New Fast Company: Kindle and Orwell and Clouds
New Fast Company essay is now up: Head in the Clouds looks at cloud computing in light of Amazon's nuking of purchased Kindle copies of 1984 and Animal Farm.
Now, the Kindle is not a cloud computing system, but the Amazon-Whispernet-Kindle infrastructure mirrors many cloud features. More importantly, this incident is indicative of what kinds of trouble can emerge when we reframe "content" as "service." As numerous pundits have noted, the physical book analogy would be Amazon breaking into your home and taking away a book you'd purchased (leaving you a refund on your desk, of course). But a Kindle book isn't a physical book--it's a service, one that (as the Kindle license makes clear) you don't really own.
At least with the Kindle, you can make a backup of your downloaded files; if the Kindle was truly a cloud device, where the book file itself lived online, you may not even have that option. In either case, since Kindle books (even free ones) are wrapped in DRM, you can't legally read them on anything else anyway. And all of this points to the real risk: when your work is treated not as content but as a service, and is subject to centralized control, it can be altered or deleted at any time. For legal reasons, for "local standards" reasons, by mistake, by malice, or simply when the system owner decides to discontinue that service.
Now, as I've mentioned a few times, I have a Kindle. I'm reasonably happy with it, and I bought it with open eyes about the implications of the DRM (no "right of first sale," for one thing). This was a foolish move by Amazon, however, and is exactly the kind of thing that guarantees people will work to break the Kindle DRM simply to protect themselves.
It's a perfect example of an organizational "auto-immune disorder" response.