How safe are your e-books?

When your Kindle is wiped by Amazon without explanation, refund, or appeal, it’s time to wake up and realize the truth: ebook readers treat you as a tenant-farmer of your books, not an owner.

Kindle

Kindle

Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested. — Kafka

Books are relatively safe. I may lose one on a train, a collection of books may be lost in a fire or a flood.

What of e-books?

About the only advantage I ever see claimed for a Kindle or other e-reader is: I can store and carry around a lot of e-books on my Kindle.

I may lose a Kindle on a train. That is a lot of lost books.

What though of the books on a Kindle, how safe are they?

Not safe at all. At any time Amazon, seemingly on a whim, without rhyme nor reason, can wipe all the books off your Kindle, terminate your account, and give you absolutely no redress for what they have done.

Fantasy?

Sadly not, and below is an account by Martin Berkelium published on his blog titled Outlawed by Amazon DRM.

———————————

A couple of days a go, my friend Linn sent me an e-mail, being very frustrated: Amazon just closed her account and wiped her Kindle. Without notice. Without explanation. This is DRM at it’s worst.

Linn travels a lot and therefore has, or should I say had, a lot of books on her Kindle, purchased from Amazon. Suddenly, her Kindle was wiped and her account was closed. Being convinced that something wrong had happened, she sent an e-mail to Amazon, asking for help. This was the answer:

Dear Linn [last name],

My name is Michael Murphy and I represent Executive Customer Relations within Amazon.co.uk. One of our mandates is to address the most acute account and order problems, and in this capacity your account and orders have been brought to my attention.

We have found your account is directly related to another which has been previously closed for abuse of our policies. As such, your Amazon.co.uk account has been closed and any open orders have been cancelled.

Per our Conditions of Use which state in part: Amazon.co.uk and its affiliates reserve the right to refuse service, terminate accounts, remove or edit content, or cancel orders at their sole discretion.

Please know that any attempt to open a new account will meet with the same action.

You may direct any questions to me at resolution-uk@amazon.co.uk.

Thank you for your attention to this email.

Regards

Michael Murphy
Executive Customer Relations
Amazon.co.uk

his answer was very confusing. Which account was he talking about? She had never had any other accounts at Amazon.

So, she replied to Murphy’s e-mail:

Dear Michael Murphy,

I am very surprised to read your email. What do you mean by “directly related to another which has been previously closed for abuse of our policies”. I can only remember ever having this one account, and I use it quite regularly to buy books for my Kindle, as you probably can see by my purchase history. How can there suddenly be a problem now? I use amazon.com and not co.uk for my Kindle, does that make any difference?

I sincerely hope you can help me solve this matter, because I would very much like to have my account reopened. And please let me know if there is any action I can take to help.

Best regards,
Linn [last name]
[Linn’s phone number]

The answer provided no progress:

Dear Linn [last name],

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.

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.

Regards,

Michael Murphy
Executive Customer Relations
Amazon.co.uk

Not getting an answer to why the account was closed, she sent another e-mail:

Dear Michael Murphy,

Is it correct that you cannot give me any information about
1. How my account is linked to the blocked account
2. The name/id of the related blocked account
3. What policy that was violated

I have no knowledge about any other account that could be related to mine, and cannot understand how I could have violated your policies in any way.

Br,
Linn [last name]

Unfortunately, the answer was the same:

Dear Linn [last name],

We regret that we have not been able to address your concerns to your satisfaction. Unfortunately, we will not be able to offer any additional insight or action on these matters.

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.

Thank you for your attention to this email.

Regards

Michael Murphy
Executive Customer Relations
Amazon.co.uk

Did she violate any terms? Amazon will not tell. Perhaps by accident? Amazon does not care. The conclusion so far is clear: Amazon closed her account, wiped her Kindle and refuses to tell her why. End of discussion.

The worst of DRM

As a long-term writer about technology, DRM, privacy and user rights, this Amazon example shows the very worst of DRM. If the retailer, in this case Amazon, thinks you’re a crook, they will throw you out and take away everything that you bought. And if you disagree, you’re totally outlawed. Not only is your account closed, all your books that you paid for are gone. With DRM, you don’t buy and own books, you merely rent them for as long as the retailer finds it convenient.

Now what?

Linn lives in Norway, far away from Amazon’s jurisdiction. How will she ever find the means to get her books back? By suing a large corporation half-way round the earth?

Linn is outlawed by Amazon.

———————————

A one off you may think, not typical. Not according to Lauren Weinstein who kindly sent me the story. He talks of people being trapped in a Kafkaesque box, with no explanation, no escape, of it being a common problem.

I cannot emphasize enough how common this generic pattern is in queries I get from folks — and most definitely not just with Amazon. Accounts are closed, no reasonable escalation routes or explanations are forthcoming, and people feel trapped in a Kafkaesque box.

Ironically, in most of these situations there is at least a rational explanation for what’s going on (which may or may not involve a user or corporate system error) but the users can’t find out what it is and end up being incredibly frustrated and angry.

Most of these firms feel (with some justification) that if they revealed too much of their decision processes in such cases they’d make it easier for bad actors to “game” their systems. But since most of these same firms have long declined to provide effective escalation routes, ombudsmen, or other formal means for users to appeal these situations in truly useful manners, the result is public blow-ups like this one, more attention from regulators, and just generally bad feelings all around that shouldn’t have been necessary.

A friend a year or so ago bought a Sony reader from Waterstone’s. A purchase she immediately regretted. The Sony reader malfunctioned. She took it back to Waterstone’s. Although her Sony reader was not working, Waterstone’s did not want to know. Yet another reason for not shopping at Waterstone’s. Luckily for her the problem arose not long after purchasing her Sony reader, otherwise she would have lost a lot of books.

How many people are aware that their e-reader is reading what they are reading?

The moral of the tale is stick with real books.

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11 Responses to “How safe are your e-books?”

  1. MishaBurnett Says:

    Wow. I would like to know more about this. My experience with Amazon has been very positive. I read the original blog and I am shocked that someone would have had the experience described.

  2. keithpp Says:

    Jeff Jarvis:

    I sent this email to Amazing Kindle Press relations

    … This case of DRM enforcement has been brought to my attention and I wanted to get your official word on what is happening here:
    http://www.bekkelund.net/2012/10/22/outlawed-by-amazon-drm/
    Are the facts presented here correct?
    If so, why was this done to this user’s account?
    What is your policy regarding notifying customers of alleged infractions?
    What is your policy regarding appeals?
    What is your policy regarding one’s rightful ownership of bought materials?
    Please respond by email as I will be teaching class at the City University of New York this afternoon.
    Thank you.
    – Jeff Jarvis
    (I am a journalist and journalism professor in New York.)

    Will post updates here:

  3. Top 5 Stories From Book Blogs | Julie's Chick Lit Says:

    […] {3} Keithpp’s Blog questions how safe ebooks are on our Kindles. Smart business people/book nerds seen reopening these glorious things called, “bookstores” again. […]

  4. keithpp Says:

    You could not make it up if you tried, Big Brother aka Amazon, deletes Nineteen Eighty-Four from a Kindle!

    http://boingboing.net/2012/10/22/kindle-user-claims-amazon-dele.html

  5. keithpp Says:

    It is recommended that you download and install Calibre, not only to strip out the DRM but also to manage your e-book library.

  6. keithpp Says:

    Kindle user claims Amazon deleted whole library without explanation
    http://boingboing.net/2012/10/22/kindle-user-claims-amazon-dele.html

    Rights? You have no right to your eBooks.
    http://blogs.computerworlduk.com/simon-says/2012/10/rights-you-have-no-right-to-your-ebooks/index.htm

    The Danger of Ebooks
    http://stallman.org/ebooks.pdf

    The Ancient and the Ultimate
    http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/40009789?uid=3738032&uid=2&uid=4&sid=21101361993157

    DRM Removal Tools for eBooks
    http://apprenticealf.wordpress.com/2012/09/10/drm-removal-tools-for-ebooks/

  7. keithpp Says:

    It is recommended turn off wifi. This stops access to Kindle, and has added advantage of saving battery power.

    Download to computer not Kindle.

    Make copies.

    Strip DRM using Calibre, which also can be used to manage your digital library.

    Transfer books to Kindle using usb port, not wifi.

    Although I have mentioned Calibre, there are other DRM removal tools.

    http://apprenticealf.wordpress.com/2012/09/10/drm-removal-tools-for-ebooks/

    You may also wish to check out Ebook Formats, DRM and You — A Guide for the Perplexed, which as the title says, is a guide to the various e-book formats.

    Basically what DRM does is restrict what you can do with your e-books.

    If your e-reader restricts you to a proprietary format such as Kindle, rather than an Open Source format for example ePub, then you should reject that e-reader as you are locked into that company.

    Kindle does not read ePub whereas a Kobo does.

    If you go to Waterstone’s website, you will see their e-books are ePub, with a warning cannot be read on a Kindle. Waterstone’s sell Kindle in their stores!

    If all this sounds a little bit too complicated and annoying, you are right. The restrictions should not be there. But there is a solution, other than stripping out the DRM, which is to stick to real books.

    https://keithpp.wordpress.com/2012/04/22/nothing-is-as-good-at-being-a-book-as-a-book-is/

  8. Al Says:

    This is why I will never trust e-books and will never allow a Kindle (or any of the others) into my house. I refuse to kowtow to a third party’s permission in order to read. And I just knew the Nineteen Eighty-Four fiasco wasn’t the one-off so many claimed it was.

  9. keithpp Says:

    Deleting Nineteen Eighty-Four from a Kindle. You could not make it up if you tried!

    And remember, Amazon also dodge tax!

    https://keithpp.wordpress.com/2012/11/12/occupy-starbucks-and-smell-the-hypocrisy/

  10. Jessica Sideways Says:

    Yeah, the sad thing is that this happens all across the globe and her situation is not the only one. Back in September, I got the same treatment from Amazon… though with an unnamed “Account Specialist”.

  11. keithpp Says:

    I do not know how common this treatment of customers by Amazon is, but it is clearly not a one off.

    Many reasons not to use Amazon

    – abusive treatment of customers

    – better e-readers than Kindle, try for example Kobo

    – propriety e-book format not Open Source for example ePub

    Amazon dodge tax

    monitoring what you read

    thrusting adverts in your face

    All of which is why read real books not pretend books, but if needs must, use Calibre to manage e-book library, strip off DRM, convert between e-book formats, download to computer and transfer to e-reader with cable, keep wifi turned off, which also saves battery power.

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