Amazon may have accidentally kindled a revolution in the way people think about their rights over data. In case you missed it, the e-retailer experienced a massive irony failure when it decided to delete copies of George Orwell’s 1984 from customers’ Kindle e-book readers. The company had good reasons to stop distribution of these documents, since they had been sold by a marketplace retailer who did not hold the copyright. What surprised customers was that Amazon had the capability to remove things from their devices remotely and without consent.
As it happens, Apple retains a similar right over its iPhone, with a back door to the system that allows it to delete “rogue” applications. Its argument is that it wants to be able to stop malware before it spreads. Both cases underline the fact that customers are increasingly renting content as part of a service, even though they believe they have purchased it outright. For now, those service providers retain the upper hand. But all that could change.
Increasingly, customers are using these rented services to create their own content and store personal data. Generating new intellectual property of their own within these environments has become one of the more exciting aspects of Web 2.0. Most of these customers assume that the service will remain available and that their content is under their own control.
That perception is coming up against the harder reality that service providers can alter or terminate access rights at a moment’s notice. Remember the outcry when Facebook moved to claim copyright over everything posted on its social network? Amazon has experienced a
similar pushback from customers upset that their personal library can be accessed without their knowledge.
In many cases, these services are one of a kind – there may be nowhere else to create or store data. While their providers have every reason to protect what they offer and spell out their rights in the terms and conditions, customers can not be expected to act like lawyers and read the small print. Where else would they go if they disagreed?
So what is needed is some give and take. Service companies need to accept a limit on their right to intrude. Otherwise, the bold new connected world might find itself empty of an active population.