The news that an Amazon customer had her account disabled and her Kindle bricked, with no real explanation, is a timely reminder that what Amazon giveth, Amazon can also taketh away. But while Amazon undoubtedly has to deal with problem accounts, and with people who try to game the system, there’s an obvious danger that the company could go too far and end up targeting innocent customers. Has Amazon already passed that point and become trigger-happy?
In the case of the customer whose account was disabled, it seems that Amazon decided her account was in some way linked to another account that had been blocked. Obviously Amazon is keen to ensure that those who are banned are not able to simply open another account. It’s not clear how links are established, but IP addresses and payment credentials are probably analysed along with other factors. If the woman in this story is telling the truth when she says she’s innocent, it seems Amazon has been over-eager.
What’s worse, there seems to be no way for someone to prove their innocence. The emails recieved by the woman were maddeningly vague, offering no opportunity for her to defend herself. Amazon probably issues a fair few bans every day, and understandably doesn’t want to get into a major discussion with each and every affected customer. But there has to be some mechanism whereby a wrong customer can gain some personal attention. In this case, there’s perhaps been enough publicity to get Amazon to look afresh at this particular case. But that’s an exception to how these things are usually handled.
It’s not just customers who are affected if Amazon gets trigger-happy. Automated systems can just as easily block an author from selling via KDP. With more and more authors switching to writing full-time, a simple error on Amazon’s part could effectively pull the legs out from under someone who was otherwise making a good living from their books. Should authors be living in fear of an email that might one day arrive in their inbox and inform them that they’ve been banned, with no possibility of restitution?
Amazon is undeniably facing a highly complex task, and they probably get things right more often than they get them wrong. But there has to be a way for people to appeal against the company’s decisions. If a company fired a worker for bogus reasons, that worker would have the right to appeal. If Amazon blocks a customer or an author, there’s no such opportunity. A balance needs to be struck. Amazon has to acknowledge that – rightly or wrongly – its services are becoming increasingly important to many people; those services should not be cut off without explanation or a chance to appeal.