Wednesday, April 15, 2009

In Defense of Amazon #AmazonFail

AmazonThe Wall Street Journal reports: Inc. said an internal cataloging glitch inadvertently removed more than 57,000 books from its sales rankings and main search page. [Twitter]

I am an author, though not one whose work would be affected by a "blunder" such as this, even if I was a best-seller. I am also a father, and as a father, I prefer to be able to sit with my children and look at books on Amazon without having to worry about titles that I consider objectionable popping up and my kids asking, "What's that, Daddy?"

What would I consider objectionable? Probably several topics that would cause many to say I'm in favor of censorship. For example, I would prefer that my children not be unexpectedly presented with books about any sexual persuasion, or covering any sexual topic at all. I would prefer my children not be presented with material displaying any form of nude "art," to include even the famed statue of Michael, for example.

Does that make me in favor of censorship? I don't think so. I'm not saying that Amazon shouldn't offer material with such topics to its customers, just that maybe it is material that shouldn't pop up in general searches. Just as I favor a triple-X domain that would protect my children from accidentally stumbling onto objectionable content, I favor systems that would make what I consider objectionable content just a little less likely to pop up when I and my family are looking for books online.

None of these things make the content impossible for those who want it to find it. It is still there, and they can find it if they use the right search techniques. I do not consider it censorship to make something available only to those who want it while at the same time protecting those who don't want it from having to be exposed to it.

I ask you, does it make more sense for someone who is looking for content of an adult nature to have to search for it by adding "Adult" to their search term, for example, or for someone who doesn't want to be exposed to it to have to spend money on filtering devices, etc., or avoid the Internet altogether? We can enable everyone, or just those who suffer from moral bankruptcy. Sorry, that might be harsh, but that's how I feel. If you don't like it, next time you search Google for content, try entering "-Average Joe American" into your search and see if it helps you avoid my content. Or you could just avoid the Internet altogether, which is apparently what I'm expected to do if I want to protect my kids from things that we find objectionable.

Whatever the cause of the recent Amazon "blunder," even if it was completely intentional on Amazon's part, I say "Good on ya" Amazon. It is possible to serve everyone without offending everyone, if those who are so in favor of the further decline of society would just learn not to be offended when the content they want is appropriately categorized to prevent young innocents from being exposed to something that, in my opinion, we have every right to expect them to be protected from.

Your comments?



Becci said...

Dear Joe,
It wasn't that long ago that people found African American authors and interracial relationships to be offensive. To label an entire community as innappropriate is irresponsible. (While straight romance novels were left with sales rankings, gay/lesbian titles were stripped) Hopefully the day will come where you can be adult enough to have frank conversations with your children.
PS~Mein Kampf was left in general searches, how do you explain genecide to your kids?

Someone said...

Hahaha, I'm sorry, you actually browse Amazon with your kids? That's just outright weird.

If you DON'T want to see something, YOU should take the steps to avoid finding it. Really now: what are you searching for on Amazon WITH YOUR KIDS that you'd pull up something offensive to you?

Your reasoning is [expletive deleted].

Isha said...

I disagree with you about your definition of censorship and feel that you do in fact feel that it is not a negative thing. I wish more people would admit to wanting censorship controls in the information stream and then we can simply move the discussion on.
I also am confused as to why you only see this issue as an issue of the availability of material relating to sex or of a pornographic nature. Many books that were removed had nothing to do with sex or porn (or even artsy nudity.) Some were art books and anatomy books. Some were about dealing with the trauma of rape or sexual abuse; some were simply autobiographies categorized under very broad terms simply because the person happened to be gay or played a gay role or their sister is a lesbian and they have a chapter about dealing with it.
That said, I agree with you on your main point and I'm really glad you raised it, most of the #amazonfail blogs have missed it completely; Amazon needs to have better content filtering controls and options like google image search and youtube. (not that those are foolproof).
A user should be able to log in or specifically select an option to view "adult" content. And an author or widget host should be able to select an option to display such content in their web widgets. Amazon needs to give their users the ability to decide what they consider to be adult content. From my understanding of the UI, nothing like that exists. These permissions need to be as fine grained as possible. This is the solution that Amazon will need to present, as well as an apology, rather than its ham fisted attempt to define “adult” content. But, the above solutions do not address the problem of censoring search results from anonymous users who are browsing the catalogue.
I’m also glad you mentioned that you browse the internet and Amazon with your children. More parents should do that and bugger those who comment on it. But, as a parent you should be ready to answer your child’s questions. No matter when or where. You cannot demand that society tiptoe around them simply because you are not in the mood to deal with the wider world. If you take a child to a zoo exhibit and the zebras are rutting, you can’t blame the zoo when your child asks why the zebra suddenly has a really strange fifth leg. You didn’t go to the zoo expecting to answer that type of question but as a parent you’d definitely have to handle it with grace. Such is the life of a parent. ;)

Bart said...

So if heaven forbid your daughter wants to find a book for rape victims, she shouldn't be able to? What about all the books that were blocked that don't have anything to do with sex? A book by Virginia Wolf, which your daughter might have to read eventually? What about all the violent books that weren't blocked? is for people who are 18 and over. If your daughter goes to a bookstore, she is likely to find A LOT of things you probably don't want her to see. It's your responsibility to help her understand what's wrong and what's right and to shield her from things you want to shield her from, not Amazon's.

Veri said...

While I can respect your views on how you want to raise your children, and share some of your concerns about keeping them from topics they may not be ready for. What you seem to be missing in the grand Amazon screw up are the books that didn't involve sex or nudity that got marked as "adult".

For exmaple, whether or not you share the mindset of "Heather has Two Mommies", that book involves no nudity, no sex of any kind, and no content that inappropriate for a child. It is not an adult book, it may not be a book you agree with, but our nation is founded on the idea that you don't have to agree with everyone, but you cannot deny them to right to speak.

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