Lawyer: Okay, I’m sorry, I’m doing it again. It’s going to take some creative logic to tie this to healthcare. But I think I can do it.
Have you been following this story about amazon stripping sales ranks from all kinds of LGBTQ books (including theory, academic studies, and well-known classics that are considered part of the cannon), on the grounds that “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”?
Lots of smart, well-read blogs can give you the background, here, or here, or here. The Advocate College Guide for LGBT Students is stripped, and the Playboy book of centerfolds isn’t. Adult content? I’m not writing here to prove that it’s some kind of statement by Amazon. That’s been done. It’s flagrant. It’s clear.
The problem isn’t that Amazon chooses to exclude certain books from the rankings for adult content. They can do that if they want to. In fact, it might even be a good idea to make it pretty darn hard for a ten-year-old to accidentally get really inappropriate material. The problem is WHICH BOOKS they choose, and how they define that.
What they are claiming is their policy is very different from what they are actually doing. They need to choose a definition for adult content, publicize it, and use it and only it. Their policy should be transparent and honest.
They’re also claiming that they have no choice but to eliminate sales ranks for these titles if they want to keep them off the main page. NOT SO! They wrote the programs that bring them up to begin with, so couldn’t they write something that filters them off the search page later in the process? Couldn’t they do something like what google has, and have a “safe search” feature which users could easily enable or disable, and parents could control? I do not tolerate the “I have no choice” argument. In any context.
Obligatory health care tie-in — all sorts of coming-out guides and safe-sex guides are being excluded. Books on how to make your gay kid straight are allowed to stay. Amazon is such a large force in the book world that their exclusion of certain types of books from a public search might legitimately be depriving people of information they need to make good decisions. Amazon is a good source for this type of information because people can order from it in private and receive packages in the mail that don’t identify the nature of the contents. If I was going to buy something I didn’t want my parents/neighbors/coworkers/ bookstore clerks to see, amazon would be my first stop.
Amazon claims it was a glitch. Mmhmm. Your computers, all by themselves, chose books to exclude, clearly not by just using certain keywords? If you can write a program that produces this sophisticated level of censorship, then you can certainly write one that allows users to decide if they want their search results censored or not, and leaves sales ranks intact but doesn’t display explicit titles in searches.
Stay tuned. Sign the petition.
Update: A novel I recently read — a literary novel, but with some intense lesbian sex scenes — keeps is rank. Under the radar?