Amazon's DRM drama: Whose Kindle is it anyway?

A Kindle customer thought she owned her e-books -- until Amazon erased them overnight

We interrupt today's endless cycle of election news, iPad Mini lovefests, and hate mail for the Microsoft Surface to bring you the tale of one tech firm behaving rather badly. That firm is Amazon, and this is far from the first time it's been caught acting like a bully.

There's a story crossing the Interwebs about a Norwegian woman named Linn Nygaard, who opened up her Kindle one morning recently to find she was unable to access any of the roughly 40 books it had contained. Surely, she thought, this was some kind of technical glitch. She contacted Amazon, but no -- it appeared that Amazon had wiped the Kindle clean while she slept. The reason: The company determined that Linn's account was "directly related to another which has been previously closed for abuse of [Amazon's] policies," so it closed her account.

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The problem? Nygaard had only one Amazon account. She wrote back, explaining there must be some mistake. She received an email from Michael Murphy, Amazon UK's executive customer relations, stating:

As previously advised, your 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.

In other words, Amazon says she has multiple accounts, but it won't tell her which ones they allegedly are. Think about that for a second. If Amazon is sure Nygaard was using multiple linked accounts, what is the harm is naming them, exactly? Wouldn't she already know about them? And if she doesn't already know about them, isn't this a case of account hijacking where Nygaard is the victim and not the culprit?

First publicized by tech blogger Martin Bekkelund, Linn's story found its way to my inbox via Yosem Company, a doctoral candidate at Stanford who runs the university's Liberation Technology Program. It has since been retold at Forbes, BoingBoing, Gizmodo, the Huffington Post, and a dozen lesser blogs.

So far, Amazon remains officially mum on the matter. At publication time, the only response so far has been a cryptic note, posted to the Amazon support forum by a moderator named Josh W.:

We would like to clarify our policy on this topic. Account status should not affect any customer's ability to access their library. If any customer has trouble accessing their content, he or she should contact customer service for help.

Which, of course, Nygaard already has, and we know how far that got her. For what it's worth, that help forum is anything but helpful -- there's an amazing amount of hostility toward Nygaard and others who are asking legitimate questions: What could happen to the e-books I thought I owned? Are they really mine, or do they belong to Amazon?

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