Earlier Monday I passed along the info that Amazon.com had removed the sales rankings of books in their massive catalog of GLBT subject matter because they were reclassified as “adult” thereby making those books not show up in searches on the subject on their site. In the wake of customer outrage and inquires to Amazon about this new policy, the company responded that the matter was caused by a “glitch” in the system and that the company planned to fix the problem soon. A few hours ago, Pink reader Darcy pointed me to THIS blogpost by a hacker named VEEW who claimed responsibility for the “glitch” which I discounted at first … but the tech blog Gizmodo seems to think that the hacker’s claims may be a valid explanation. Could Amazon‘s site merely have been purposely hacked and that was what caused all of this uproar?
Okay, maybe Amazon is off the hook. The well-known troll Weev is claiming that he’s actually responsible for Amazon’s sudden surge of LGBT prudishness. Which Valleywag says actually makes sense. It’s startingly simple: It doesn’t take very many votes at all to get a product flagged as “inappropriate” and booted off the rankings. He says he created a script that generated a list of product IDs for every gay and lesbian book on Amazon. From there, he just needed a whole bunch of people to flag the books as inappropriate, which wasn’t hard, because simply getting someone to go the URL of a successful flag would count as another one. Using an invisible iframe on popular websites owned by friends and a group of “third-worlders” he hired to register accounts, he generated enough votes to de-list gay and lesbian books en masse. Lending credence to his claims, Valleywag notes that the “flag as inappropriate” feature is currently disabled. Free reign for inappropriate books
If this hacker’s claim is true, then why didn’t Amazon say so in the first place? There are reports that this “new practice” started back in February so why didn’t Amazon detected the hack back then? This hacker’s claim also does not explain why author Mark Probst got an email from Amazon two days ago that his book (a gay western story that features no sexual content at all) had been reclassified as “adult”. On the other hand, if the hacker was smart enough to change the way the Amazon system classified books, the company might not have been aware of the change and automated systems may have just assumed the changes were valid. Trust me, I really want to believe that Amazon is not at fault here but they have THUS FAR been painfully quiet on this whole matter. I am still hoping to hear something from them that concretely explains what the hell is going on … whether it is their fault or not, we need to know that truth. I need to know the truth if I am going to remain one of their customers.
UPDATE: Amazon is now publicly denying that any hacker infiltrated their system and caused the “glitch” that removed the sales ranks from their catalog of GLBT books. In fact, Amazon clarifies that not only GLBT books where stripped of their sales rankings but “57,310 books in a number of broad categories” were effected by an error that they describe as “ham-fisted”. In an email response from Amazon.com that I received Monday evening (after I emailed them my outrage at this development), the company clearly accepted fault and blame for the error — yet they offered no apology. Here is the full text of the email that I received from Amazon.com today:
Thank you for contacting Amazon.com.
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.
Customer Service Department
To say that this relieves me EXPONENTIALLY is an understatement. As I’ve said before, I am a huge fan of Amazon.com and I was totally dismayed by this apparent error. If anything, I’m happy to know that the Internet community was able to seemingly drag the problem into the public consciousness and get the problem “fixed” in a very quick manner. Still, I think that there needs to be a full accounting of what actually happened and what safeguards will be put in place in ensure it never happens again … but I will rest my head happily tonight more confident that this act was an error and that steps are being taken to remedy the problem as soon as possible.
[Source, Source, thanks Darcy]