Amazonfail; The Shitstorm Continues

Today ought to be an interesting day: first I want to see if amazon.com responds at all to the twitterstorm that erupted within the past 24 hours. A nice recap (and warning to anyone considering pissing off consumers in the internet age) is here, but the really interesting stuff comes from Dear Author. They analyze the metadata which allowed the "glitch," and they question how, excatly, this could happen. They also add:

Thus, as a “glitch” it was a remarkably targeted one that seems to support the emails that Mark Probst and Craig Seymour received from Amazon which was gay and lesbian works were deemed “adult” content regardless of actual content. This evidence appears to indicate that it isn’t so much a glitch but a specific policy. The question is then who implemented the policy of marking GLBT books as adult and who knew of the implementation? What kind of supervisory person signed off on it?

Alternatively, you could argue that it was a lazy programmer that decided to filter out all adult content and included GLBT for the heck of it but that doesn’t really address the emails to Probst and Seymour. You could also argue that it was a hacker that went in over the past week and inserted an algorithm that filtered out GLBT/erotic/sex content. Obviously, why the filter was implemented in such a way is a question only Amazon can answer.

I’d also like to point out that this is why newspapers are having a hard time: Check this news search for "amazon." Props to Seattle Post Intelligencer for actually covering the story, but as of right now, mostly what I see is careful, incomplete work (AP) and people bemused by twitter. This is news. This is news we wanted, so we got it from each other. Blogs had it. Twitter had links, and corrections, and updates. The AP had reserve. Maybe if they stopped suing people for using their stuff and actually did news, they’d be relevant.

Queerty has a nice sum-up:

The Inquistor mentions that at least one author was told that the decision was based on policy, not technical error. Even if it’s not, even if, beyond all plausible reality, Amazon’s software just randomly decided to mark a wide swath of gay literature as "adult", including the children’s book Heather Has Two Mommies, the fallout for the company is likely to be intense.

On Twitter, the rage towards the company continues unabated. It’s the number two topic (only outstripped by talk about the Mikeyy worm hitting PC’s) and users have already organized a full-on boycott,reaching over 9,000 signatures so far. The speed at which Twitter was able to take a single blog post by author Craig Seymour and transform it into a national news story shows just how much power the service has in collectively organizing direct political action. And of course, YouTube is now getting in on the act, as you can see from this entertaining call made about the Twilight book series:

7 Comments on “Amazonfail; The Shitstorm Continues

  1. passed this along to Brian
    Just wanted to let you know I emailed Brian and suggested that it be passed along to the Fellowship and the UUA at large. I’m also emailing Amazon, and canceling an order that I had placed for the kids birthdays, and also canceling my regular standing order for diapers.
    This sucks.

  2. Advising caution…
    There’s rising evidence that this “glitch” was actually the work of a hacker exposing the inherent weaknesses of Amazon’s “flag this book as inappropriate” feature.
    http://gawker.com/5210142/why-it-makes-sense-that-a-hackers-behind-amazons-big-gay-outrage
    The entire idea of Amazon adopting such a strident and wide reaching anti-gay policy smells fishy on many levels, and I hope that Amazon doesn’t withstand an enormous negative PR campaign for something that they didn’t do.
    If they did do it, and do it intentionally, then f*ck ’em. But I think we’re still missing large pieces of the puzzle.

    • Re: Advising caution…
      There are MANY hacker claims, all different, and none entirely explaining everything–nothing, for example, explains that authors have been selectively targeted for months and been told when they responded that it was because they were “adult” literature. It also doesn’t explain why you can find butt plugs without any trouble, but no books on gay history unless you know what you’re looking for.
      Largest issue at this point is why there is no apology or any PR move at any kind from amazon.com. Nothing but “there was a glitch.” Even if their very narrow and targeted censorship going on since February was accidental, they don’t seem terribly troubled by it.

      • Re: Advising caution…
        I’m not necessarily subscribing to the hacker claim…not enough evidence yet. But I do find it plausible. Working in the world of data-driven web applications, I also find this claim plausible, that it was an internal “translation error”: http://mikedaisey.com/ and http://www.lilithsaintcrow.com/journal/2009/04/idosyncratic-code-amazonfail/. In fact, both of these claims seem more plausible to me than Amazon enacting a policy to classify a strong seller like Brokeback Mountain as “adult”.
        The blowtorch of rage directed against Amazon all over the internet reminds me a bit of the knee-jerk reaction from righties that Bill O’Reilly was able to spark by claiming that there was a “war against Christmas”.
        Being the eternal skeptic that I am, it seems unlikely that Amazon would take such a step. Not only is it morally wrong and begging for bad PR, but it also makes not a lick of business sense. I don’t mean to be an Amazon apologist, but I do really want to know what’s up before I have to make the very painful decision to only fill my Kindle with free content. 😉
        Amazon does need to fire up their PR engine and tell us what’s up. If it’s a “glitch”, they need to explain the glitch. If it’s a deliberate policy, they need to apologize and swiftly correct it. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this wasn’t intentional.

        • Re: Advising caution…
          The problem with the hacker claim, true or not, is that it does not explain or excuse the real problem of the responses to authors, the fact that this goes as far back as February, or the very long delay in any sort of response.

  3. true
    Very true…Amazon has been sluggish about the weekend’s de-ranking of 60,000 items, although they did admit to an error this afternoon: http://blog.seattlepi.com/amazon/archives/166329.asp
    I don’t know much about their practices back in Feb…but my understanding was that they were small in scope? The both of you probably know more about this than I do.
    I’m only speaking about the mass de-ranking of the weekend. Unfortunate situation for Amazon if this was unintentional. Justifiable (and kind of cool) populist uprising on the Internet if Amazon was being deliberate. I think I’ll just need more proof to be convinced of the latter.

    • Re: true
      I very much doubt it was a deliberate top-down, sweeping, sudden censorship policy. I really, really hope not. I like the bad decisions by coders explanations, but this combined with other things I’ve heard about them in the past makes me very uneasy about their power and influence and their lack of responsibility for having said power.

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