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Amazon Culls "Offensive" Books From Search System 470

Posted by timothy
from the streisand-effect dept.
Miracle Jones writes "Amazon has instituted an overnight policy that removes books that may be deemed offensive from their search system, despite the sales rank of the book and also irrespective of any complaints. Bloggers such as Ed Champion are calling for a 'link and book boycott,' asking people to remove links to Amazon from their web pages and stop buying books from them until the policy is reversed. Will this be bad business for Amazon, or will their new policies keep them out of trouble as they continue to grow and replace bookstores?"
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Amazon Culls "Offensive" Books From Search System

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  • Cry me a river (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 12, 2009 @07:06PM (#27551689)

    It's a corporate website that can do anything within the law. FTA;

    Evidently, Amazon's starting to stick their "adult" shit in a virtual back room behind a virtual curtain, and his book got fingered in the first wave.

    But the books are still available even. It's just that Amazon decided to cordon off adult material into a different section, like many brick and mortar stores. This article should have never been on Slashdot in the first place.

    • Re:Cry me a river (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @07:35PM (#27551887) Journal
      Ok, this comment comes up every. single. time. Can we please put it to rest?

      Yes, Amazon is a business that can do whatever it likes with its website. That doesn't mean that anything it does is immune to criticism, or must be agreed with.

      What is it with the "well, $ACTION is legal, so shut up." line of thinking? Sure, if somebody proposes that the Ministry of Fairness, Niceness, and Free Ponies at Taxpayer Expense be called in to save the day, than it is an appropriate response. So long as it is people drawing attention to the issue, and suggesting that others make their displeasure known, it is nothing more than a non-sequitor with a veneer of plausibility.
      • by db32 (862117) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @07:49PM (#27551967) Journal
        Uhm...do you have the contact information for the Ministry of Fairness, Niceness, and Free Ponies at Taxpayer Expense? I would like a free pony.
      • Re:Cry me a river (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Old97 (1341297) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @08:00PM (#27552039)
        I agree that though it's Amazon's right to sell or not sell what they want it's also our right to boycott and/or otherwise protest their policy. Nevertheless, it isn't censorship on Amazon's part. Amazon is not a government or other authority or monopoly so we are still free to shop elsewhere and many will. I think it's the people carelessly tossing about inflammatory and inaccurate terms like "censorship" that these folks who annoy you are responding to. Remember, the people who are "offended" are also calling for boycotts and issuing condemnations against retailers who dare to sell things they don't like. That's is there right too. So Amazon has to make a choice as to which group they will choose to offend by not offending the other. The sensitive people who are easily upset by some reading material apparently are better at maintaining a stink and a boycott that we more thick-skinned folks.
        • Re:Cry me a river (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Fulcrum of Evil (560260) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @08:33PM (#27552219)

          Nevertheless, it isn't censorship on Amazon's part. Amazon is not a government or other authority or monopoly so we are still free to shop elsewhere and many will.

          It is still censorship, just of their search results. I don't know why it is people think only the gub can censor things.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Miseph (979059)

            If they chose, as a business, simply not to sell it, would that be censorship? If so, every bookstore that doesn't carry everything ever written is engaging in censorship. Does this seem rational to you?

            Sorry, but here in the real world, we have to take into consideration that sometimes not everything is appropriate for everyone to see, and being responsible people we make sure that there are proper safeguards to make sure everything works out properly. It's not evil, it's not censorship, and it's DEFINITEL

            • Re:Cry me a river (Score:5, Insightful)

              by fugue (4373) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @10:29PM (#27552885) Homepage

              If they chose, as a business, simply not to sell it, would that be censorship? If so, every bookstore that doesn't carry everything ever written is engaging in censorship.

              Sort of, but there are other issues, such as striving to meet demand without overburdening the warehouse.

              Sorry, but here in the real world, we have to take into consideration that sometimes not everything is appropriate for everyone to see, and being responsible people we make sure that there are proper safeguards to make sure everything works out properly.

              Sorry, who is supposed to take this into consideration? The largest bookstore on the planet skews search results towards an approved reading list--and most people will never know--and you're not even a little worried? Amazon doesn't need the aforementioned warehouse (the fact that they have one for their more popular stuff is moot). But when a corporation hides material that some random group has deemed "offensive", I do not find it obvious that everything is OK. We progress by reading and evaluating the opinions of others, not by sticking our heads in the sand. This seems to be Amazon's tacit endorsement of the head-in-sand approach to acquiring knowledge. Not exactly censorship in the strictest sense, but not obviously "not outrageous" either. If there is material that is not appropriate for me to see, do you really think that Amazon is well-equipped to make that decision for me?

              • Re:Cry me a river (Score:4, Insightful)

                by mopower70 (250015) on Monday April 13, 2009 @08:34AM (#27555677) Homepage

                Sorry, who is supposed to take this into consideration? The largest bookstore on the planet skews search results towards an approved reading list--and most people will never know--and you're not even a little worried?

                Skews WHAT search results? Sales rankings? I search for Nabokov's "Lolita" and it shows up just fine. They're not hiding it. They're not preventing me from buying it. What makes you think you have a RIGHT to see their sales rankings information anyway? Get off your overinflated high-horse of entitlement and just take your business somewhere else if it bothers you. But don't try to pretend your rights have been trampled just because someone else's business changes what and how much information they choose to share with you.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by nametaken (610866)

            Yes people, it's censorship. You've just been conditioned to think that's a naughty word.

            I think we can agree that censorship of your political speech is bad.

            I think we can also agree that censoring your language around children isn't necessarily bad.

            Now if a company decides they don't want their adult products to show up in search results, is that bad?

            Anyway... that's the discussion at hand. Should people boycott Amazon because they hid their adult materials? Did they do a bad job of selecting what mate

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ivan256 (17499)

        Ok, sure. It shouldn't be immune to criticism, but to call it censorship is a lie.

        censorship
        n 1: counterintelligence achieved by banning or deleting any
        information of value to the enemy [syn: {censoring},
        {censorship}, {security review}]
        2: deleting parts of publication

        • by TubeSteak (669689)

          They didn't delete anything.

          They deleted books from the Amazon rankings.
          RTFA and please try again.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by pcolaman (1208838)

            They didn't delete anything.

            They deleted books from the Amazon rankings. RTFA and please try again.

            They didn't censor the books, just removed them from the rankings. Since when do the authors have any ownership over the book rankings? Unless an author has a contract with Amazon that says that Amazon is required to have them in the book rankings, I see no problem here. If they do, that's another story. Last I checked they (they == the book rankings) belonged to Amazon and Amazon can do with the rankings (including getting rid of them outright) if they so desire. Maybe you should take your own advice.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Xaoswolf (524554)
          2: deleting parts of publications or correspondence or theatrical performances [syn: {censoring}, {censorship}]

          One could say that their best sellers list is a publication. It's not a publication in the traditional sense since it appears online. But other best seller lists have appeared in magazines and the like as well. As they are deleting items from the list, one could indeed view this as a form of censorship.

        • Re:Cry me a river (Score:4, Insightful)

          by logicnazi (169418) <logicnaziNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday April 12, 2009 @11:35PM (#27553221) Homepage

          No it's not censorship but people use that word since it's the closest concept that we can readily name.

          If CNN decided to only run stories about corruption allegatons against democrats that also wouldn't be censorship but yet in such a case we clearly should boycott CNN for abandoning journalistic integrity. There is an implicit expectation the news organizations stay objective and clearly delineate editorial material and we patronize a news outlet partially because we think they maintain this trust. When a news organization fails to do that we rightly feel ill served, even deceived and reasonably choose to and encourage others to patronize other news outlets.

          The situation with bookstores, particularly online, is much the same. While there isn't a code of bookstore ethics analogous to journalistic ethics we have a similar expectation of being told when information is being deliberately hidden from us. So similarly if one cares about this kind of transparency it's reasonable to encourage people to only use stores that live up to this.

           

        • by AK Marc (707885)
          They didn't delete anything.

          They deleted their own search results based on "morality."
      • by smchris (464899) on Monday April 13, 2009 @06:38AM (#27554767)

        But it's _sex_ for gosh sakes. Censoring sex is as American as apple pie and unprovoked wars of aggression.

    • Re:Cry me a river (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Adrian Lopez (2615) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @08:49PM (#27552325) Homepage

      It's a corporate website that can do anything within the law.

      That's why the blogger is calling for a boycott, rather than a lawsuit.

    • Re:Cry me a river (Score:4, Insightful)

      by laughingcoyote (762272) <barghesthowl@nOspaM.excite.com> on Sunday April 12, 2009 @10:34PM (#27552909) Journal

      Amazon can certainly choose to do this. No one is arguing that this is not within their rights.

      On the other hand, it's my right to choose not to purchase from them because they do it, and to buy from booksellers who do not censor based on content. And that's a choice I intend to make. From the comments I've seen thus far on the issue, here and elsewhere, I also don't believe I'm the only one. When I want a book on a subject, I want to see every book available and decide for myself what I wish to read. I'm quite capable of deciding that for myself, and don't need or want Amazon or anyone's "help" in keeping "offensive" material hidden.

      Just because what a company is doing is legal doesn't mean it's the right choice, or that their customers will tolerate it. Amazon would also be perfectly well within the law to triple all their prices, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't lose business from it.

      And it's certainly legal for anyone who wishes to bring attention to the practice.

    • Re:Cry me a river (Score:5, Informative)

      by radio4fan (304271) on Monday April 13, 2009 @02:07AM (#27553755)

      Evidently, Amazon's starting to stick their "adult" shit in a virtual back room behind a virtual curtain, and his book got fingered in the first wave.

      But the books are still available even. It's just that Amazon decided to cordon off adult material into a different section, like many brick and mortar stores. This article should have never been on Slashdot in the first place.

      No, you are missing the point (not difficult from the somewhat hysterical FA and inaccurate summary).

      Amazon have not stripped sales rankings from adult books, they have stripped ranking from gay and lesbian books.

      So 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly' which has been mistakenly added to the 'Gay and Lesbian' section has no ranking, but 'Naked Lunch' is not is in the 'Gay and Lesbian' section (despite its content being both 'adult' and in many places 'gay'), so gets a ranking.

      'Heather has two Mommies' is a children's book, and has no ranking. Whether or not you agree that this book is offensive, you must agree that it is not an 'adult' book.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by sesshomaru (173381)

      It's just that Amazon decided to cordon off adult material into a different section, like many brick and mortar stores.

      Search results for Books: Sleeping Beauty [amazon.com]. Well, they aren't doing a very good job with that.

    • Re:Cry me a river (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Civil_Disobedient (261825) on Monday April 13, 2009 @08:50AM (#27555819)

      It's just that Amazon decided to cordon off adult material into a different section

      Except that it's not adult material they decided to censor. It's any book that's pro-gay rights. That's why books like The Advocate College Guide for LGBT Students and Who's Who in Gay and Lesbian History were removed while "real" adult stuff like Playboy titles went unscathed.

      Unless you're one of those nuts that's paranoid about the "Homosexual Agenda".

  • I removed all Amazon affiliate links from my sites some time ago for unrelated reasons: extremely low CTR (even on highly relevant articles), "funny" reporting on their stats system that didn't jive with my internally monitored figures, and crappy support.

    This gives me yet another reason to steer people away from their programs.
    • by TubeSteak (669689) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @07:26PM (#27551815) Journal

      I removed all Amazon affiliate links from my sites some time ago for unrelated reasons: extremely low CTR (even on highly relevant articles), "funny" reporting on their stats system that didn't jive with my internally monitored figures, and crappy support.

      Those reasons might inflame nerds and business people, but even semi-censoring sex is something guaranteed to inflame vast swaths of society.

      As always, the best way to effect change is through directed complaints to the company and more importantly, to Amazon's advertisers and partners.

    • by qengho (54305) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @09:03PM (#27552421)
      Yeah, I gave up on Amazon when it started throwing its weight around in the print-on-demand arena [booklocker.com]. It's become as big a market-distorting force as Wal-mart, and I don't feel like supporting them anymore.
      • by eck011219 (851729) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @11:37PM (#27553231)

        MOD PARENT UP, please!

        I work every day with self-publishing authors, and Amazon's recent policies have completely blown away the concept that you could spend your money, get your books, sell your books, and make your millions. Now your MANUFACTURING PROCESS, not only your book itself, has to be approved by (and provided by) Amazon to be considered valid. Now you have to use Amazon's self-publishing arm (BookSurge) if you want your self-published book to be listed on Amazon. That's wrong on the surface, but when you dig deeper you find that they provide crappy product at prohibitive pricing, too.

        Amazon can do what it wants, I suppose, but it's screwing a lot of earnest authors who are trying to make a name for themselves and haven't, for whatever reason, been able to sell their book to a royalty publisher. As I understand it, the "Chicken Soup For the Soul" series started as a self-published book -- say what you will about it, but it certainly spoke to a lot of people. That series would have never gotten off the ground under the current situation -- Amazon has taken control of the online bookselling world, and you are required to use their crappy services to produce your book if you want to sell it there. I'm sure this doesn't legally constitute a monopoly, but it's sure bad behavior given what Amazon used to say it was.

        Personally, I think Amazon has lost sight of what it started out to be -- a community of book lovers. (I'm not just making this up -- I was at a Jeff Bezos keynote where he said this very thing.) Again, they can do what they please, but I was done spending money there when they began to discriminate against non-Amazon self-publishing authors.

        • by Jesus_666 (702802) on Monday April 13, 2009 @06:58AM (#27554861)

          Personally, I think Amazon has lost sight of what it started out to be -- a community of book lovers.

          What it started out to be is irrelevant. Important is what it is now: A publicly-traded company. Thus, any love for books or decency takes the back seat to the one rule, which would supersede even God himself: Increase shareholder value for the next quarter. It doesn't matter if you ruin entire industries doing it, shareholder value absolutely, positively has to increase.

  • Smell's coming from under that bridge there. Can't quite place it...

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by larry bagina (561269)
      Probably just cowboy neil. I gave him some soap and deodorant for his birthday but he didn't get the hint.
  • Didn't block for me? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by olddoc (152678) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @07:08PM (#27551719)

    I used a fresh browser session so I waasn't logged in and I searched for Brokeback Mountain and the Filly and found them both.
    Did they change policy?

  • Consistency (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gmuslera (3436) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @07:08PM (#27551723) Homepage Journal
    What they have the books in the 1st place if they dont plan to sell them or at least being locatables?

    If some search results requires i.e. over certain age to see them, so be it, but not for every user.
  • by tftp (111690)

    Amazon has no obligation to advertise (or even sell) books that the company considers detrimental to their business. It may be that they will eventually limit themselves to politically correct generic choices that offend no one - but again it's up to them to decide.

    This will only create more business opportunities for other people to sell what Amazon doesn't. The barrier of entry into book selling online is very low. Everyone who whines and screams right now should be registering domains and dusting their

    • Amazon has no obligation to advertise (or even sell) books that the company considers detrimental to their business.

      You're absolutely right. That said, their affiliates have no obligation to continue promoting their products if they disagree with Amazon's practices. I won't sell their stuff.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by davidgay (569650)
      Amazon has no obligation to advertise (or even sell) books that the company considers detrimental to their business. It may be that they will eventually limit themselves to politically correct generic choices that offend no one - but again it's up to them to decide.

      I just hate this mindset, which is rather common here: "Why are you complaining? They're perfectly within their rights to do that!" The rebuttal is trivial: We're perfectly within our rights to rebuke them/boycott them/etc if we don't like thei

    • They have no obligation to let Amazon make changes they dislike and not complain about them. It may be that they could buy from somewhere else that doesn't pull such bullshit instead of (or in addition to) complaining; but again, it's up to them to decide.

    • by crossmr (957846)

      They very well may if they have any kind of contract with the publisher of the book regarding its promotion or expected visibility.

    • by glwtta (532858)
      It may be that they will eventually limit themselves to politically correct generic choices that offend no one - but again it's up to them to decide.

      And it's up to their customers to let them know when they make bullshit decisions - what's your point? It's not like anyone is suggesting that they be forced to advertise or sell books they don't want to.
    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      No shit sherlock, that's why people try to organize a boycott rather than taking them to court.

    • by Man On Pink Corner (1089867) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @08:06PM (#27552075)

      This will only create more business opportunities for other people to sell what Amazon doesn't. The barrier of entry into book selling online is very low. Everyone who whines and screams right now should be registering domains and dusting their LAMPs off.

      Damn straight. This is America. We don't have an oppressive government, right? When one major corporate vendor drops you, you just pick yourself up by your own bootstraps and start a new store yourself. "Find a need and fill it," as Henry Ford and Ron Jeremy would no doubt agree.

      So I'll just crank up my Linux/Apache skills and launch a storefront for erotica and other adult content, just like you're saying. Never mind Amazon Payments, I'll accept PayPal instead, and... wait, what [zdnet.co.uk]?

      You mean that any sufficiently-entrenched oligopoly is indistinguishable from an oppressive government?

      Who would'a thunk it?

    • by kimvette (919543)

      Likewise, their affiliates and ultimately their customers can voice their opinion and follow up by voting with their wallets, as they are free to do so. Amazon can respond by catering to customer preferences or they can go the way of the dodo.

  • by Gailin (138488) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @07:20PM (#27551781) Homepage
    One item that I find very offensive is that Amazon is classifying GLBT material as adult, while not designating similar heterosexual titles as such.

    They are a private company and are free to classify items how they wish. Similarly, I can choose where to spend my money. I'll spend my money with a company that celebrates diversity. Not one that is so blatantly prejudicial.

    Citations:
    http://community.livejournal.com/meta_writer/11992.html (contains growing list of books) [livejournal.com]
    http://markprobst.livejournal.com/15293.html (screen caps and more info) [livejournal.com]
    • by Gailin (138488)
      Hmm, I thought the linked article was a different one I read this AM. Sorry for the duplicate comment and links to the article.
  • Powells.com (Score:5, Insightful)

    by narrowhouse (1949) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @07:23PM (#27551797) Homepage

    They are everything Amazon is not, privately owned, good to their employees, socially responsible even when it doesn't show up in the press. They even have some brick and mortar locations (Portland OR, and Chicago). And the toll free phone number to contact then is on the front of the web page instead of being something you can only find in a 3rd party blog around Christmas time.
    Are they perfect? No. Are they small enough to care what even one or two percent of their customers think? YES. When corporations get too big they get arrogant, it is in your interests to not let companies you like feel as if they can ignore you. Punish bad behavior with vocal and public criticism.

    And to all those who say they are just creating an adult section, ask your self why children's books that try to discuss homosexuality delicately are delisted, but racy explicit romances is not.

    • They are everything Amazon is not, privately owned, good to their employees, socially responsible even when it doesn't show up in the press. They even have some brick and mortar locations (Portland OR, and Chicago).

      While I am a big Powell's fan and visit whenever I am in either city; the Chicago and Portland stores are not owned by the same people. They were started by the same family, however.

    • Oregonians 3 Powell's.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by fermion (181285)
      While I agree with you, Powells and Amazon have one thing in common. The are mega book outets that tend to put smaller, more service oriented outlets out out of business. Powells has the other negative impact of encouraging people to travel to their brick and mortar store rather than just visiting their local independent book store, which probably has no other employees than the owners who just love books.

      And amazon has one big advantage over Powells. Those stores that Powells would likely be happy to

  • Shades of Abunga? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @07:31PM (#27551859) Homepage
    Abunga http://abunga.com/ [abunga.com] was a "family friendly" alternative to Amazon. Abunga was similar to Amazon but people could vote on books being family unfriendly. If a book received enough votes it was removed from the website. Abunga failed miserably. It isn't clear to me why, given Abunga's failure, Amazon would do this. Censorship on the internet even when you have a right to engage in the censorship (as Amazon does as a non-government organization) frequently pisses off far more people than you make happy.
  • The source of this article is not exactly a main line news source. Can anyone corroborate this?
  • 'The Bonfire of the Vanities'?
    'Atlas Shrugged'?
    The collective works of Jacqueline Susann?
    After all, this isn't 19th Century Boston.
  • What's he whining about? His book has a rank of 6,811 in the electronic (Kindle) edition, which is quite good for a niche book. It's at the top of "Any Category > Books > Gay & Lesbian > Literature & Fiction > Fiction > Romance > Gay". Amazon published the author's note promoting his web site, his YouTube video, and a bunch of other links.

    If there's a problem here, it's that Amazon seems to be heavily favoring the on-line Kindle editions.

  • by fadir (522518) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @07:57PM (#27552015)

    When Facebook started to delete pictures of breastfeeding moms as "offensive" there was the same outcry - and a few months later no one really cares anymore.

    I bet Amazon is playing the same card. They know very well that people will complain but they also know that people forget faster than a fly.

  • Amazon is not required to respect human rights (particularly free speech) beyond a _very_ limited set of Equal-Employment and anti-racial consumer credit & service laws. The right of free speech can be claimed only against governmental authorities.

    Amazon most particularly is not required to stock any books that it does not want to, for any reason or no reason whatsoever. Nor report any sales to the general public.

    What Amazon has done is make a business decision that it preferred annoying GLBT peop

  • Seems to be USA only (Score:4, Informative)

    by digitig (1056110) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @08:09PM (#27552095)
    I've just compared the listing for Brokeback Mountain on the US Amazon site [amazon.com] with that on the UK Amazon site [amazon.co.uk]. I can't see a sales rank on the US version, but there's one on the UK version.
  • by dtaciuch (229229) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @08:22PM (#27552165) Homepage
    Andrew Sulliva;s Virtually Normal has been delisted: http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2009/04/amazon-delists-gay-books-as-adult.html [theatlantic.com] Sullivan's post may be misleadingly titled: is Virtually Normal, (a non-fiction book about gay rights, from a conservative perspective) a "gay-themed" book? Or is it just that its politics is likely to make someone uncomfortable?
  • by jhage (9442) on Sunday April 12, 2009 @08:32PM (#27552207)

    Do a search on 'homosexuality' on the main page of Amazon now. If that's a genuine search result, Amazon has issues above and beyond just delisting books.

  • Few quotes (Score:4, Informative)

    by Kynde (324134) <kynde@noSpam.iki.fi> on Monday April 13, 2009 @03:16AM (#27553983)

    Removed material include:
    Annie Proulx's Brokeback mountain.

    Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness.
    (the only "sex scene" in The Well of Loneliness consists in its entirety of the words "And that night they were not divided.")

    Alex Beecroft: False Colours, m/m historical romance, just broken through and ranking in top 10 historical novels-- i.e. non-romance, non-gay-- and then it suddenly disappeared entirely from the rankings. The novel is NOT erotica, contains only one non-explicit sex scene, but the central premise features two male characters falling in love.

    Geez...

    more: http://community.livejournal.com/meta_writer/11992.html [livejournal.com]

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