It shouldn't surprise me that some give credence to conspiracy theories but it does. Amazon panicked and reversed itself because a story about removing DRM was on the front page of HN? Seriously?
What you'll find with customer service departments is that what they do is largely prescribed by scripts. Call centers work like this (to the point of there being checking to see that people don't deviate from the script). They will have procedures that must be followed.
The Mark Fiore example  springs to mind. Some saw some global conspiracy. The more likely explanation is that the procedures defined for those approving apps just hadn't taken such a scenario into account when being written ie it was an oversight (a "mistake" as Steve Jobs called it).
We're all too willing to accept bugs in software. Procedures that humans need to follow--particularly if they need to follow them rigidly--have bugs too. The more discretion you give those following the procedures, the more you tend to just add inconsistency.
EDIT: to clarify, I think the original story getting as much of an audience as it did certainly helped and may well have been instrumental. It's kind of sad that that's the case. I was referring to some commenters putting forward theories about the DRM removal story being the catalyst for action here, which is ludicrous.
Why do you think otherwise?
Note: I love Amazon and agreed with your defending of them in the original post. I'm honestly surprised that it isn't obvious that the article influenced Amazon here.
1000 points happened around a month ago as well, but before that there doesn't seem to be any, though I'd expect Steve Job's death to be much higher - perhaps it was hidden after a time?
For a full list of stories with high-scores you can consult HNSearch 
Most likely, a few engineers from Amazon saw the story and forwarded it to the right person. That sort of thing is fairly common even in large companies; I ask friends who work at Facebook for favors all the time, for example.
Best part was we got an email later that day saying "Student Research and Development" was obscene, and would need to be changed.
I find the alternatives much more surprising:
- Amazon did not have a policy on this issue prior to this situation.
- Amazon's policy is to remove any and all purchased content without explanation or warning, and they thought that no one would mind. Once they thought about it, they changed their policy.
- Or they thought they might as well screw as many people as they could until the issue became a big deal, at which point they would suddenly change their policy
- (or pretend that their policy was different all along).
- BTW, There are no bugs in Amazon's code, so one of the above must be true and any removal of content had to be due to their evil policies
- The customer service department at Amazon ignores mistakes that they know about and could fix until enough computer programmers and tech enthusiasts know about them, too.
- (because, of course, the readership of hn/wired/etc makes up a significant portion of Amazon's revenues. I mean, doesn't everyone talk about reddit at the bar after work?)
Instead, why couldn't there just be a simple mistake, which was fixed once someone became aware of it? We could all agree that the high visibility of the issue helped make the mistake clear (which Linn's emails did not) and high priority (which does not mean that it would otherwise have been completely ignored).
Although, them reversing the wipe purely to save their publish image is equally despicable in my opinion.
You don't own anything with DRM on it, until you make a copy that is free of DRM. Judge the price accordingly. Use the rippers as soon as they are available. Exercise and eat healthy.
If un-notified/disclosed behaviour on a Kindle book purchasing account can get that or "a related account" closed without notice, and I've got important things running in AWS on both personal and work accounts that Amazon quite likely knows are "related" (since I and my colleagues often log out of personal accounts and into work/customer accounts), it seems like a non-ignorable risk that some of my critical infrastructure may one day vanish from underneath me and I'd end up in non-accountable support hell cut-n-pasting barely relevant sections of policy documentation in reply to email queries.
All of a sudden having my businesses main cloud computing supplier be the same company that I personally use to purchase things like tech-toys, DRMed media, have occasional disputes with 3rd party vendors, and pay for high-risk projects via KickStarter - seems like an unnecessary business risk.
This is possibly misplaced paranoia, but…
Just like maintaining a backup of your computer takes a little time up front, but hardly any marginal time, the same can be said of your Kindle.
My 10th grade world history teacher had a small segment on the rainmaking rituals of some group of people. When rain was needed, they would continue the rituals until it rained. From their view, the rituals worked. I don't think clouds drift around waiting for the rituals to build up, and I don't think customer service departments sit around waiting for blog entries about their company.
I'm not suggesting that large companies are blind to signal from the public, or that they ignore it. But why do we think that without such signal from the public these fixes wouldn't have happened, other than a cultural aversion to large companies and their PR departments?
This story bubbled up through HN, BoingBoing, and many other tech news outlets. Someone at Amazon inevitably saw it. Nobody's claiming they randomly stumbled across the original blog entry.
I'm not claiming that no one at Amazon was aware that the issue had public visibility. I'm not even claiming that the public visibility in this case didn't contribute to the swift, clear, and visible resolution we've seen.
Instead, I'm asking for evidence that high visibility correlates strongly with a resolution. Honestly, I will not be surprised if it exists. But no number of highly visible stories that are resolved will provide that evidence on their own.
Certainly, the way in which a large company discovers that an issue has become highly visible is completely irrelevant. The question is whether, if an issue doesn't become highly visible, do they still try to resolve it or do they ignore it?
Based on the email she got I'd say from Amazon's point of view the matter was closed. There had to be some prod to get them to take another look. If not the publicity, what was it?
Somehow, this is less clear to others than it is to me. I'll break it out into some cases. If the data points are mostly
- a mix of "publicity -> resolution" and "no publicity -> resolution", then publicity is irrelevant.
- a mix of "publicity -> resolution" and "no publicity -> no resolution", then truly the moral of the story is to have publicity if you want a resolution.
- a bunch of "publicity -> resolution", then we cannot make any conclusions!
We hear about the issues with publicity because, well... they have publicity. We make up the other half because it fits our preconceived bias.
Which by definition we don't hear about. In fact, that's why - if Amazon are rational - they'd give special treatment to issues that get publicity, so it seems like they handle customer issues better. There is essentially no downside for them in doing this; it's not like they'll be hurt by the publicity backlash from incidents that went unresolved because they got no publicity.
It's a shame that things like this aren't used as an opportunity to clarify things or affect changes in policy for everyone. It seems more common that a company will just come out and basically say (not in so many words) "oh , we made an exception for this person because we got bad PR".
It still shouldn't have taken a front page story to get this fixed, though.
"Account status should not affect any customer's ability to access their library."
Amazon has realized that they can quarantine suspect accounts, but not cut off the customer's right to their purchased books.
Every other manufacturer is now going to follow suit. The end result is a win for the consumer.
Welcome to the community! I would like to point out that sexually explicit usernames are not the norm here. Since your comment history and karma are tied to your user account and that account may persist for a long time, you might consider changing to a different name before you get too invested in this one and regret it later when it's too late to easily switch. Many users are known here by their handle and it is not uncommon for people to say things like "Send up the Patio11/Cpercival/Grellas/TokenAdult bat signal!" because users remember who made valuable comments and may recognize you by name. You are of course free to choose for yourself, your call.
Perhaps, for now. But there is nothing preventing them from changing their policies later, or even doing so capriciously. Consumers will not be safe from similar events until the law is changed to prevent companies from doing this.
Amazon is just doing their best to fuck their customers, and boy they are good at it. I can barely conceive a workplace so fucked up to come up with something as ludicrous as this shit.
I've been forced to withdraw my $20 ebook from Amazon because I simply cannot afford to price it at $20 in the kindle store (Amazon pays the same royalty for books priced at $10-20 as books priced at $10, and it pays lower royalties than BN or iBooks). I'm not allowed to price my ebook so that I effectively get paid the same (which entails selling the book at $40 for Kindle and $20 for everything else) because that violates Amazon's "you cannot sell for less elsewhere" rules.
Similarly, Amazon sells book readers that are incompatible with rival book formats, including ePub. No-one complains.
They've gotten a lot of negative press—the Seattle Times ran a long, mostly negative, series of articles: http://seattletimes.com/html/businesstechnology/2017901782_a... , for instance.
The publishing industry has also been harping on Amazon for a long time.
But I think part of the reason fewer people complain about Amazon is that Amazon is providing alternatives to industries that are even worse—like publishing or music. From the consumer's side, they're also insanely convenient.
[Edit: I just realized how incredibly generic this sounds, haha. But I am a fan of investigative journalism in general, and investigations of abuses by power in particular, and Amazon is a juicy target here.]
A book that is 3-10 dollars, sold in the first world, gets you 70% royalties minus a few cents for delivery. If you want to set a price over $10, then you only get 35% royalties.
So it's not that Amazon flat-out gives much lower royalties, it's that they give much lower royalties for books that cost more than ten dollars. They don't want to give you more than seven dollars per sale.
The "you cannot sell for less elsewhere" rule is bullshit though.
My first thought is to have the same price, but give not-so-selective "selective" discounts to people elsewhere, giving them an incentive to not buy it from Amazon.
Would that be possible?
I guess it just reflects their attitude towards customers.
The robotic language is a legal necessity for corporations and it does not reflect on their attitude towards customers in the least.
I am not really sure what legal case this would open them up to, but we have to assume they've consulted with their attorneys prior to writing the statement.
There is also an opportunity cost to going all legal, which is the attrition of brand perception and customer relations. Apple managed to pull both off during Antennagate.
Maybe Amazon cut the cord to US-East as a diversion and hoped that and the Apple keynote would distract from this screw-up. :P
EDIT: Which is not to even touch on the subject of assuaging the fear that consumers might suddenly lose all access to their entire library in the cloud. There is a lot at stake here, and Amazon have done nothing to dispel this apprehension arisen in light of this event. It's not just a customer catastrophe, it's an e-book/Kindle catastrophe.
The content-free statements are not only infuriating to your customers, they are actually counter-productive in a purely fiscal sense.
There's a huge context difference here. These studies are dealing with the doctor apologizing to the patient (or their family) and being less likely to be sued by that patient (or their family). This has a lot to do with emotions and how the patient or their family feels about the doctor and the doctor's actions.
In the case of Amazon here, it's essentially making a statement to the world that could be used by anyone as part of a lawsuit. I imagine the class-action lawyers looking at these things aren't going to let their feelings about Amazon change their minds.
I'm sure with any business that size there will be people who say otherwise but I can't say that I've heard anyone bad mouthing their customer service which given how many people use them and how much is pretty remarkable.
Long way of saying - I don't think Amazon have a culture which discourages good customer service, I think that they have a problem in this specific area.
I went through a lengthy process of submitting paperwork, at the end of which I was told that since the book had been signed for in my name, I must have received it and therefore I would not be compensated (so why did I have to spend time and money jumping through hoops?).
No doubt I should have pursued this further, but at that point I let it go. I just cancelled my account and haven't purchased anything from them since.
I guess its a tough situation when a customer claims they didn't receive an item, but I was a regular customer who spend hundreds of dollars per year with them, so they could've given me the benefit of the doubt at least once.
And this stuff about auto-detection of supposedly bad accounts, and closing of those accounts with very little detail or ability to appeal is worrying, but not limited to Amazon. (That doesn't make it any more acceptable!)
Where Paypal (or their honest customers) are at risk of losing many thousands of dollars from fraud I can understand that some people are going to be innocent victims of heavy handed policies.
 For some values of 'some' including 'too many'.
Their return policy is decent but not particularly generous or anything: if you return something that's not defective, you have to pay the freight back to them, and they have to receive it before they issue you the credit. I suspect their return rate is fairly low compared to retailers with more generous policies (e.g. Zappos, REI, LL Bean, etc.).
I'm so annoyed about this that I am seriously considering buying a competitor's replacement instead.
If you use a Kindle heavily, and it's starting to behave at all flakily as you get towards the end of the warranty period, it's worth calling up Customer Service and pushing them hard for a replacement before it runs out.
(I have a friend who writes the warranty-expiration dates in Sharpie on the back of his electronics when he buys them. I thought this was a fairly decent, if dorky, little lifehack. I don't bother but that's just because I buy most of my stuff used.)
Of course, it requires that you spend a whole bunch of time writing letters and threatening legal action. Frankly, for the sake of £150, I'd rather just stop buying things from Amazon; it'll do me good to explore other ecosystems, I guess.
And that's without even getting into how older people (the HN readership is overwhelmingly, unrepresentatively young) tend to care a lot more about politeness.
This line is not from the legal department.
You see it everywhere:
* "Thank you for not smoking."
* "Thank you for your understanding."
The unintended effect (for me at least) is that sentence stands out and I pay less attention to the poor excuse written directly before it. A bit like the way a politician does not answer a question.
But in this case, it sounds like someone at Amazon simply fixed the mistake, admitted the mistake, and clarified their position. Just because they didn't use profanity and an informal tone doesn't change the content.
Yeah, this is about DRM, but IMHO, the bigger issue is that of getting hold of some one to help and resolve these issues. I don't think any of us mind thongs going wrong, that happens, its what these people do or don't do that counts.
(Yes, I see the typo, it amused me so I left it :) )
(I can imagine and understand -- although not always agree with -- the desire to e.g. keep some technical aspects of fraud detection private. Beyond that, I have zero sympathy.
And even in the event of some so-called "fraud detection", we have powerful entities who on the one hand want to benefit from a "global market" while on the other hand simultaneously seeking to restrict same when doing so is to their benefit. For example, taking advantage of lower "third world" production costs while insisting upon receiving "first world" prices for their own goods.)
P.S. I've had two friends communicate that they are backing out of pending Kindle purchases, since I shared this story with them. (In case any Amazon types are browsing by here.)
Because, the hardware of the device looks nice to me, especially if you'd add a water proof cover around it.
From my perspective I'd look at an iPad or Android tablet for PDFs for this sort of thing - it's really not the Kindle's strong suit.
In terms of moving stuff over - yep, you can just mount it as a drive and copy stuff across, or use one of several readily available tools for managing content (I use Caliber on the Mac, not sure if it's available for Linux).
It is very easy to use Kindle without an Amazon account as there are all sorts of tools to allow you to do pretty much anything you want on your Kindle.
AFAIK you can install Duokan on every Kindle version.
(via FAQ at http://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?t=105847)
And I don't know if you can use your kindle at all without an Amazon account.
That said, the pdf rendering could be easily improved a lot, and I've send numerous suggestions to Amazon for this. None of them have been implemented, sadly.
You cannot operate a Kindle in conjunction with Amazon's ecosystem without having an Amazon account registered to an email address that you control. There may be ways to jailbreak a Kindle so as to enable you to (e.g.) transfer files via the USB cable without registering the device.
Still, after this story broke I regret buying one. I hate companies that think they can remote control a device I purchased from them.
My Kindles hit Ebay a few hours ago. I'm out of the Amazon digital ecosystem.
From this point, ebook purchases will be through Apple or a purchase of the real book. I kinda miss the feel of a real book too so that's a nice change. If I need a digital copy, and it's Amazon exclusive, then I'll be using "other sources".
Edit: And don't forget the remote wipe feature in Find My iPhone. http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2012/08/apple-amazon-mat-hona...
1. Kindle-wipe Story on Hackernews.
2. One engineer at Amazon saw the story, told it some Executive above him
3. The Executive "nerds, let them talk THIS is real business!"
4. One day later "How To Strip DRM from Kindle E-Books and Others (wired.com)" on Hackernews
5. The Executive "OH SNAP! REOPEN REOPEN REOPEN!!11"
Seriously, fuck them.
If you feel that your account has been erroneously disabled, then got viral with your story, only then will we investigate your claims.
Then I would go lobbying for a law that would make it a legal requirement to make digitally restricted products available to the user in unencumbered format if the user's account gets terminated or if the company goes out of business. So, basically the user would buy the song/book/movie but hand over the appropriate storage to the company for as long as the account remains open. Then, if the storage gets shut down the user would still own copies of his/her files.
It's sad that such problems will be solved only by huge exposure to the story. Not something everyone can have all the time. Happy but sad.
So "Amazon did an about-face" actually means "Amazon did a change in direction" or even "Amazon did a 180 degree turn".
As already commented, "did an about-face" is an English idiom
I'm impressed as well, but there are errors like:
"e-bokgiganten" (the e-book giant), "type IT consultant Linn.." (wrote the IT consultant..) and I don't think "Spread Monday blog post" is correct either? (On Monday the blog-post about .. spread)
Still impressive though :)
Don't act naive, [username removed, you deleted your comment].
Amazon did something bad which will affect lots of people.
What did they do wrong? Lack of clear intent; communication: they didn't explain why they did something wrong, they didn't express why that wrong thing happened, they didn't explain how they will prevent this happening again.
I'll continue using Kindle for free content but I'll be buying only real books unless there is very clear legislation, or a change in Amazon's technology, supporting my right to keep and control my own purchases. Amazon (and not just Amazon) has too much power here and has repeatedly demonstrated that they will abuse it.
I agree with your second paragraph.