Amazon’s sudden homophobia

2009-04-14

in Books and literature, Internet matters, Politics

Bird and ivy

In a rather despicable move, Amazon.com seems to have decided that all texts pertaining to homosexuality are somehow obscene. As a result, they have been removed from sales rankings and lists of best sellers. The top result for a search on the term ‘homosexuality’ now leads to A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality, followed by several other Christian texts offering to ‘cure’ homosexuality. Farther down, there are some books that are positive towards alternative forms of sexuality, including what I have been read is the most banned book in America at the moment: And Tango Makes Three, the true story of two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo in New York who raise a chick together.

Amazon initially claimed that ‘adult’ material had to excluded from “searches and best seller lists.” Obviously, this censorship is deeply inappropriate and Amazon now says it was an error. Until they sort it out, I certainly won’t be buying anything from them.

[Update: 15 April 2009] According to The Globe and Mail, the Amazon rankings have been restored.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

. April 14, 2009 at 9:02 am

‘Glitch’ or Hacker?: Gay Titles Deep-Sixed at Amazon
Authors Cry Foul Over Removal of Gay Book Rankings From Amazon.com Site

By RUSSELL GOLDMAN
April 14, 2009

Amazon.com, the world’s largest online retailer, blamed a computer “glitch” for stripping scores of gay-themed books of their sales ranking, preventing them from appearing on the site’s best seller lists. But a notorious Internet hacker is also claiming to be behind the mysterious happenings at the Web site, which is the top online book seller.

Amazon apologises for ‘ham-fisted’ error that made gay books ‘disappear’

Firm apologises for sales ranking system mistake that hit books dealing with gay themes

Amazon has admitted that “an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloguing error” led to the removal of tens of thousands of adult and gay and lesbian titles from its book charts. Authors and readers bombarded the Seattle-based firm with complaints over the weekend after books – many dealing with gay and lesbian themes, and including novels by EM Forster, Jeanette Winterson and Gore Vidal – disappeared from its ranking system in what appeared to be a botched attempt to make its bestseller lists more family friendly.

Amazon blames book-search glitch on ‘cataloging error’
The disappearance of certain titles quickly led to public uproar. The online retailer says more than 57,000 books were affected, including gay- and lesbian-themed titles.

By David Sarno
April 14, 2009

Amazon.com Inc. on Monday blamed a “cataloging error” for the removal of more than 57,000 titles from its main search function.

The disappearance of books such as “Ellen DeGeneres: A Biography,” “Milk: A Pictorial History of Harvey Milk” and “Greek Homosexuality” this weekend created an uproar among consumers who wondered why works that dealt with sexual orientation were being marginalized.

. April 14, 2009 at 11:31 am

Amazon goes crazy, banishes books with queer content to “adult” purgatory — UPDATED
Posted by Cory Doctorow, April 13, 2009 8:59 AM

(1) Sometime in the middle-distance past–maybe a couple of months ago, maybe a year, it doesn’t matter–somebody decided that it would be a good idea to make sure that works of straight-out pornography (or, for that matter, sex toys) didn’t inadvertently show up as the top result for innocuous search queries. (The many ways that this could happen are left as an exercise for Making Light’s commentariat.) A policy was promulgated that “adult” items would be removed from the sales rankings and thus rendered invisible to general search.

(2) Sometime more recently, an entirely different group of people were given the task of deciding what things for sale on Amazon should be tagged “adult,” but in the journey from one department to another, and from one level of the hierarchy to another, the directive mutated from “let’s discreetly unrank the really raunchy stuff” to “we’d better be careful to put an ‘adult’ tag on anything that could imaginably offend anyone.” Indeed, as Teresa pointed out, it’s entirely possible that someone used a canned list of “adult” titles supplied from outside, something analogous to the lists of URLs sold by “net nanny” outfits, which would account for the newly-unranked status of works like Lady Chatterley’s Lover. (As one net commenter observed, “What is this, 1928?”)

. April 14, 2009 at 11:33 am

Former Amazonian Mike Daisey offers some insight.

“After hearing from people on the inside at Amazon, I am convinced it was in fact, a ‘glitch,'” he says on his Web site. “Well, more like user error–some idiot editing code for one of the many international versions of Amazon mixed up the difference between ‘adult’ and ‘erotic’ and ‘sexuality.’ All the sites are tied together, so editing one affected all for blacklisting, and ta-da, you get the situation.”

According to Daisey’s inside sources, “A guy from Amazon France got confused on how he was editing the site, and mixed up ‘adult,’ which is the term they use for porn, with stuff like ‘erotic’ and ‘sexuality.’ That browse node editor is universal, so by doing that there he affected ALL of Amazon.”

R.K. April 14, 2009 at 11:36 am

It seems more likely that this was an accident than something deliberate.

Actually, it might have positive consequences, overall, since it will lead to increased scrutiny of both Amazon and other booksellers.

. April 14, 2009 at 3:30 pm

Amazon explains cataloging error that banished queer books to “adult” purgatory
By Cory Doctorow on Civlib

This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection.

It has been misreported that the issue was limited to Gay & Lesbian themed titles – in fact, it impacted 57,310 books in a number of broad categories such as Health, Mind & Body, Reproductive & Sexual Medicine, and Erotica. This problem impacted books not just in the United States but globally. It affected not just sales rank but also had the effect of removing the books from Amazon’s main product search.

Many books have now been fixed and we’re in the process of fixing the remainder as quickly as possible, and we intend to implement new measures to make this kind of accident less likely to occur in the future.

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