Travelers Beware: Google Play Might Delete All Your Books (Updated)

Illustration for article titled Travelers Beware: Google Play Might Delete All Your Books (Updated)

It's easy to forget that owning something digitally is way different from owning it for real. And if you do forget, it can bite you in the ass. That's what happened to Jim O'Donnell when he traveled into Singapore and found that Google Play Books app on his iPad had up and deleted all his ebooks.


You see, the Google Play Store doesn't operate in Singapore, Google Play Books aren't available in Singapore, so obviously it's not going to sell to people who are there. But apparently the DRM goes a step further, and can/will actually delete your stuff if it catches you visiting the wrong part of town the world.

O'Donnell explains on a post in the Current Liblicense Archive:

So when I got here, I noticed that several of my iPad apps had updates on offer, so I clicked and approved. One of them was Google Play. When it finished and I went to open the app, it told me that it needed to update my book files and this might take several minutes. Time passed and the screen filled in the covers of the 30 or 40 titles I keep live on the machine. Two of them were books I am actively reading for my teaching this fall.

But all of my books had un-downloaded and needed to be downloaded again. ...It turns out that because I am not in a country where Google Books is an approved enterprise (which encompasses most of the countries on the planet), I cannot download. Local wisdom among the wizards here speculates that the undownloading occurred when the update noted that I was outside the US borders and so intervened.

The helpful update didn't affect O'Donnell's ownership of the books, of course, but he found that outside of Google Play territory, re-downloading was impossible. And all this could have been avoided by refusing the update, but that's a shitty thing to have to know ahead of time.

It's unclear if the Android app behaves the same way, but the Google Play Terms of Service does clearly state:

In certain cases (for example, if Google loses the relevant rights, discontinues a service or a Product is discontinued, breaches applicable terms or the law), Google may remove from your Device or cease providing you with access to certain Products that you have purchased.

Emphasis ours. Also "bleh."

But the moral of the story is that you're buying a license, not a book. And licenses can come with strings attached. Obnoxious strings. [Current Liblicense Archive via Boing Boing]


Update: Google has reached out to use to explain that this is not normal or intended behavior for the Google Books app, but instead the result of a bug. Google Play stores will not allow additional purchases while in territories where they do not operate, but this active removal of content was apparently an isolated issue unrelated to normal Google Books DRM behavior.



And they wonder why people pirate...