Late last week, hundreds of Kindle owners picked up their e-book readers and discovered two of the books they'd purchased were missing. Was it a software glitch or a hardware failure? Had some hacker broken into the Kindle store and figured out how to access the devices? Nope. The thief was Amazon itself.
The store's digital rights management apparatus had reached into the homely little gadgets via their always-available Sprint Whispernet connections and erased the books. Apparently the publisher who sold the books did not have the rights to them. So Amazon "unsold" them.
Here's the best part: The books that got flushed down the memory hole were none other than George Orwell's "Animal Farm" and "1984." Oops.
If Amazon's intent was to demonstrate the Orwellian evil that is digital rights management, it couldn't have picked a better way to do it. (And talk about a gift to the world's headline writers.)
Shortly after this amazing display of cluelessness, Amazon got its irony detection system back online and announced that a) it was refunding the cost of the books (a whopping 99 cents apiece) to Kindle owners who mistakenly thought they owned the books they just bought; and b) it wouldn't pull this stunt again. Or, at least, not in exactly the same way. Lastly, the company apologized deeply for being total jerks.
I'm just kidding about that last bit. Amazon apologize? Don't be ridiculous.
It gets worse. In yanking the books out of its customers' e-libraries, Amazon appears to have broken the Kindle's own terms of service. Per the New York Times' Brad Stone: