anghara (anghara) wrote,

Oh, no, Amazon...

The blogosphere is abuzz with the Amazon Agenda. Someone, somewhere, appointed themselves NetNanny and decided to "protect" their "customer base" against oogy oogy things they really ought not to know about. Amazon has since been quoted as saying several things in response to their stripping the ranking - and therefore search visibility - from books with GLBT themes, none of which really hold water. One response apparently really did haul out the "protecting the poor innocent gullible public from themselves" card. Another blamed it all on a "computer glitch" (a damned specific one, if you ask me, since someone pointed out that you COULD get a book on homosexuality if you searched on the term... a how-to book for parents on how to prevent same in their kids... pretty amazing targeted glitch, that...)

Thanks, Amazon. As a member of that public, and one who has spent a considerable amount of money at your website, may I just say that I am a grown-up who is capable of filtering my own searches. If I find something offensive, I am generally not found typing that term into search engines, and I suspect that applies to most normal sane adults. If someone actively goes seeking something they find offensive, well, it's THEIR problem, not yours. And protecting kids - from any material deemed not suitable for them - is, frankly, the responsibility of those children's parents, and not that of a public-access bookstore.

Nobody appointed you net-cop for public morality, Amazon. And the fact that you have now cut a swathe across the board - from luminous writers who happen to be gay like Nicola Griffith to classics in the genre whose only connection to GBLT themes is tenuous at best - and left behind for free oogling anything from bestiality (so long as it's heterosexual, I assume) to collections of centerfold pics of Playmates Past to stuff that typifies political movements which have been the basis for large-scale global wars... well, that's not a glitch by any kind of definition that I know of. It smacks of deliberate action. They also (I haven't looked, but I assume) left up Harry Potter. Hey, Amazon, DUMBLEDORE WAS GAY. The author said so. Strip those books of their rankings forthwith, right now, or stand revealed as an utter hypocrite.

What does it feel like, oh great liberal bastion of Amazon, to have IOWA be more progressive than you are?... Think about that one, do. Think about the image you are projecting here. Also think about the sort of image you would be projecting if you allowed some peon who doesn't happen to believe in the Holocaust to strip the rankings of anything and everything to do with Judaica because of, er, I don't know, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Or someone who thinks that the institution of slavery is just fine and dandy, and strips the rankings of anything that touches on the opposite idea... including such stuff as books by Mark Twain.

It's Easter weekend, and it's entirely possible that someone somewhere was using an opportunity here to push something through that the higher-ups would not have wanted or sanctioned. I will hold that opinion until the first actual business day following this mess, i.e. tomorrow - I would like to give Amazon, as a whole, a chance to deal with the fallout; at the very least, a restitution of the status quo and a seriously abject apology is in order. I will be keeping an eye on Amazon for this. But if I see no signs of life by Wednesday morning - well - Amazon, you will have "protected" at least this member of the public out of your customer pool. I am not precisely the "target audience" for this, but if I know that at least one class of books is being hidden from me because someone else thinks I ought not to know about their existence how do I trust that other classes are not likewise concealed and that my choice of reading matter is not being censored by the place I am buying books from? If I do not trust you to let me choose my own books, Amazon, why would I trust you with my dollars?

Get it right. MAKE it right. Or face the consequences.

There is a report of an explanation and an apology.

" 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." - Drew Herdener, Amazon spokesman

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."

Amazon has not confirmed to me whether Daisey's synopsis is accurate, but it's the only explanation hanging out there as of 3:30 p.m. on Monday.

1. Linking websites in a global mare's-nest, and giving any peon at any one of the sites the ability to write code that would affect the entire ball of wax is a *BAD IDEA*. At the very least have three separate people check any such global code before it is let loose to wreak havoc everywhere. Yes, this will cost more money and more man hours. Live with it.

2. It's still a little disingenuous - the word "adult", meaning, uh, dirty, has been around in English for a while - it doesn't take a Frenchman to mistranslate it in order for things to fall apart this spectacularly. And, despite the Amazon spokesman's words, this *specifically*. Yes, there may have been other books caught in the cross-contamination of the whole issue - but things were tagged selectively, else ALL material on gay themes would have been verboten instantly. Instead, we got certain things surviving the purge, and those screen shots are damning - the ones at the top of the "allowed" reading list are books on how to CURE homosexuality. Whoever "Translated" this did it with aforethought.

3. I'm keeping an eye on Amazon over the next 48 hours or so, specifically on books I know of that have been caught up in the fallout. I don't know how long a comprehensive train wreck like this takes to get back on the rails, and I'm willing to cut some slack (this IS a huge operation) but they need to show me they're fixing it. As. Quickly. As. Possible.

4. Trust is earned. Even with the most charitable of all possible interpretations I suspect that some people will find it hard to restore that trust. And reading the words of the Amazon spokesman in that article... I don't actually find an apology to the authors and publishers for possible damage incurred. All I find is a reference to how embarrassing and ham-fisted the whole thing was, and that they "intend to implement new measures to make this kind of accident less likely to occur in the future" - but that is a reference to them being caught in the act of being ham-fisted, being caught in the act of being embarrassed, and I'd really like to know WHAT measures are being contemplated in order for this kind of "accident" to be "less likely" in the future. No, I don't want proprietary information of any sort - but I would like a few more details. As a public company, Amazon should be able to supply some of those details. It's the price of trust.

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