The mega-store removed rankings from titles deemed “adult” — seemingly as part of a sweeping effort to remove erotica. It is unclear what “offending” keywords they used to strip books of their findability but the impacts were extensive. As of tonight many of the rankings have reappeared after massive public response. (Read background here).
But the issue is not resolved. Amazon originally claimed this was a “glitch” in its filtering effort. Today, Feministing.com confirmed that this is untrue, but a result of decentralized tagging for which “no human is responsible.” Regardless, we should keep pressure to find out how Amazon is filtering material, how decisions are made, and what will be done to prevent such “glitches” in intellectual freedom in the future. Let the letter writing continue! Amazon should not get off the hook for this one, and they are not the only major company blocking access to books. Content filtering is an ongoing issue among libraries, bookstores, schools, internet-service-providers, et al.
For Amazon’s contact info see this post from Sunday’s Daily Kos.
UPDATE from Monday 3/13: It’s true that a hacker claimed responsibility. Many are questioning the truth of that explanation as well. No matter the outcome, this incident still illustrates the general need for more transparency among information sellers/providers re: their search functionality and filters. (Last year, the medical database POPLINE blocked all searches for the word “abortion.”)
UPDATE 2: Decent article summing up controversy in New York Times.
For those in the San Jose area, there is a city council meeting on the issue of filtering in the public library next week:
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
7:00 PM to 10:00 PM [Evening session]
Location: Wing Public Rooms Council Chambers
200 E Santa Clara Street
San Jose, CA