Posted by: crudbasher | August 9, 2010

Do eBooks Invite Censorship?

There is something that has been bothering at me for a while about eBooks.  A few months ago, Amazon found out that one of their third party eBook sellers was selling books of George Orwell but did not have the legal right to do this.  Their solution was to remotely erase all the copies of it from people’s Kindle readers.  While Amazon said afterwards that they won’t do it again, what spooked me was the fact Amazon had that capability at all.  I am sure the same thing is built into the iPad too.

I then read this blog below where Peter Cochrane is speculating about the end of physical books.  While I am sure physical books will not disappear entirely, they will be much less widespread than eBooks.  I think this actually a good thing in a way.  Billions more people around the world will be able to access knowledge that otherwise could not afford it.  This is good.

Here’s my problem:  What if these eBooks can be modified remotely too?  Let’s say that someone publishes an eBook about a certain political figure in the government.  Let’s then say that the government and/or FCC decides that information will be harmful to their reelection.  Remotely they rewrite the offending parts to be a bit more friendly.  Or how about if they could go into the history textbooks months later and change it to reflect the more “politically correct” version of events.  Just look at the editing battles that have been fought on Wikipedia over the last few years.  Truth is in the eyes of the beholder.  History is written by the victor.  George Lucas made Greedo shoot first.

If I have a book I know what is in it will not change.  I think the reason the 10 commandments were written on stone tablets was a way of saying these were not subject to rewriting. 🙂  Will we end up building our history on sand?  That makes me uneasy…

  • Speculation on the end of physical books

    tags: technology books

    • Books have been an increasingly inconvenient luxury and soon they will be one we can no longer afford.
    • Of course there are a few books I find it very difficult, if not impossible, to part with. But the reality is that I can now get all I need online. And interestingly, all my American friends are now Kindle or iPad readers. They just don’t buy books as once they did, and nor do I.
    • Today Amazon sells nearly twice as many Kindle copies as hardbacks, and the softbacks are the next target.
    • Downloads are snuffing out CDs. PCs and electronic cameras did for the old wet process, and high-end mobiles are effectively wiping out newspapers. Books look like being next.
    • Then of course there is the format, which is fixed and always out of date, with no updates, no searching.
    • So, in 20 to 30 years’ time where will we be? Books will probably have become treasured curios from a recent past, and used to adorn shelves as pottery does today – just a thing of aesthetic pleasure for the owner – but absurdly expensive compared with an ebook costing pence.

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  1. I’m sure ebook publishers like Amazon worry about the opposite scenario: what if gray- or black-market ebook copies take a bite out of publishers’ profits? They clearly put a kill switch in place; but anyone with a knack for today’s gadgets knows there exist “workarounds”… and recent court rulings on smartphone hacking seem promising for ebook devices as well.

    Just like in the film industry, Amazon et al will make the majority of their money off initial releases and licensing. Pirates will bite at the margins, yet pose less threat than overzealous protections.

    • Hey Jared,
      You are certainly correct in that. I am sure the whole fiasco of pirating via CDs and DVDs are fresh in their minds. I can’t blame them for building in protections like this to protect their business model. I am just worried about potential abuses. It’s a brave new world…

      Thanks much for commenting!!

  2. This is disconcerting to say the least. My hope is that before the majority of books become e-book, there are systems put in place that keep companies like Amazon in check. I think your scenario above would make a good thriller, you should write a (e)book. 🙂

    In the mean time, I am keeping all of my paper books in good condition, I’m sure they will be worth millions one day, right?

    • What is even worse is the blinding acceptance most young people have of what they read online. We are paying for a distinct lack of critical thinking skills… sad

      I am actually thinking of writing a book! Not a fiction book though.

  3. This post has reached almost Seth Godin like levels of awesomeness. Well done Andrew.

    • Yeah but Seth would have said it in 1/4 the words and put some Zen into it. 🙂

  4. Japan has been rewriting its history books for years. Check Google.

    • Hi Mister Reiner thanks for commenting! It seems that history books are always being rewritten that’s true. Still, at least you can go see older ones. Those are constant, but with eBooks, even the older versions can be revised. I’ll look into the Japanese history books though. Did you have some specific examples you are thinking of?

  5. What’s funny is that I feel like your curiosity about such possible censorship seems to preclude that censorship is not done already on an institutional level.

    • Hi edreformer, thanks for commenting! Could you clarify for me please what you mean by the institutional level? Do you mean at schools, companies, government?

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