Monday, April 13, 2009

Amazon Glitch Roundup

This has certainly turned into the internet obsession of the day, no? I wrote two posts in haste last night and called for a temporary boycott of Amazon.

More news came out today. I am grateful to the intrepid AEJ for doing updates in the comments here; in fact, I think her comments are so useful that they deserve a place in an actual post. I reprint them, in order, here:

This is an interesting wrinkle - a hacker is claiming credit for this whole thing, saying he created an exploit that takes advantage of Amazon's "Mark this as inappropriate" tag. Of course, I'd be happy to hear that this was indeed not something Amazon did itself, so I'm trying not to allow my preference for this to be true to outweigh reasonable skepticism; still, I would say it's plausible. (Both because this type of filtering would be idiotic as a business move, and Amazon isn't usually idiotic, and because there is a whiff of mischief about the whole thing - from the beginning I've thought this had to be the work of an individual, whether within Amazon or not, rather than corporate policy.)

More at Ars Technica.

This will be my last comment - sorry to keep coming back, but I've been really bothered by this so I keep looking for news and I'm just passing along stuff as I hear it... Anyway, there are now conflicting stories - see these two posts on Salon - coming out of Amazon (not surprising, since as others have noted they hardly want to admit either to being hacked or to doing this intentionally) - but the upshot is that there are apparently something close to 58,000 titles affected and they're fixing it now. Whether someone outside actually found a vulnerability and pranked them or someone in France (really? France is our scapegoat?) mistagged stuff or whatever, I think the possibility that this is a corporate policy is vanishingly small. As the Amazon spokesperson put it, "embarrassing and ham-fisted," definitely; the good news is I think it really was a coding debacle rather than a homophobic salvo. So while I'm still irked, as others have noted, that they haven't just apologized to the writers and readers affected, I'm taking some small solace in the current look of things.
Nice work, AEJ. You've convinced me to suspend judgment for a bit, especially as I agree with your suggestion that that the likelihood of this being a corporate policy is "vanishingly small." Of course, I would like to see all of this get fixed within a reasonable amount of time.

Of course, one of the annoying things here is that we are unlikely to get a thorough and accurate explanation of what actually happened--or, at least we are unlikely to get that explanation anytime soon. Until we know for sure, Gawker/Valleywag offers this handy guide to the possible causes. And if you have wondered whether there are ways to analyze this whole debacle using anthropology, allow me to recommend this post by Ted Gideonse. Ted seems to have taken a page from Obama's book, because (as you'll see in his post) he's clearly the coolest head in the room right now.

There is a good lesson from this, though: gays and their allies are finally mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore. We're coming for you next, Mormons!

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Anonymous said...

I am having a double binding with this question. If, in one hand, it's really revolting that they censorship mechanisms (if they actually do), in other hand, My knowledge of the great queer theory authors was given by amazon and they're costumers lists.

I live I Portugal were the academic Queer Theory or even gender studies knowledge is incipient or none.

I supported my thesis in my last Master on Judith Butler's work on pornography. It was quite difficult to have my teachers accepting her as a valid and serious thinker and you cannot find any of her works (or even Eve's) in libraries, let alone the public ones.

So, I got all my books from amazon and I'm thinking on getting two of the ones you cited that I didn't had the knowledge of. What's your advice: do I get it from Amazon or do I rather purchase them in Barnes & Nobles?

Jill said...

I'm with you, Fosco! Where's my torch?!

FOSCO said...

@Fabulastic: I am now pretty well convinced that Amazon made an honest mistake here (or was hacked), so it should be safe to purchase from them.

I didn't realize that Queer Theory had not made it to Portugal yet! That must be very difficult. I'm glad you did work on Butler, though. She is so mainstream in academia in the US now, so it's very surprising to hear that your professors wouldn't take her seriously.

If you ever want to talk more about queer theory or get some book recommendations, feel free to email me: foscolives |at|

@Jill: I'm thrilled! I'll get my pitchfork!