After Wikileaks, what will Amazon remove next?

Kindle 3
Why does the Kindle need a remote kill switch?

Last year, Amazon was caught remotely deleting copies of George Orwell's 1984 from Kindles - and this week it's deleting even more controversial content. The firm cheerfully deleted erotic stories from people's Kindle archives, and it cheerfully booted Wikileaks off its hosting service.

It's a strange message for a key cloud computing provider to be giving out: you can rely on us, until you can't! We'll take care of your stuff, or maybe delete it!

So what's going on? In the case of Kindles, people who've bought incest-themed fiction are finding it disappearing - and as Ars Technica reports, some Amazon reps are then berating customers for their choice of reading matter if they dare to complain.

It's an interesting turnaround for a firm that just weeks ago was resisting calls for censorship of much worse material, and it appears to be a mistake: while distasteful to many, incest-themed fiction isn't illegal.

But it illustrates a bigger concern: why do Kindles need a remote kill switch in the first place? Bookshop staff can't come into your house and take books back from your shelves. Why should Amazon be able to do the electronic equivalent?

Disappearing on a whim

And then there's Wikileaks. Amazon flatly denies that it booted the site off its servers following pressure by the US government, although few people believe that. In a statement the firm essentially says that it doesn't approve of what Wikileaks is doing.

It argues that Wikileaks doesn't own the data it's publishing, and that publishing the data is dangerous - but do you think Amazon would be so zap-happy if it were, say, the New York Times publishing the same information from the same servers?

It's an interesting contrast to Google's cloud-happy presentation last week, where CEO Eric Schmidt talked about a constantly-connected world where everything you need would live on someone else's servers. I don't recall him waxing lyrical about remote deletion of content you already own, or governments having a quiet word to make things they don't approve of disappear.

The problem with the cloud is that it's owned and operated by faraway firms whose T&Cs give them the power to do pretty much what they like - so if they decide you shouldn't be reading about getting it on with Auntie Mabel they can reach into your device and delete it; if they decide they don't want to upset a politician or a tabloid they can make controversial content vanish.

The cloud isn't ours. It's theirs.


Liked this? Then check out The 10 biggest gadget letdowns of 2010

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Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.