This story appeared on Network World at
Amazon fails to remember the physical
Removal of Kindle books yet another example of people doing things in virtual world that they would never think of doing in physical world
'Net Insider By Scott Bradner , Network World , 07/21/2009
This column is not really about Amazon violating its own terms of service by deleting e-books that its Kindle customers had purchased. Most commentators are painting Amazon's actions as some sort of isolated brain fart, but I think it's not actually an Amazon-specific problem.
The underlying issue here is that Amazon, among many others, see the rules for digital as different than those for other things. It would never have crossed Amazon's collective mind to grab a physical book from you if the company had shipped you one that it did not have the right to sell. But, maybe because it could, Amazon just did what it has the ability to do without thinking to see if the ability to do something automatically meant that it was the right thing to do.
Amazon is not alone in confusing the ability to do something with the idea that it is the right thing to do. It would be inconceivable that the U.S. Post Office would be required to make and save a record of who sent and received every letter it handled. Yet, just because it can be done, a number of law enforcement officials have called for laws that require ISPs to do just that with e-mail.
That future would have to have a way to deal with the fact that making copies of digital things is a lot easier to do and harder to track than making copies of physical things. That does not, however, mean that it is impossible (see "Detecting Double-Spending" here for one approach to this type of problem).
It would be nice if the ability to do something in the digital world, such as limiting utility or invading privacy, was not taken as a mandate to do that thing. But I'm not holding my breath.
Disclaimer: The confusion between having the ability do something and having the authority to do it is a common theme in ethics classes in places like Harvard but I have not seen a university opinion on this confusion when it comes to the digital world, so the above is my own ramble.
All contents copyright 1995-2009 Network World, Inc. http://www.networkworld.com