Amazon.com Evicts Wikileaks. Who's Next?

Under pressure from Sen. Joe Lieberman, Amazon.com kicked WikiLeaks.org off its servers. But why stop there? There's all kinds of controversial customers the cowardly but remarkably convenient e-tailer can flee from.

Take Hillary Clinton. Wikileaks revealed the Secretary of State to have "illegally" spied on the United Nations, but she remains welcome in Amazon's books section.

Of course, Clinton didn't disseminate thousands of secret diplomatic cables. Or actually, wait, she did, but through incompetence rather than intention. So maybe she doesn't make Amazon cower quite like Wikileaks does.

What about the New York Times? The high-minded newspaper, whose editorial page considers itself a First Amendment champion, is a partner on Amazon.com's Kindle; publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. even appeared on stage with Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos to introduce a new model of the e-reader (see top picture).

Amazon.com Evicts Wikileaks. Who's Next?

And yet the newspaper went out of its way to get early access to the confidential diplomatic cables obtained by its sometime partner Wikileaks, and published much of the information they contained. The newspaper almost certainly violated the ridiculous Espionage Act in the process. Will Amazon evict the New York Times from the Kindle then? Or perhaps wipe the offending information remotely, George Orwell style, as Amazon has shown itself perfectly capable of doing?

Then there's the Guardian, which also published Wikileaks data. The newspaper is listed as a customer of the same Amazon.com online services division that ejected Wikileaks. As is the Washington Post, which is also an Amazon partner delivering Kindle content, and which is no stranger to publishing controversial stories. In fact, it's no stranger to the sort of State Department leaks Wikileaks is now trafficking. The Post, you'll recall, revealed the existence of secret overseas CIA torture sites; a CIA analyst was later fired for purportedly leaking the data to the newspaper.

All of which is to say that Amazon's unclear content standards will create a lot of confusion among its customers, clients and partners. As a private sector corporation, the company is of course free to pick and choose what it wants to sell and what bits it wants to serve. But the parties that do business with Amazon don't want the uncertainty that comes from dealing with a weak-willed, unpredictable retailer. And avid readers with diverse tastes and a healthy appetite for controversy are unlikely to enjoy doing business with Amazon if they think the company is censorious. It's bad enough that it's in competition with adorable local booksellers.

Which is why it's a big strike against the company that the criteria for getting kicked off Amazon is now totally unclear. Wikileaks, for example, is far from a clear cut case; the group is facing heat in Congress and from the State Department, as is Amazon, but no one has been convicted of any crimes in connection with this new data dump, or even formally charged.

Meanwhile, until the internet noticed and got upset, Amazon was content to sell "A Pedophile's Guide." Here's how the company defended that title, before backing down and yanking the e-book:

Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable

Indeed it is. It's also amazing how quickly those high-minded ideals have been discarded, not just for pedophilia books but for actual relevant information about government wrongdoing: Amazon issued the above quoted statement less than a month ago. Now it's busy handling the holiday shopping crush. Don't forget to take advantage of the Free Super Saver Shipping — or the McCarthyite repression, delivered faster than ever before.