Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Amazon defailing

So, after Amazon responds to the reaction to the sudden vanishing of books from its search and sales data, the inquest begins. What was going on?

Everyone seems quite keen to believe that it was down to Weev, because that makes Amazon still seem lovely. The problem, of course, is not just that Weev's code doesn't apparently work (although he responds, understandably, that using it now is going to fail as Amazon have been post-bolted-horse-door-bolting); it's more the philosophical question as to why if he, and his army of "third world" helpers, were targeting Gay and lesbian, bisexual or transgender books, titles like Girl With A One Track Mind or Lady Chatterley's Lover were vanishing, too.

A more plausible explanation for what went wrong has emerged, though: could sexy titles have been lost in translation?

Former Amazonian Mike Daisey offers some insight.

"After hearing from people on the inside at Amazon, I am convinced it was in fact, a 'glitch,'" he says on his Web site. "Well, more like user error--some idiot editing code for one of the many international versions of Amazon mixed up the difference between 'adult' and 'erotic' and 'sexuality.' All the sites are tied together, so editing one affected all for blacklisting, and ta-da, you get the situation."

According to Daisey's inside sources, "A guy from Amazon France got confused on how he was editing the site, and mixed up 'adult,' which is the term they use for porn, with stuff like 'erotic' and 'sexuality.' That browse node editor is universal, so by doing that there he affected ALL of Amazon."

That would be a better explanation of the range of titles which vanished.

After the extreme and rapid Amazon backlash, of course there must be the backlash backlash, with some commentators suggesting that it was unfair to call this an Amazonfail because it might have been hackers exploiting the system. Perhaps - although you'd have to ask if a system that was thus exploited wasn't full of fail in the first place - but certainly, responding to questions from authors who had vanished from search with a tart "yes, that's the policy" email is a PR fail of enormous proportions.

Still, we've all learned something from the tale. Perhaps Amazon might now be working on a better way to keep kids away from porn, without keeping adults away from erotica. Good luck with that, Amazon.