amazonfail

14 04 2009

Early this week, a Twitter-based outburst arose over what appeared to be a systematic effort by Amazon.com to censor gay and lesbian books. The company insists it was a “glitch” or the result of “an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error.” What appears to have happened is that books categorized with the terms gay, lesbian, etc. lost their sales rank data, and would not show up in searches. They were flagged as “adult,” and apparently Amazon.com has a policy of keeping “adult” themed items from showing up in their searches, presumably to protect the children and the self-righteous from being aware of sex.

The articles linked above provide a pretty good overview of the situation – so please check them out to get a better sense of the story than I can provide here.

This isn’t necessarily a naturist issue, but it could become one if they decide that simple nudity is enough to make a book potentially offensive – which is not currently the case. Presumably they’ll be more careful now that they know everyone is watching them.

I’m inclined to give the company the benefit of the doubt, and to assume that it was a careless mistake rather than a corporate decision to prevent certain books from showing up in search results.

Your thoughts?

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2 responses

16 04 2009
All Nudist

Explanations aside, it wouldn’t be surprising for Amazon for segregate books about nudity or sexual orientation from the general catalogue.

Many web providers and blog hosts already do. Just take a look at Youtube or Blogger for a couple of examples. It doesn’t take much to be labled as something not suitable for minors that spend most of their time playing ‘Grand Theft Auto’ and cruising for free porn. God forbid the little tykes should learn about real life.

For the record though, if Amazon wants to list the subjects you mentioned even in in a ‘porn’section, I’ll defend their right to do so.

It is a private business, no one is forced to shop there, the Constitution does not cover private censorship. Don’t like ’em, don’t go there.

Tempest in a teapot. Really, how many kids are going to cruise Amazon looking for books to buy about the Gay lifestyle when they can get it for free on the ‘net? Gimmie a break.

Perhaps they should extend that to books about war, violence, class or ethnic hatred, birth control etc. Hide everything uncomfortable to the average 90 year old virgin.

16 04 2009
local nudist

I think you’ve hit it right on the head, Steve.

I agree with you that they have a right to do what they please. I think this really was a programming mistake. The thing of it is, I don’t object to gay erotica being labeled as “adult,” but it seems ridiculous when a biography of a gay person is also labeled that way. And realistically, it’s not a good business decision to discriminate in that way, because it would drive customers to shop elsewhere, even if only because they are unable to find what they are looking for. For instance, if I am looking for books about this history of gays in cinema, and can’t find it in Amazon’s search, I’ll shop at Powells or Barnes & Noble.

I also agree with your “tempest in a teapot” assessment. I think a lot of people reacted in a knee-jerk fashion and stirred up a bunch of fuss over what was a simple mistake. On the other hand, it did call attention to the problem, and the problem is now resolved. So in that respect, I guess it had the desired outcome.

In fact, one of the biggest objections was that a lot of material that actually would be inappropriate for kids didn’t make the cut, while many that contained no “adult” material (as defined by the “I know it when I see it” rule) were misclassified.

I chalk it up as a mistake and a lesson learned by Amazon to be more attentive to details.

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