In a curious ironic twist of history, Amazon's Kindle service has autodeleted copies of the book 1984 from all Kindle's whose owner had "bought" the book. What happened is that for some reason the publisher of both 1984 and Animal Farm (also deleted) made a decision that they no longer wanted those books available on the Kindle platform. As a result Amazon sent out the order to delete copies of those books which had already been purchased, resulting in commands sent to Kindle devices to remove already purchased books. At least they also issued refunds.
The irony here is that in the book, 1984, Big Brother would cause embarrassing news articles to be deleted in the memory hole. By remotely deleting 1984 and Animal Farm Amazon has shown us the Kindle also has a memory hole feature.
Apparently this is causing a bit of a ruckus in certain corners of the Blogosphere, and rightly so. It's not so much the specific instance of deletion but instead that the capability exists in the first place. For that matter, according to a NY Times article, this isn't the first time purchased books have been deleted from the Kindle.
The real concern is about centralized control of society's knowledge. Ironically, that was the subject 1984 warned us about.
The Kindle relies on Internet based cloud services to provide a service through which we can access society's knowledge in the form of books, magazines, newspapers and blogs. The Kindle service allows you to buy books or newspaper subscriptions, which are then delivered electronically to your device. It seems like a very sleek and nice service.
This event shows that Amazon can do more with "your" Kindle than simply deliver content to you. They can send commands to change things in all (or selected) Kindle's. Today it is deletion but clearly their service could potentially do other other things. The content we're talking about is digital and can be easily changed.
As I wrote in an earlier posting:
Suppose all of human knowledge is stored in digitized form on "The Internet". Suppose it's "easy" for a select group of people to control the content of the books and other records that is the record of human knowledge. And, remember that media ownership is consolidating to an ever-smaller circle of companies and that media companies are routinely clamoring to extend the length copyrights are valid, and to extend the powers they hold under copyright law. That's the danger proposed in the book 1984, that the definition of truth contained in those books and other media, if it can be changed repeatedly at whim then society can no longer know what is the truth and can more easily be led astray.
To be fair to Amazon, they do not own the content they're providing. It is the copyright holders who own the content. Amazon is simply providing a delivery service on behalf of the content owners. In this case a content owner wanted the content to be deleted, but suppose some other content owner wants the content to be changed.
The NY Times article makes out several interesting points. Amazon's current service agreement does not give Amazon the right to delete content, instead Amazon grants customers the right to keep a "permanent copy of the applicable digital content." Further retailers of physical goods do not have the right (or ability) to force themselves into homes to change or delete purchases. But Amazon has proved they do have the ability to force themselves into "your" Kindle and do things regardless of the actual rights they may or may not have to do so.