The Perils of Closed Ecosystems | TechWell

The Perils of Closed Ecosystems

Imagine going out to your car in the morning to discover not only that it won't start, but that there's a note from its manufacturer on the dashboard saying that your vehicle has been deactivated because you've breached your car's conditions of use agreement.

It's a scenario that sounds absurd, to be sure, but it's not all that different from what recently happened to a woman and her Amazon Kindle in Norway. After apparently confusing her with someone who was engaged in wrongdoing, Amazon closed her account, removing her ability to read the three dozen or so eBooks she had purchased.

Thankfully, the woman's account was restored after her story spread far and wide, but this isn't the first time Amazon has surprised customers by cutting off access to a book they thought they had purchased. In 2009, Amazon remotely removed copies of George Orwell's 1984 from users' Kindles after it was discovered the copies had been sold by someone who didn't have the rights to publish them.

This kind of closed ecosystem, where a single entity controls both the hardware platform and what content can go onto it, has far-reaching ramifications for consumers. For instance, you generally can't move your library from one eReader to another—Kindle eBooks only work with Kindles.

Amazon isn't the only company that maintains a closed ecosystem model, and the impact of such a system isn't limited to individual consumers. Through the choke point of the App Store, Apple controls every software application that goes onto iOS devices like the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch—something many developers have discovered the hard way.

Apps are sometimes pulled from the App Store because they are too controversial. They also appear to vanish when they compete too closely with Apple's offerings or when they let owners exercise a little too much control over their devices.

This ability for a manufacturer to exercise unilateral control over its devices carries obvious ramifications for any company or individual considering the purchase of one. It's also a risk that needs to be given serious consideration when a business decides to develop for the platform.

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