Monday, April 13, 2009


Attention, PR and media hacks and flacks: If you haven't heard of #amazonfail, you're not doing your job.

Nutshell: Over the weekend, for reasons still unclear, Amazon removes LGBT content from its sales rankings. Someone on the internet notices. Crap storm ensues.

More on this later.

For now though, a simple question.

Which is more likely?

A complex algorithm which searches and prioritizes a massive database goes hinky and excludes certain entries or an internet company with no history of discrimination starts discriminating against a certain segment of society with the belief no one on the internet will notice?

UPDATE: Here is an account from an alledged Amazon employee.
Amazon managers found that an employee who happened to work in France had filled out a field incorrectly and more than 50,000 items got flipped over to be flagged as "adult," the source said. (Technically, the flag for adult content was flipped from 'false' to 'true.')
That my friends is a dbase error.


Anonymous said...

An alternative theory proposed here:

viz., it could be a group of coordinated individuals using a public feature of Amazon itself.

The article suggests two types:

1. Some "Family"-type organization astroturfing Amazon in an attempt to rid the world of EVIL PRO-HOMOSEXUAL FILTH!!
2. Some Troll outfit like Bantown

"It's obvious Amazon has some sort of automatic mechanism that marks a book as "adult" after too many people have complained about it.

It's also obvious that there aren't too many people using this feature, as indicated by the easy availability (and search ranking) of pornography and sex toys and other seemingly "objectionable" materials, otherwise almost all of those items would have been flagged by this point.

So somebody is going around and very deliberately flagging only LGBT(QQI)/feminist/survivor content on Amazon until it is unranked and becomes much more difficult to find.

To the outside world, this looks like deliberate censorship on the part of Amazon, since Amazon operates the web application in question."

Amber Rhea said...

Nutshell: Over the weekend, for reasons still unclear, Amazon removes LGBT content from its sales rankings. Someone on the internet notices. Crap storm ensues.

There's a key piece that lots of people reporting on this keep missing: it didn't happen over the weekend. It started back in February. See Probst for starters. Also, Holly, and again.

DaleC said...

If it is ALL GLBT material then I suspect Amazon.

If it is MOST then I sspect activists.

If it is some, I suspect the database algorithm.

Either way, I bet this gets fixed quickly.

griftdrift said...

Yeah. The first indication was in February. But that doesn't belie my feeling that this is a database problem. If there's a database, it's always my primary suspect.

This absolutely feels like a bug.

sansho1 said...

I worked at Amazon from 1999-2001, and unless their mission in re books has changed since then, I also think this had to be a database error.

During my time there, we faced organized campaigns to prevent us from selling Mapplethorpe photography books, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and some other titles. The response was always the same -- our mission was to make everything that was legal to publish and distribute available for purchase, period. We never caved, not once.

Well, there was one exception. The German version of the website did not offer Mein Kampf, as it's not legal to sell there. So some folks in Germany would order it from the American site and have it shipped to Germany. Turns out that was also illegal, so we had to block German shipping addresses for that title.

Now, honestly, does that sound like a company who would pull a stunt like this? Not bloody likely.

sansho1 said...

Double-post (sorry):

Of course, because Mein Kampf isn't legal in Germany, that actually doesn't represent an exception to the policy.

While rankings aren't the same thing as availability, I offer the above as evidence that judgments about content were not, in my experience, a focus of policy at Amazon in any way.

Amber Rhea said...

Yeah. The first indication was in February....via an email to an author in response to his question of why his books had been removed from lists and searches, informing him of policy:

"In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude "adult" material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature."