THE GIZMO: Call it "punked." Or call it "played." Whatever. The estate of George Orwell really pulled a move on Amazon.com recently - putting the company through a major embarrassment and drawing new attention to the "Big Brother Is Watching You" theme of Orwell's classic novel "1984."

It's gotten me thinking about all the ways we now dance with the devil, courting a loss of privacy in this high-tech age.

KINDLE ON FIRE: Owners of Amazon Kindle electronic book readers recently woke up to discover that their copies of George Orwell's "Animal Farm" and "1984" - along with works by such authors as Ayn Rand and J.K. Rowling - were vanishing from their devices.

Responding to rights-holders' complaints that these works had been sold illegally, the rapid-fire removal was triggered by the same "Whispernet" wireless network technology (powered by Sprint) that Amazon uses to deliver Kindle content.

The bookselling giant has never made a secret of its ability to track and transfer content purchased on a Kindle. In fact, Amazon touts that as an advantage, should users want to share books with family members' devices or reconstruct the library from a lost, damaged or overloaded Kindle.

But the idea that Amazon could take back content without user permission - even under legal duress and with an instant refund to the subscriber's account - has raised a firestorm of protest and dire predictions.

What if a work such as "1984" (or perhaps we should imagine a "2024") was only available via electronic tablet - as some books may be 10 to 15 years from now? In one high-tech book-burning moment, with just the tap of a few computer keys, all copies might be summarily destroyed.

Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos has apologized profusely for the company's ham-fisted overreaction and swears it will never happen again. "Our 'solution' to the problem was stupid, thoughtless and painfully out of line with our principles," he wrote recently in a Kindle support forum post.

But will users forgive and forget? And how will rival eBook sellers respond?

With its tablet reader coming next year (featuring wireless delivery via AT&T), Barnes & Noble already is promising a more liberal book-acquiring experience, including free access to the hundreds of thousands of books now being stockpiled in the Google public domain library.

This Kindle Katastrophe surely has them grinning.

And truth is, this is hardly an isolated case. In the cause of instant information and gratification, high-tech innovation often allows outside forces to control the flow of content and keep track of our moves.

Consider the following, Orwellian thinkers.

MOBILE PHONES: We're lost without them. And we can be traced when using one.

Most mobile phone providers have a signal-triangulating system to pinpoint the exact location of a phone and its user.

That's great for finding a lost soul whose car has broken down on a country road. But in the wrong hands, Senator, your secret getaway with the secretary would be a secret no more . . .

CLOUD COMPUTING: Many pundits think cloud computing is the next big thing, as it allows users to get by with simpler to maintain, lightweight portable computers. The much-buzzed-about Apple Tablet computer and Google's Chrome operating system - both looking like early 2010 arrivals - are all about cloud computing. (So's the iPhone, Twitter and Facebook.)

Instead of carrying around software, documents, treasured pictures and more on your computer, most everything resides on distant servers, to be called up wirelessly and dealt with as needed.

The good news: System updates are automatic and invisible; and it's easy for others to share your documents.

The bad news: It's easier for others to share your documents. And if the mega-system ever crashes or is compromised, it'll be "Good night, Cleveland" (and Dallas and Philly and L.A.).

YOU'VE BEEN TIVO-TIZED: While great at finding and recording fave TV shows, the tracking software built into TiVo DVRs also does some creepy stuff.

Click on a "mature themed" movie, and TiVo might start suggesting cheesy, late-night offerings from Cinesex - er, Cinemax. And did you know, TiVo not only tracks the shows you watch but how you deal with commercials, info it then sells to advertisers?

EASY COME, EASY GO: Comedians used to joke that greasy restaurant food races through a body so fast, "you didn't buy it, you rented it."

That's come to hold true for video and music-on-demand services, too. Twenty-four hours (and not a minute more) after you start viewing a VOD-rented movie, it disappears from your set-top box.

Perish the thought you fell asleep mid-film and can't get back to finish it before the window of opportunity shuts. Like a couple extra days grace period would really kill a multibillion dollar Hollywood studio?

I'm a huge fan of the all-you-can-listen-to Rhapsody music service, which I enjoy on computers and home players from Logitech and Sonos. But I once made the mistake of going on vacation and letting my monthly subscription lapse.

When I re-subscribed, all traces of the treasures I'd previously discovered and ostensibly saved for future listening had vanished from Rhapsody control screens.

My virtual library had burned to the ground.

WATCH WHAT YOU SAY: I put on my 900 MHz Sennheiser wireless headphones the other night to enjoy some late TV viewing without disturbing the sleeping wife.

But there was something a little extra on the sound track: the unmistakable sound of an infant crying, as transmitted by a baby monitor from the house across the street. Good thing the parents weren't in there, too, talking about sex, lies and bank account numbers.

Oh, and this Gizmo guy has also tuned in the occasional cordless phone call on these headphones. Consider yourself warned.

E-mail Jonathan Takiff at