Last week owners of the Amazon Kindle ebook reader got a chilling taste of Big Brotherism when Amazon — without warning — remotely deleted previously purchased copies of several titles from their devices. Had the book in question been Pride & Prejudice this would not have been as big of a story/public relations nightmare as it turned out to be for Amazon. But the books in question were probably the worst possible titles to have involved in such an incident — 1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell.
Yeah. So as you can imagine, the headlines practically wrote themselves:
Why Amazon went Big Brother on some Kindle e-books
Hey, Big Brother! Hands off my Kindle!
Amazon Kindle users surprised by ‘Big Brother’ move
And so forth. Twitter was all a twitter about it too. Amazon’s explanation was that the publisher of these Orwell e-books lacked the right to publish the books. When the true rights holder brought this to Amazon’s attention, Amazon removed the illegal copies from its site — properly — and also reached out in the dead of night to electronically remove copies from the devices of sleeping Kindle owners. In this (as President Obama might agree if he were so foolish as to comment on matters not pertaining to doing his job), Amazon acted stupidly.
The explanation did little to mollify outraged Kindle owners and others concerned about Orwellian overreach. After all, if customers had previously purchased what turned out to be bootleg copies of a hardback edition of 1984, Amazon would hardly break into customers’ houses in the middle of the night to retrieve them. At least one hopes not.
Yesterday, on the Kindle owners forum at Amazon.com, CEO Jeff Bezos issued a brief apology:
This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. Our “solution” to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we’ve received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.
With deep apology to our customers,
Founder & CEO
This is a good corporate apology. Maybe a bit late. But Bezos speaks in his own name and straight up says we were stupid, we deserve your scorn, we violated our own principles in this matter, and we have learned from our mistake. Bezos says more in one paragraph than some corporate apologizers manage in several pages. (Go look up that GM disaster again.)
Well done, Bezos. But I’m still not buying a Kindle.