Amazon’s Big Gay Meltdown the Work of a Hacker

Monday, April 13, 2009


Picture it: gay-themed romance novels disappear from Amazon’s sales rankings. They were still listed on the site, but did not appear on bestseller lists. Then on Saturday, hundreds more vanished.

Writer Mark Probst asked Amazon for the scoop and he received this answer from an “Ashlyn” in customer service:

“In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude “adult” material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.”

Holy shit. Did Amazon go fundie? Did CEO Jeff Bezos become a dreaded Born Again Christian?

It turns out none of the above. A well-known hacker named Weev came forward and said the whole thing was his prank designed to show and exploit a vulnerability in Amazon’s product-rating system.

Weev says he figured out a way to trick Internet users into automatically flagging products without their knowledge. He also says he hired “third-worlders” to register fake Amazon accounts and flag books. He hasn’t yet offered proof that he carried off the prank as described, but one part checks out: has apparently removed the feature that lets users flag books as “inappropriate.”

This scenario is a far more likely explanation than Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos becoming an antigay censor.

This entry was posted in Amazon, LGBT, News and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Amazon’s Big Gay Meltdown the Work of a Hacker

  1. Gleneagle says:

    I heard this story on Easter Sunday and it didn’t pass the smell test.

    First of all, just simple internet research shows 20% of Amazon’s clientele comes from LGBT buyers so why would Amazon want to destroy nearly a quarter of their customer base? During these grave recessionary times, when retailer after retailer is closing their doors, Amazon wants to retain as many customers as possible.

    This is yet another example when a few screaming Mimi’s become hysterical before all the facts are known.

    Thanks for clarifying the story, Chris.

  2. Brigadoon says:

    I managed to miss the entire fracas because I was in Sedona over the weekend staying with friends. What amazes me is how these stories take flight and all of a sudden, the fence is erected and we’re on one side battling the latest enemy. I never thought of Jeff Bezos as a homophobe. Rick Warren, yes, and Tony Perkins, unquestionably. But not Jeff Bezos.

  3. bradfrmphnx says:

    You guys really read those books? This one is priced at 35 cents. Must have been from the 60’s. When I was about six I used to read hetero books that were similar. For a long time I thought all women wanted to be raped by a platoon of German soldiers. LOL

  4. R.J. says:

    I had “The Hills” going on my Twitter account over this. A lot of authors were upset over this. It wasn’t just LGBT titles that were affected. Even straight erotic romance titles were taken off the search listings.

  5. Conejo1982 says:

    Sounds like Amazon is scrambling for cover.

    This was a total public relations disaster for them and whoever is responsible for the ban of gay books is going to have some sand kicked in their face.

  6. Estacada says:

    Who gave the Amazon customer service rep the text she read from? It’s too detailed and well-prepared to be thought up on the spot.

    Bezos is legendary in the Pacific Northwest. He’s well known and well liked and I have never heard anyone say he is a homophobe.

    If this mess is the work of a hacker, Amazon’s system is seriously compromised.

  7. libhomo says:

    eh: Corporations arejust as capable of censorship as governments, though that doesn’t appear to be an intentional act by Amazon.

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