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Amazon reopen wiped Kindle account (translate.google.com)
293 points by EwanToo on Oct 23, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 150 comments

This is a good outcome and something that should probably be enshrined in law: if you've purchased ebooks (or in fact any digital media) then you should absolutely have access to it regardless of the state of your account. The only time this shouldn't apply (IMHO) is when the payment itself is in question (eg you used a credit card that got reported stolen so any items bought on suspect transactions may be suspended pending investigation).

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 [1] 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.

[1]: http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/20/pulitzer-wi...

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.

You really don't think the article getting published has anything to do with Amazon's about-face? I'm surprised. I usually assume that these kinds of stories do cause companies to change their behaviour in specific cases.

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.

When's the last time a submission to HN got more than 1000 upvotes? When Steve Jobs died? I think the article's popularity (not just on HN, but HN's upvotes are a decent measure of how much an article will be re-shared) is most definitely a reason for this one person's problem being fixed.

According to this:


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?

This works only for entries that are in HN's memory cache. Older stories don't appear, unless somebody has read them soon.

For a full list of stories with high-scores you can consult HNSearch [1]

[1]: http://www.hnsearch.com/search#request/submissions&sortb...

Yeah, and it's not like anyone who works for Amazon reads HN! Oh, wait...

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.

Stalk-ey favours? Those are the only type I could think I would ever make to Facebook employees. (Yes I know what this says about me.)

We needed "Student Research and Development" changed to "StudentRND" on a page, but it had a few thousand likes, so it wouldn't allow it. The official method of solving this was spend $10k on ads and then ask the Ad team to do it :p

Best part was we got an email later that day saying "Student Research and Development" was obscene, and would need to be changed.

One possibility is that Amazon's policy is (and has been) to leave purchased content on a Kindle even if the account is blocked. Unfortunately, content was removed from a Kindle after an account was blocked. Once Amazon became aware of the issue, they were able to fix it, restoring the content. In addition, because the issue had become public, Amazon chose to clarify their position and point out that mistakes can occur and be fixed. Importantly, the emails we saw yesterday refer only to why the account was blocked and whether it could be unblocked; neither the customer nor the service rep discussed the specific removal of DRM content on the device.

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).

It's not even just the Hackernews publication. It may have started here, but it spread to all kinds of other news outlets like Wired. Hell, I was even pissed off enough to tweet some shame at Amazon about it, and if I did that, lord knows how many other people did too. This was big news. I would have been surprised if they HADN'T done anything about it.

Although, them reversing the wipe purely to save their publish image is equally despicable in my opinion.

The story was also big on Reddit which has a large audience, and a few wrote a letter to Jeff Bezos. It is a speculation of course that Amazon had reversed their decision in response to negative PR, but I wouldn't yet call that speculation a conspiracy theory.

So moral of the story? Make sure you have a blog with significant readership if you want good customer service?

> So moral of the story?

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.

I had a different take-away/question/moral.

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…

The question is, how much is your time worth? I'd rather take the time I save by not ripping all my media and spend it doing useful stuff. Someday I may discover I can no longer watch old episodes of How I Met Your Mother -- and it will incense me, but I think I'll get over it.

But it doesn't take any time. I just plug in my Kindle into Calibre (OK yes, there was time to install Calibre and maybe 10 minutes of reading about what it can do etc), and it does the rest. It's incredibly simple.

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.

This is great for ebooks but doesn't really apply so much to many other things that are DRMed which I might prefer to use for convenience. E.g. a DVD is DRMed and quite inconvenient to rip (and then you need to store the files somewhere).

But you have the physical DVD. You don't have a physical copy of the books that they wiped. Or you do. I know I have some just for the convenience

Does anyone have any data about how often [Amazon] ignores or fixes customer service issues despite a lack of high-visibility blogging?

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?

> I don't think customer service departments sit around browsing the internet for blog entries about their company

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.

Specifically, Computer World UK and Jeff Jarvis (currently of Buzz Machine but formerly of People, Entertainment Weekly, and the SF Examiner) got in touch with Amazon PR directly for a statement. There were likely more big publications contacting them for a statement that I didn't see. You can't write it off as "just some blogger" at that point. Someone needed to rectify it ASAP.

I'll reply to just this comment, although each response I've gotten is similar.

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?

The only possible evidence for this would be either an internal email or an admission from Amazon.

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?

Again, it's not about this instance, which is one data point on the side of "publicity -> resolution". And there are many more data points on the side of "publicity -> resolution". Instead, the evidence required is data points on the side of "no publicity -> no resolution". The fact that Amazon didn't solve the issue until the publicity exists doesn't count as a "no publicity -> no resolution" data point.

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.

I understand what you're saying. What I'm saying is, as a practical matter, there's no reason to believe her case would have been reopened without publicity. The Amazon rep said quite clearly from Amazon's perspective the matter was closed.

> Instead, the evidence required is data points on the side of "no publicity -> no resolution".

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.

I would be surprised if amazon didn't have at least one person full time looking at blogs/forums etc trying to gauge public reaction and put out fires.

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".

Even if not full-time PR, I'd be astonished if Amazon had zero developers who happen to read HN and would notice what's written about their workplace.

You mean PR people?

I suppose so, even in small companies it's not uncommon for someone to have at least set up google alerts.

It is as ridiculous to think that a company full of intelligent people is not influenced by tech news as it is to think that clouds are influenced by dancing.

You don't think a company like Amazon would have software crawling social media doing sentiment analysis? Amazon's going up against Google and Apple, so they have to care about their image. I would be shocked if the social media outcry over this issue hadn't triggered an automated alert in Amazon's PR department.

Because "the process" had already made its determination and sent the Kindle owner its final "kiss off" email.

Unfortunately, sampling bias means the moral of the story for consumers at large is going to be "DRM lockouts happen, but the customers are usually taken care of".

Alternatively, the moral is "DRM lockouts happen, but very rarely, the chance of it happening to you is pretty low."

It still shouldn't have taken a front page story to get this fixed, though.

This is exactly what I was thinking. There has to be enough outcry from the world for a simple problem to get answered and fixed? I feel this is a little ridiculous...

Same as problems for pretty much any tech, such as Google.

Quite so. Or that you have a friend who can do that for you.

> So moral of the story? The Amazon giveth, but the Amazon mostly taketh away.

Actually, I think some of us are a bit surprised by this because Amazon mostly does have pretty good customer service. There have been tons of stories about Google pulling this kind of stunt, but far fewer about Amazon.

And in this case, not even "good."

This is the real outcome:

"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.

Thank you for pointing out this important aspect of the story, when these public shamings lead to structural change it is much different than just switching the particular use case the produced the embarrassing result.

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.

You do realize that "Account status should not affect any customer's ability to access their library." was a restatement of their existing policy, not a change in that policy.

> Every other manufacturer is now going to follow suit. The end result is a win for the consumer.

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.

Nah, that has always been the case. What happens if you mod your xbox? You get banned from xbox live, MS don't brick your device or remove your games.

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.

It's astonishing to me how Amazon, which is more of a monopoly in many respects than Apple has ever been or Microsoft currently is, is essentially walmarting entire industries and gets almost no negative press over it. (It's even getting help from friendly congresspersons to strengthen its ebook monopoly.)

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.

>gets almost no negative press over it

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.

Well, I for one was unaware of this state of affairs. It takes people like you to bring these observations into light, and to do so repeatedly, because it's important. Indeed, I would request that you write up this analysis in a blog post so that it can hit the front page of HN.

[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.]

Upon reading your comment I went to look up Amazon royalty information. Let me know if I got this right.

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.

That's basically all true, except it's not always just "a few cents" for delivery, especially if you have full color photos or illustrations as a part of your eBook. On other platforms there is no delivery fee and no price range required to receive the 70% royalty rate. So there is a window for certain books where the Amazon rates are competitive, and of course they have the largest marketplace for eBooks so it's usually advantageous to play within those bounds.

It's ridiculous that to make more money than $7 - download charges from a book you need to go from $10 to $21. This is what Amazon wants -- it wants a bunch of books for less than $10, and it claims that it offers competitive royalties when in fact it doesn't.

Feels like we need an anti-trust law that automatically cancels "you cannot sell for less elsewhere". Does eliminating that solve the problem?

I think it would. Then Amazon would need to be competitive about ebook delivery fees to encourage authors to lower their ebook prices.

The thing is, you're paying a premium to Amazon because Amazon is so popular and the Kindle makes it so convenient to buy ebooks, that you can hope for greater profit by simply selling more copies on Amazon, even if the per-sale profit is lower.

The "you cannot sell for less elsewhere" rule is bullshit though.

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?

They reopened it because people heard about it and then started talking about stripping DRM and resorting to piracy, so somebody, somewhere decided to make this go away as fast as possible and as quietly as possible.


I've never understood how DRM can be stripped from a mobi file. I've never been able to find the files when I looked on my ipod. (I think I've shown my lack of hacking on the ipod with this comment--eep!).

Usually you use a general computer to strip the DRM. On a Mac or PC you have a program masquerade as a client (like Kindle for PC) and then remove the DRM from the contents it get. MyTunes was for Itunes was like that in the past.

Yeah it's a good idea to do that for anything you 'lease', at least when there isn't supposed to be an expiration on that lease.

"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. Thank you for your interest in Kindle."

It's astonishing that they persist with the robotic language in their clarification. Something tantamount to "We fucked up, sorry, dude" would help them so much more.

I guess it just reflects their attitude towards customers.

This is what any company with global brand recognition would say. Anything more would open them up to horrendous lawsuits, and anything less might cause more criticism. It's a well-crafted statement of fact with an invitation to solve issues through their customer service department—basically admitting they were in the wrong (but not too much), and that their policy has been clarified.

The robotic language is a legal necessity for corporations and it does not reflect on their attitude towards customers in the least.

I still think there is plenty of legal wiggle room to sound like a carbon-based lifeform.

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.

Nope. While "content-free" statements may well be encouraged by lawyers attempting to be risk-averse, there's no basis in fact or law for that. Indeed, studies in medical malpractice have shown that doctors and hospitals that promptly admit fault and apologize are less, not more, likely to be sued for malpractice.

The content-free statements are not only infuriating to your customers, they are actually counter-productive in a purely fiscal sense.

>Indeed, studies in medical malpractice have shown that doctors and hospitals that promptly admit fault and apologize are less, not more, likely to be sued for malpractice.

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.

The problem there is what if your insurance company requires you (or more likely them) to sue the doctor to get the medical expenses paid?

"Thank you for your interest in Kindle" at the end is absolutely not necessary and comes across as patronizing, clueless, and robotic.

Amazon can handle the possible legal issues of human like messages

Exactly. The bigger you get, the more you need to protect yourself, especially in customer relations communication. You can't keep the casual startup mentality forever (well, in many cases anyway).

The odd thing is that with it's physical world stuff, Amazon has, at least in my experience, always been great when it comes to customer service.

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 got burned several years ago, when a $150 textbook was stolen during delivery. It was sent via FedEx, and someone somewhere along the pipeline had 'signed' for it by writing my name in all upper-case letters.

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.

I agree that with shipping product, and making sure people can return faulty product for replacement, Amazon is fantastic.

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[1] people are going to be innocent victims of heavy handed policies.

[1] For some values of 'some' including 'too many'.

Amazon have a policy of doing the same to any customer that returns more than a tiny number of physical items, as I recall.

You'll have to define what a "tiny number" means in this context, but I've certainly returned a bunch of stuff to Amazon over the years that I've been a customer, and they haven't cut me -- or anyone I know personally -- off yet.

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.).

Thats different within the EU. If you return it within 14 days and its worth more than 40EUR Amazon has to pay for shipping. Its called "Distance Selling Act" (Fernabsatzgesetz in Germany). It applies to all non digital goods sold online except Software and Music.


Depends on where you are. It might be pretty good when dealing with Amazon in US, but I have been on the receiving end more than once when I order stuff to India. One of books I ordered, I never received and yet it was marked delivered in their history. I did not know what to do back then and case got closed just like that.

A while back I broke the screen of my kindle while traveling. Not only was I surprised that Amazon covered this under the warranty, but the service I received was really fantastic. The Kindle had originally been shipped to Ireland (where I live), but I was in India when it was broken. I phoned Amazon and they had a replacement shipped to Kathmandu (the next stop on my itinerary with dates certain enough that I was happy to have something shipped there). It was shipped fine and they reimbursed the cost of shipping back the broken unit (I sent a scan of the distinctly dodgy receipt issued by a Kathmandu shipping agent) and they also paid me back the import charge that Nepalese customs levied on the "new" Kindle. All told I was blown away by the quality of the service given the funniness of what I was asking them to do (shipping to random locations etc).

Allow me to counter your anecdote. My 18-month-old Kindle Keyboard screen broke last month, while I was travelling in Russia. It hadn't been impacted or scratched, it just started to become unresponsive on about 40% of the surface and failed. I got offered 10% off a new kindle basic or kindle touch once I got home, despite the customer service rep admitting that a kindle should last longer than only 18 months.

I'm so annoyed about this that I am seriously considering buying a competitor's replacement instead.

Well, it was out of warranty. It's unfortunate that 1-year warranties have become the norm, but that seems to be the key difference between your anecdote and the parent's. They'll do a fair bit to help you while a device is in-warranty, but as soon as it's out, you're basically on your own.

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.)

In the UK, regardless of manufacturer's warranty, the manufacturer is bound to replace the device if it begins to fail within a reasonable time period due to manufacturing defects. For electronics, this is generally accepted as being 5 years. This clause is one of those cited by electronics firms for the 'treasure island' tax applied to things sold in the UK.

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.

You hear a lot of stuff like this, though it makes sense - keep the happy user's Kindle working, they keep buying books.

Yes, they have really been responsive and responsible about the occasional lost package and other shipping problems. When I lived in Scandinavia, there was nothing comparable to Amazon Prime at all in terms of convenience and customer service.

Big companies persist in corporate-speak even though everyone hates it. I never have understood why. They must think that it's the best way to go, somehow.

I don't think everyone hates it. On a site like this obviously the cool thing is to claim to prefer startup-style error messages like "oops, everything's fucked, sorry dude". But fashions change fast; a big company writing in that style would (by the time they'd approved the procedures) likely come off like your parents trying to sound cool by using the hip phrases they've read about.

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.

There are plenty of good alternatives out there besides useless lawyer-speak and profanity-filled startup-speak. It is possible to write a message which is polite, official, and doesn't sound like it came from a robot.

It's the legal department. Each public statement has to be carefully evaluated for its potential to open up lawsuits or bad press. The neutral, robotic tone with ambiguous statements is absolutely required to protect them from the masses.

"Thank you for your interest in Kindle."

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.

I think this is just how language sounds when crafted by committee.

My sense is that any time a company issues a statement or response about a customer service issue, someone will dislike the tone and comment about it. This gives an inflated appearance of dissatisfaction with statements by large companies and over-perpetuates the corporate PR-speak meme. That's not to say that companies never dodge key issues, refuse to own up, or spin things in their favor.

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.

"The problem has been resolved. There was never any problem. Oceana has always been at war with Eastasia."

I much prefer the English explanation than a "sorry dude". First I am not a "dude".... and don't even get me started with the f* word, please.

Because contacting customer service worked so great the first three times...

That is the exact problem, and one they seem to have very much avoided addressing. I have absolutely no doubt that 99% of these sort of problems would be quickly and easily resolved, IF one could adequately contact a responsive customers services department.

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 :) )

This reply contradicts the original story.

Yeah, and we saw how well that worked yesterday...

I find the lack of transparency on Amazon's part entirely unacceptable.

(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.)

Does anyone know if Kindle supports reading normal (by which I mean without DRM or so) PDF files, even PDF files where each page is an image rather than text? Is it possible to put PDF files on it through USB as "mass storage device", or at least in some way that supports doing it from Linux through USB? Is it possible to do this without Kindle account?

Because, the hardware of the device looks nice to me, especially if you'd add a water proof cover around it.


Yes it does but it's not great at displaying them. They don't scale brilliantly on the eInk screen so you tend to want to zoom and pan which is clunky to say the least.

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).

Yep, Calibre is available for Linux (I used it under Ubuntu 12.04, and now 12.10), and IMHO, is one of the more well-behaved cross-platform apps.

I bought a second hand Kindle DX to read PDF's. I installed Duokan on it, which a 3rd party OS that has much better PDF handling and allows dual booting with Kindle OS. It also supports epub format.

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.

Thanks for the tip. Explicit support for the DX is missing in the more recent releases. There seems to be some help here:


(via FAQ at http://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?t=105847)

Duokan looks great. I had never heard of it. Thanks!

It does. PDF is not the best format though, as it has rigid formatting which makes it unpractical on a small screen. You can convert it to mobi with a program like Calibre though, which is much better (for text at least).

And I don't know if you can use your kindle at all without an Amazon account.

Others have pointed out that they don't scale well, but if you mail a plaintext PDF to a special email address associated with your kindle, they'll reformat it for the kindle and deliver it: http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=hp_p...

E-Ink Kindles can technically display PDFs, but in practical terms, you wouldn't want to read a PDF book on one. Unless the PDF dimensions are just perfect (and it rarely ever happens, maybe the DX is better?) or you generated the PDF yourself, a PDF's typical page margin gets rendered, generally cropping off the text on the bottom and/or right hand side of the page. This means that you have to pan the PDF page back to a near-center position every page turn. It's disruptive to your reading flow.

When reading PDFs on my Kindle, I change the orientation to landscape. It's not a perfect solution, as diagrams are sometimes broken in half, but it works well enough for me.

Set your Kindle to "fit to screen" and then in landscape mode, and it will make it palatable. I do this all the time.

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.

I love my Kindle DX because it's huge screen means PDF's read very nicely without cropping or pan and zoom.

You can view PDFs easily enough on a physical Kindle device, though as others have stated they don't scale that well.

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.

I own a Kindle Fire (not hd) and I downloaded a shit-ton of .mobi ebooks from ThePirateBay, I can read them just fine on 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.

Yes, it does, and I use the Kindle all the time to read such PDF files.

If the writer wanted to make Amazon pay for the wipe she has certainly achieved that with her post.

My Kindles hit Ebay a few hours ago. I'm out of the Amazon digital ecosystem.

What are you replacing them with?

I was already splitting my ebook purchasing between the Apple bookstore and Amazon.

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".

Out of curiosity (I haven't purchased ebooks from either source), what makes Apple more reliable than Amazon?

They have yet to pull a stunt like this. As far as I'm aware, they are unable to remotely modify Apple devices. Until proven otherwise, I trust them.

I'm a little dubious too, but Amazon has a track record of doing things like this (The Animal Farm/1984 fiasco), whereas Apple seems to respect that they've sold their customer something.

Keep them, and manage Kindle content of DRM-free books via Calibre.

I bet it was exactly like this:

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"

Ha ha! Executives are dumb and also terrible people!


Some people might be thinking "Well done Amazon for correcting this mistake" or "Amazon just caved due to pressure of bad press" but I am thinking that if Amazon can wipe a kindle remotely, I do not want such a device and will purchase a product which does not have this "feature".

Seriously, fuck them.

Better: buy a subsidized unit but don't buy their DRM ebooks ;) It's trivial to do.

Support Policy:

If you feel that your account has been erroneously disabled, then got viral with your story, only then will we investigate your claims.

More like, "if you have trouble with customer service, please contact customer service."

... and after customer service has blown you off saying that from their perspective, the case has been closed and you have no avenues of appeal, then try to make the story go viral....

Like e.g. with Google actions without explantations, but the refusal to give them are the worst for me as a customer.

It's a standard "big-corp" thing. I can understand why they'd avoid saying why a credit card transaction was rejected, but they're missing an opportunity to remind the world that their corporation is actually made up of humans.

It's simply a shitty attitude, and being a large corporation is irrelevant.

Perhaps, but it's easier to hide behind the "corporate veil" when you're part of a huge company. You can get away with saying "that's not allowed" at every turn, while the CEO of a 20 person company is much more accessible to help deal with these problems. The reality is that most big companies would be much better off if their CEOs actually knew about issues like this ... I think most of them care about customer satisfaction quite a bit but are insulated from that level of detail.

If I were her, I would so immediately copy the ebooks that are available again, for now, then find a way to free them from DRM and close my Amazon account myself.

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 good to hear Linn has her stuff back but this doesn't guarantee future situations like this would have similar good endings. What I infer from 'no explanations' is it's mostly a PR plaster.

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.

That's a very bad translation - although I'm still impressed because it's programmatic and the technology has come pretty far (and I am grateful to Google for providing Google Translate in general!).

So "Amazon did an about-face" actually means "Amazon did a change in direction" or even "Amazon did a 180 degree turn".

Sorry if I'm misunderstanding you, but "did an about-face" is a good translation; it's a common English idiom: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/do+an+about-face

How is it a bad translation? I was headed to the comments with the intention of applauding Google for a truly incredible translation service! Reading that wasn't blocky or painful, like reading programatically translated texts used to be. Is the idea of what is said wrong? Did they make a huge mistake in any section? Or small mistakes everywhere?

As already commented, "did an about-face" is an English idiom

I'm not GP, but I also though "about-face" was an error.

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) etc..

Still impressive though :)

Ah yes. I saw a few of those too. It's certainly not perfect. I actually skimmed the article rather than reading the details; and I was honestly impressed that I could skim the article.

Have any native english publications covered this story? Strange that the only new source to publish a follow-up to what was a very popular story would be some random Norwegian newspaper.

I am just surprised the way these companies work. They don't even owe as little as information to their customers and our government enable them to do that.

Meta-comment: I've read the article in english and norwegian side-by-side, and I'm impressed by google's translation.

I'm guessing one Michael Murphy is polishing up the old resume right about now.


Really? Amazon takes back paid for content, doesn't refund it, customer service is no help and stonewalls, and Amazon only fixes it after it gets a lot of press, and that's no big deal? What if it happened to you?

Not many have fortitude or resources to make it to the front page of HN, Wired etc. I can somehow relate (http://gnufied.org/2011/08/30/the-applecare-story/) how powerless an individual feels when faced with a large corporation offering no explanation or help at all. In the end Amazon corrected the mistake without offering any explanation makes it worse.

The big deal, I think, is that it's scary for people who buy all their books on Amazon to realize that all those books can be taken away for no obvious reason, and with no recourse other than to make a public stink.

> I don't understand the problem. It's a customer service issue, not a front page news story. Amazon did the right thing here in the end and that's that. What's the big deal?

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.

Doesn't matter to me. The fact that Amazon can break and enter into my devices with impunity is completely unacceptable. The fact that I can't back up my own purchases without hacking is completely unacceptable.

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.

You can backup your purchases using copy-and-paste to your hard drive. Or do you mean "remove DRM"?

I agree with your second paragraph.

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