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Remote Kill Flags Surface In Kindle 630

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the because-they-can dept.
PL/SQL Guy writes "The Kindle has a number of 'remote kill' flags built in to the hardware that, among other things, allow the text-to-speech function to be disabled at any time on a book-by-book basis. 'Beginning yesterday, Random House Publishers began to disable text-to-speech remotely. The TTS function has apparently been remotely disabled in over 40 works so far.' But what no one at Amazon will discuss is what other flags are lurking in the Kindle format: is there a 'read only once' flag? A 'no turning the pages backwards' flag?"
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Remote Kill Flags Surface In Kindle

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:17AM (#27950671)
    There, I said it. Kindle remotely made me do it!
    • by xp (146294) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @11:13AM (#27951399) Homepage Journal

      I am kinda glad they are doing this remotely. I'd be upset if an Amazon SWAT team broke into my house and physically disabled my Kindle.
      --
      Slow Poke [pair.com]

      • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @11:55AM (#27952001) Journal

        You think this is funny, but I'm not laughing. Right now, in my mind, amazon is no better than Mr. Soprano.

        I bought a bunch of books to use the "text-to-speech" software while driving to work, and now suddenly that's been disabled, which makes those particular books practically worthless to me. Is Amazon going to issue a refund? No, because just like every other media company, they think it's okay to sell goods without warranty. Hell even the lowly food industry says, "We hope you are satisfied with you're candy bar, but if you're not, return unused portion for refund." Only the iuck-lcikers in the rcord companis, game cmpanies, and book sotress think it;s perfectly acceptable to FORCE customers to keep a product they don't want. No returns.

        If they go out of business, it will be their own stupid fault due to ignoring that age-old rule, "The customer is (almost) always right." Screw your customer by selling them product as "text-to-speech" and then disable that product, and you've effectively screwed yourself. Customers have a long, long memory. They will not come back for further frakking. Even the most rudimentary business class teaches you this.

        /end angry tirade

        • by spun (1352) <loverevolutionary@nOSpam.yahoo.com> on Thursday May 14, 2009 @12:40PM (#27952625) Journal

          No. The customer is right unless them being right interferes with another, bigger customer being right. Or it interferes with a number of other customers being right. That's the way it really works.

          The way it should work is, the customer is only right if they are not wrong. In most of Europe, if you go into an establishment looking to have your butt smooched and every single one of your sniffy little needs met, you will be shown the door rather than letting you waste the employee's and other customer's time.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by cayenne8 (626475)
            Has no one hacked the Kindle yet?!?!

            I'm surprised this 'feature' wasn't already known about and defeated by now....

            • by Nikker (749551) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @02:49PM (#27954443)
              It's probably better no one touches it. The kindle is a cool concept but it is being sold into the hands of avid (book) readers, who on average open up to a much wider audience that are likely on average more intelligent then bloggers ;)

              Let them get burned they are smart enough to take care of these things on their own. Sometimes I think these companies sell all this DRM crap because they know it will be cracked. This way a large portion of the suckers will get caught on the treadmill and the ones who other wise would have asked for the companies head on a steak, will default to cracking their device to get it to work and keep quiet.

              I personally hope all of the tech savvy back away from this and for once let a company release something and let their customers suffer for a bit. When Jane Doe pays for something and finds out the company doesn't want her to have certain options available to her that's when you will have a good reason to fight back. It's not so easy to do that when you've already hacked the crap out of it and its downloading torrents while calculating your BMI after your breakfast reading.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by visigoth (43030)

          Unfortunately they won't go out of business over stuff like this. Most consumers don't care about consequences of their purchasing choices, the reasons for which are numerous -- too dumb, busy, or simply apathetic. "The customer is (almost) always right" only applies if the available customer pool is small enough for that to matter; once a market grows beyond a certain size, companies only have to make X % of their customers happy, and marginalize or ignore the rest.

          I'd love for things to be different, fo

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Machtyn (759119)
          I would think that selling Feature A, then disabling said feature is a basis for a Class Action lawsuit.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:17AM (#27950673)
    Well, that's what you get for buying content instead of just copying it from pirate bay or whatever. Maybe it's time for us to finally learn our lesson?
  • by sgt scrub (869860) <saintium@ y a hoo.com> on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:18AM (#27950687)

    Unless they upload a replacement, the book would have to have all the possible tags attached. I'm assuming the books are on the device itself. Obviously, I don't know enough about the Kindle2.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by wstrucke (876891)
      This is a law suit waiting to happen if there is no disclosure that the books will have these "flags" at the time of purchase.
      • by Shakrai (717556) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:39AM (#27950971) Journal

        This is a law suit waiting to happen if there is no disclosure that the books will have these "flags" at the time of purchase.

        Big fucking deal. If history is any guide, the affected consumers will get a credit for $0.99 off their next purchase from Amazon while the law firm who initiated the lawsuit will walk away with millions. Amazon will just write it off as a cost of doing business and go right on screwing their customers, albeit this time with a disclaimer about the DRM flags clearly displayed in a 2pt font.

        Call me cynical.....

        • by jgtg32a (1173373) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:46AM (#27951075)
          You sound like an optimist to me
        • by ukyoCE (106879) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @11:08AM (#27951339) Journal

          AFAIK Amazon clearly wants to have text-to-speech enabled for all books. It's the publishers (and their threat to remove works if speech is enabled) you should be mad at. Amazon is trying their damnedest to make a compelling ebook product, and like Apple with iTunes, trying to drag the publisher's kicking and screaming onto the internet.

          Like music, I expect once the market is there, people will demand the functionality (or pirate for it, or sue for it) and it will become commonplace.

          If Amazon took a high and mighty moral stand, they would just be killing the market (and their own business opportunity) and letting another eBook maker who WILL compromise their morals take over the market.

          At least we know Amazon is trying to open things up as much as they can.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by dfay (75405)

        Don't worry, I'm sure there is something about it buried in the 20 page license agreement.

      • by sciencewhiz (448595) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:57AM (#27951167)
        Do you really think Amazon would be that stupid? Once again, a sensationalist story is posted without proper fact checking. From the Kindle DX Product Page [amazon.com]

        Kindle DX can read to you. With its Text-to-Speech feature, Kindle DX can read books, blogs, magazines, and newspapers out loud to you, unless the book's rights holder made the feature unavailable.

  • Flags (Score:4, Insightful)

    by captainboogerhead (228216) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:19AM (#27950697) Journal
    Sometimes I wish Slashdot had a "baseless speculation" flag.
  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <.moc.liamg. .ta. .nhojovadle.> on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:19AM (#27950699) Journal

    But what no one at Amazon will discuss is what other flags are lurking in the Kindle format: is there a "read only once" flag?

    No. But there inside your home on your desk inside your kindle is a flag so vile, so full of hatred, so very <insert your opposing political party here> that when activated it will only let you read books from Oprah's Book Club.

  • by its_schwim (1247278) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:19AM (#27950701) Homepage
    Kindle: The iPhone of readers. Proprietary schemes rock.
    • by ukyoCE (106879) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @11:13AM (#27951397) Journal

      Very astute of you to make the comparison between iTunes/iPod/iPhone creating the market for digital music and the resulting consumer demand that allowed them to drop DRM.

      It does indeed sound just like Amazon's Kindle creating the market for E-Books and the resulting consumer demand (and default of enabled) resulting in Text-To-Speech being standard on all E-Books and E-Book readers.

      ...

      Oh wait, or were you trying to say there's something wrong with the iPhone and Kindle?

  • by ancarett (221103) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:20AM (#27950717)
    The article doesn't talk about the Kindle's other technological back doors at all, so colour me disappointed.

    Still, as a parent of an autistic child, I know how valuable the TTS function can be in our computer programs. As an author, I'm saddened that Amazon's rolled over on this for the publishers' and Author's Guild panic. TTS is not the same as an audiobook performance, nor does it have that possibility any time soon.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Repossessed (1117929)

      The government agrees with you here, which is why there is an exception to the DMCA act for the purpose of enabling TTS.

      Amazon allowing this flag to be switched creates a very real problem for them when it comes time to go after any DRM crackers who are bright enough to claim their tools are only meant for enabling TTS.

      http://www.copyright.gov/1201/2006/index.html [copyright.gov] - reference

  • by sunderland56 (621843) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:23AM (#27950753)
    TFA is very unclear on whether
    • the book binaries have changed, so that the new ones have the flag turned on - but if you already have an existing binary in your Kindle it will work fine; or
    • the Kindle looks for updates to existing book binaries, and applies them automatically

    I think the first is more likely - although the second could be useful in other ways (the Kindle could automatically correct errors in books as they are found).

  • forget it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jcgam69 (994690) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:23AM (#27950755)
    I pre-ordered a Kindle DX. Thanks to the information in this article I have changed my mind and I'm now canceling my order. I would be stupid to pay $500 for a device that can be remotely crippled, when cheaper ebook readers give me full control. What was I thinking?
    • Re:forget it (Score:5, Informative)

      by jo42 (227475) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:28AM (#27950835) Homepage

      What you really want is a tablet PC running Linux if you are concerned about DRM. Any product where you don't have control over the operating system or environment will always be suspect to the whims of corporate lawyers.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I'm curious what other ebook readers you're looking at. So far, I've used a Foxit eBook reader, Sony PRS-700, kindle, iPhone and various computers.

      The Foxit totally sucks. It's got a nice formfactor, but it's slow and difficult to read PDFs without having the text get wrapped and lose all spacing (sometimeswordsgetjumbledtogetherlikethis).

      The Sony reader is pretty good except that the glare totally sucks and when reading PDFs, it's only got pre-set zoom levels; no fit-to-width, so the text is constantly eit

  • Killflags... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jaysyn (203771) <jaysyn+slashdot@@@gmail...com> on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:23AM (#27950765) Homepage Journal

    ...and they are internet capable? I'm going to laugh my ass off when some hacker reduces every ebook on every Kindle in the world to a useless pile of bits.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by geekoid (135745)

      Yes, and I hope one does, and soon. People need to know the risk of all these kill switches everything is getting.Better the learn it now when it only impacts a relatively few people.

  • by Tony (765) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:24AM (#27950775) Journal

    I was going to get my wife a Kindle for her birthday. She asked, "What's the point? The books are almost as expensive, and I can't send them to my mom or sister when I'm done. And what happens when the hardware breaks, and I need to get a new one? I don't want to be forced to get a Kindle just because those are the books I bought before. Fuck 'em."

    My wife, the non-geek. She gets it.

  • I'm done with Amazon (Score:5, Informative)

    by maynard (3337) <j.maynard.gelinas@gmai3.14l.com minus pi> on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:24AM (#27950779) Journal

    I was a customer for over ten years. Spent well over ten thousand dollars there in books and other items. But for the last several years their customer support has declined, their partner businesses engage in numerous disreputable practices that mirror the abuses at ebay, their manipulation of book rankings on so-called adult material (gay), and they seem intent on monopolizing the epublishing trade. I closed my account and won't look back.

    Yes, the Kindle-DX looks like a nice machine. But what one gives up in basic rights as a reader is more than enough to keep me buying used books printed on dead trees for some time. And I can always scan the books I buy to load on an ereader with less virulent DRM limitations and corporate controls. I own an iRex iLiad, that while not the best manufacturer, at least they offer a free Linux development environment to download and install. Users are hacking new software on that platform. Does anyone here expect Amazon to allow that? Not me.

    BTW: closing my account with Amazon took several phone calls and numerous transfers from one department to the next. They don't like it when customers attempt to leave them and make the process as difficult as possible. Yet another reason to never give them my money again.

  • by blcamp (211756) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:26AM (#27950803) Homepage

    ...such as the "don't buy anything I can't substantially control" flag.

  • Solution (Score:4, Funny)

    by bhunachchicken (834243) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:35AM (#27950929) Homepage

    Buy a real book and then have it read to you by your girlfr... oh, wait, this is Slashdot. Ignore me :)

  • Lawsuit? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Cro Magnon (467622) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:45AM (#27951053) Homepage Journal

    Can't one of those Blind Advocacy groups sue them for discrimination?

  • Random house (Score:4, Informative)

    by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland@ya ... m minus math_god> on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:51AM (#27951115) Homepage Journal

    Don't forget to direct your ire at Random House for doing this as well as Amazon for rolling over.

    Call them and bitch.
    http://www.randomhouse.com/about/contact.html [randomhouse.com]

  • by bobdotorg (598873) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:52AM (#27951129)

    And that's why my Kindle's flag will be a Jolly Roger.

  • This is my post. I wrote it. Is is a creative and inventive work which benefits society at large. Moreover, it is a concrete example of intellectual property. This post, that you are reading right now, belongs to me. It is mine.

    This post is mine in the same way that my house, or car or clothes are mine. These words that I have written are given as much protection as freedom of speech or to vote. They need it. If just anyone is allowed to come along and copy them, or alter them, or include them in another work without my permission, then it will be as though my right to speak freely has been taken away, or I have been disenfranchised.

    If someone else reads these words without paying me, or worse sells them to others to read, I will have been robbed. It will be as if my home was burned down, or my family sold into slavery. An injustice of the highest order.

    These words need protections. Strong protections. This post needs to be defended, even as it is copied endless and effortlessly across millions of computers, each recopying it hundreds of times, at negligible expense. The worth of these words is worth more than all the bits it occupies in cyberspace. Indeed, their worth is worth more than the worth of cyberspace, and even society itself.

    For if these words, if this post cannot be afforded the most stringent, uncompromising and sacred protection that our society has to offer, then our society will not be worth the bits it is represented on. The reality of digital worldwide transmission must not be allowed to compromise the most fundamental rights we have. The protection of this post is a challenge which our civilization must meet, or else our civilization must fall.

    This post and all related materials, Copyright © ObsessiveMathsFreak 2009.

    All rights reserved, worldwide.

    None of the materials provided in this post site may be used, reproduced or transmitted, in whole or in part, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or the use of any information storage and retrieval system, without express permission in writing from the author, along with suitable monetary compensation.

    Unauthorized use of the materials in this post are subject to prosecution to the fullest exent allowable by law.

  • Was Stallman Right? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 14, 2009 @11:00AM (#27951205)
    • by Black Sabbath (118110) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @11:12AM (#27951381) Homepage

      I first read that shortly after it was first published. At that time I thought the dystopian future he described was far fetched. Twelve years later I think he had great foresight. All the elements are now in place. The relentless re-education campaign that inures people to the loss of "little" freedoms here and there are preparing a generation that don't know any better. A generation of sheeple who aren't even aware of the blood-paid freedoms and rights which they are trading away very, very cheaply.

      History will likely judge people like Orwell and Stallman as prophets of sorts.

  • by hyades1 (1149581) <hyades1@hotmail.com> on Thursday May 14, 2009 @11:01AM (#27951231)

    ...Some clever little bastard will have hacked it by the time they process your order anyway.

  • PDF as solution? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wandazulu (265281) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @11:08AM (#27951337)

    I'm interested in the DX because of its native PDF reader, and nothing else. I probably would never buy a book from Amazon to read on it, because everything I want I can get as a PDF, whether it be something technical or literature.

    Because of this, theoretically, I'd be immune to these issues, right? They're my own, drm-free PDFs which can't be remotely deleted or somehow blocked.

    I like the *idea* of the Kindle in that I can carry millions of pages of whatever on a very light device with a good screen. I was trying out my mom's Kindle and I was shocked at how much I *really* liked it; the screen was really great and, while I didn't care for the slow page redraws, it wouldn't be a deal-breaker. Thus I like the DX idea even more; bigger screen, and drm-free content.

  • by flogger (524072) <non@nonegiven> on Thursday May 14, 2009 @11:21AM (#27951531) Journal
    The reason is straight forward: I asked for a refund. The book I ordered had no cover or table of contents/index. For a reference book, this is unacceptable. There was another version with chapters, etc. So I purchased the one I needed and then sent an email asking for a return.

    The following was from the first paragraph of the email:

    I've requested a refund for "NAME OF BOOK OMITTED". Issuing a refund also removes access to the file. If the item is still on your Kindle, please delete that copy. After the refund is issued, you will no longer be able to access it.

    Well, I watched for it, and not only was access to the file removed, The file is no longer present.

    Amazon has the Kill-switch ability to delete content. I am going to assume they have the ability to delete my personal content I add to through the USB.

  • Old news (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SteeldrivingJon (842919) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @11:46AM (#27951857) Homepage Journal

    This is old news. The whole brouhaha over this happened months ago. The Kindle 2 came out, with text-to-speech. The Author's Guild whined like little babies claiming it would reduce audiobook sales (presumably they also want to charge you for reading to your kids.) They wanted the functionality removed completely. Amazon reached a compromise, that publishers could opt-out by requesting that it be disallowed on their books.

    There's no point getting your panties in a bunch *now*. The horse is out of the barn. Nor is Amazon the one to complain to. The publishers and the Author's Guild are the ones to complain to.

    If anything, Amazon deserves credit for putting the feature in in the first place without restrictions. Given their business model, you might have expected them to proactively design the feature to the publishers' requirements long before it was released. They might have been like Microsoft who preemptively crippled the Zune's sharing feature.

  • And this a surprise? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Vinegar Joe (998110) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @12:07PM (#27952189)

    So I think I'll stick to paper, thank you very much.

  • by maillemaker (924053) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @12:24PM (#27952413)

    To me, this flagging ability should be viewed as a good thing.

    All books should be available from the library FOR FREE. You go to the library, you borrow the book, and you return it in two weeks. You can re-check it out again for another 2 weeks if you want.

    This flagging ability COULD allow this to be done without driving to the library. You COULD use this to NEVER buy a book. You simply "check it out" for 2 weeks and then it vanishes.

    Now I'm skeptical that it will ever be allowed to work this way, but this is the way such devices SHOULD work. If I can go check out a physical copy for 2 weeks, why not a digital copy? If it's free, I don't mind if it vanishes in 2 weeks, just like a library loan would.

  • by zerofoo (262795) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @12:47PM (#27952741)

    The entire reason we bought Kindles was the text to speech function. Our school teaches dyslexic kids and any technology that allows these kids to read ANY book, whether or not an audio book version is available, is extremely useful.

    Without unlimited text to speech kindles are reduced, from a useful teaching tool, to simply a nifty gadget. Without TTS, there is very little to justify the cost of these over other e-book readers.

    Good job Amazon! You've just allowed your book publishers to kill a potentially HUGE market for these things - schools.

    -ted

Nothing succeeds like success. -- Alexandre Dumas

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