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: Amazon.com 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.