact censorship, owning books without having to account for your ongoing use of them: these are rights that are older than copyright. They predate publishing. They are fundamentals that every bookseller, every publisher, every distributor, ever reader, should desire. They are foundational to a free press and to a free society. If you sell an ebook reader is designed to allow Kafkaesque repossessions, you are a fool if you expect anything but Kafkaesque repossessions in their future. We've been fighting over book-bans since the time of Martin Luther and before. There is no excuse for being surprised when your attractive nuisance attracts nuisances.
It's true that the ability to revoke files over the air is a boon to people whose devices are stolen or lost. Much of that benefit can be realized by designing devices that encrypt their storage (to a user password) by default (though we know about the weaknesses of passwords, of course). It's also conceivable to have an over-the-air deletion system that requires a sign-in from the device owner/user at a Web-browser, and that isn't available to the manufacturer alone. Both of these are more cumbersome than simply reporting your device stolen and knowing that the next time it's connected to the Internet, it will delete itself.
But as we learned when Mat Honan's phone, laptop, and backups were remotely wiped by a hacker, having a manufacturer-controlled remote wipe facility means that your data is only as safe as the most careless front-line telephone-bank service rep at the manufacturer, which is to say, not very.
If it's a choice between paving the way for tyranny and risking the loss of your digital life at the press of a button by some deceived customer service rep, and having to remember a password, I think the password is the way to go. The former works better, but the latter fails better.
Outlawed by Amazon DRM
Outlawed by Amazon DRM (Google cache)
(Thanks to Eirik and all the others who sent this in)