Amazon makes a case for DRM-free platforms

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Digital rights management (DRM) is any technology that inhibits uses of devices or digital content. On mobile devices, DRM often means that the manufacturer or service/content provider can remotely suspend, close or wipe purchased contents or even a device should they believe that the user is in violation. It is this limiting of the end user’s control over his device and content that I address in this article.

Linn and Amazon
Linn, a Kindle user, suddenly found her account closed by Amazon, and her Kindle wiped clean. Without notice. Without explanation. Everything she had ever purchased, gone. Her device totally useless to her. Amazon says it is because her account was “closely related” to another account which had been blocked, but wouldn’t explain the links or offer any more information. Linn lives in Norway, far away from Amazon’s jurisdiction, and totally helpless. Here is the link: Outlawed by Amazon DRM.

Yomi and Twitter
My current twitter profile will tell you that I signed up on Twitter early last year. Well; that isn’t true. I had been active on Twitter much earlier under a handle using my proper names. Suddenly, I found myself locked out Just like in Linn’s case, I exchanged a number of mails with Twitter to attempt to resolve the issue. I was stonewalled the same way. When I got tired of the dancing, I simply walked.

It wasn’t until early last year that an acquaintance convinced me to get back on Twitter. Twitter is not a DRM example. I simply narrated my experience here to further indicate how common the one-handedness of service/content providers is. The user is left totally helpless. The internet is littered with such horror stories, so these are not isolated cases.

DRM Platforms
With DRM platforms and services, the user has spent money on a device and on content – yet can be summarily thrown out and robbed of their purchases. Users of DRM platforms live under the illusion that they own their purchases, when in reality they do not. Everything purchased remains the property of the service provider and can be withdrawn on the whim of the moment. All gone.

For example, Amazon is not the only DRM-based platform. Both Google and Apple are capable of remotely wiping devices or disabling user accounts in cases of DRM violations. Android fans are constantly jabbing at iOS fans about how “open” their platform is, when it is only an illusion of openness. At the push of a button, the average Android device can be wiped by Google too. I am not sure of how much hold Microsoft holds on Windows Phone devices and content. Cloud services like DropBox and SugarSync are also controlled services. Your account can be closed and content wiped just like that. Cloud-based music services like Spinlet are DRM-based and do not give users control over purchased files. Once you uninstall the app from your device, all your music files are no longer accessible.

I couldn’t have put it better than someone who responded to people moaning about the Amazon DRM issue on GigaOM:

You make it sound like there’s no choice, but there is. Support DRM-free vendors instead. There’s nothing inherently wrong with ebooks. They’re great. But like music and movies, if you support a model that’s not in your best interest don’t be surprised when you get screwed. And don’t cry about not getting the latest best sellers DRM-free. If you don’t work for change it won’t ever happen.

Non-DRM Platforms
Reading Linn’s story, I am reminded of one of the reasons why I used to insist on owning and using a smartphone that does not require a user account to function and cannot be remotely wiped by the manufacturer. I can also load my own content – music, video, eBooks – outside of the manufacturer’s store as I desire.

In every other area of human activities, the world champions the individual’s rights to self-determination and all, but in technology we hail and embrace the Matrix. The world may be in awe of these 21st century systems that seek to limit user control, but I am not. I will forever be an advocate of DRM-free platforms and especially those that give users control over their content.

In a twist, the story of Linn is Amazon letting you know why you are better off on a DRM-free platform. Me, buy a Kindle? Perhaps for review purposes. Those of you interested in using one as a daily driver – especially those of you outside their jurisdiction – you have been warned. You are better off spending your money on something else.