April 13th, 2009

Flag and Gavel

A Concern About Amazon.Com

Social media discovered this weekend that Amazon.com has de-ranked ALL gay-positive books such as Giovanni's Room while allowing anti-gay books to retain their rankings.  Amazon's claim is that they are de-ranking all books with adult material, and their handling of gay-themed books is simply part of the automated process.

However, Amazon's claim is thin given the list of gay books de-ranked and non-gay books left with ranks.  (More from original blogger Mark Probst.)

Twitter was the big booster in raising awareness of this policy. (See current info on Twitter.)

I've sent this open letter to Amazon (sent to ecr@amazon.com, reportedly their executive customer response address):

Dear Amazon,

I am a long-time client and advocate of Amazon.com.  I am completely floored by the reports on how your rankings have systematically removed all gay-positive works from your rankings. 

If the software algorithm had removed all things related to "homosexual" words, I could understand it was a glitch. But leaving an anti-gay A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality while removing Heather has Two Mommies? THAT needs explanation. 

What software "glitch" is going to do this selective de-ranking?  Or, as the post I read this morning asks, "Did Amazon invent the first homophobic computer?"

Galen Workman

Amazon Board of Directors:
Thomas O. Ryder (914) 244-5782
William Gordon (650) 233-2750
Myrtle Potter (650) 225-1000
Alain Monie (206) 266-1000
L. John Doerr (650) 233-2750
Tom Alberg (206) 674-3000
Patricia Stonesifer (206) 709-3140

Flag and Gavel

Amazon's Has Greased Up Its Sword... to Fall on It?

This message is more appropriate falling-on-sword in tone.

Don't know who it's from, though. Should I?

I haven't been online to see what I'm supposed to think. FWIT, here's the raw data (and please note the final tag line -- this is April 13th not 1st, right?):

-----Original Message-----
From: Amazon.com Customer Service [mailto:cust.service03@amazon.com]
Sent: Monday, April 13, 2009 4:41 PM
To: galen@ozdachs.biz
Subject: Your Amazon.com Inquiry


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.

Thanks for contacting us. We hope to see you again soon.

Best regards,

Neeraj kumar singh
We're Building Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company

Galen 2013

Amazon: I am not sure all the facts are out yet.

I am not a conspiracy theory buff, in general. However, the lack of clarity in Amazon's response is bad.

At the very least Amazon deserves the negative #amazonfail attention for their terrible PR response.

Where are their lead executives explaining what happened?  The confession press conference was s.o.p., because it works! 

I am not sure all the facts are out yet.

My programming background makes me wonder.  I just don't get the feeling that Amazon's explanation is complete.  What was the algorithm that caused the problem?  Will Amazon share on the words that snagged Heather Has Two Mommies but left a Parent's Guide to Preventing Homosexuality with a ranking?

Amazon has a shifting-sand problem with their explanation. And, where are the senior executives doing the mandatory (and effective) tell-all press conference?

There are many people at Amazon who are not doing a very good job.