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Monday, April 13, 2009

Re: Amazon and The Gay Glitch, Amazon (Auto) Responds

Posted by on Mon, Apr 13, 2009 at 9:31 AM

Slog tipper Meg emailed Amazon to voice her displeasure over their de-ranking of gay-themed material (see here and here), and received the following response:


Thanks for contacting us. We recently discovered a glitch in our systems and it's being fixed.

Thanks again for contacting us. We hope to see you again soon.

Please let us know if this e-mail resolved your question:

If yes, click here:
If not, click here:

Please note: this e-mail was sent from an address that cannot accept incoming e-mail.

To contact us about an unrelated issue, please visit the Help section of our web site.

Best regards,

Vijay E.
We're Building Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company

"Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company" better come up with a serious and credible explanation for this "glitch," even if it's embarrassing. They also may want to reconsider the juxtaposition of that tag-line and the part about not accepting incoming email. This email is carefully constructed to end all discussion of the matter, and provides no way to follow-up. How Customer-Centric of them.

I imagine their strategy is to repeat the "glitch" line over and over until they've backed out whatever change was made, and then wait until the issue fades away. It will be very interested to see if this strategy works. I personally will remain seriously offended and increasingly insulted if they fail to provide an actual explanation of this "glitch," not least so I can stop having to put quotes around it.

Was it a "glitch" as in:

We started filtering "adult" titles not realizing our algorithms were weighting gay-themed titles extremely highly (which for some reason is taking days to clear up)?

Or... Our software de-ranks books based on number of complaints submitted through some automated system, and anti-gay forces engaged in a targeted complaint-attack on these titles (which for some reason is taking days to clear up)?

Or... Not a glitch at all but a deliberate decision to placate bigots?

Come on, what was it? Hackers? Terrorists? Locusts? Pirates??!?


Comments (34) RSS

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Mike - So why would Heather Has Two Mommies get tagged with sexuality while a Christian anti-gay book wouldn't?
Posted by bob on April 13, 2009 at 2:26 PM · Report this
Annoying, but there's nothing I can do about it because I didn't shop there to begin with.
Posted by monkey on April 13, 2009 at 12:30 PM · Report this
Hecht is publishing info I sent him. It's sourced from folks I completely trust, and makes sense with how I remember the systems working back in the day.
Posted by Mike Daisey on April 13, 2009 at 12:20 PM · Report this
@30: Is there any chance of getting that complete explanation from you? I used to work as a manager of a taxonomy system for a large online publication, so there's a good chance I'd understand it. Right now it still seems a little implausible/deliberate.
Posted by Jigae on April 13, 2009 at 12:09 PM · Report this
"What I don't understand: Why do they NEED to de-rank any books at all? Why is this system of censorship even in place?"

I don't condone it, but it's there so that when people search for things they don't find porn mixed into their results, unless they are explicitly looking for porn. That's why there are tags, and it is that system that a worker borked while editing.
Posted by Mike Daisey on April 13, 2009 at 11:49 AM · Report this
Do you have any idea how big Amazon's database is?

Do you have any idea how many changes are made hourly to that database?

Do you have any idea how long it takes to find changes when databases are over a few terabytes?

They understand there's a problem, they're fixing it, let's let them be, we don't have to spend money with them until they fix it.
Posted by Chris on April 13, 2009 at 11:25 AM · Report this
What I don't understand: Why do they NEED to de-rank any books at all? Why is this system of censorship even in place?
Posted by Steven Bradford on April 13, 2009 at 11:02 AM · Report this
I blame [redacted] marriage.
Posted by The Amazing Jim on April 13, 2009 at 10:59 AM · Report this
@16: Having years of first-hand experience with the huge, opaque mess that is Amazon, I can totally believe this is what happened. It's a reasonable explanation of how it could happen and it's completely in character for Amazon. Their PR, customer service and account management people have no idea how to explain the "under the hood" stuff and they make weird changes all the time that affect things in a way they didn't intend and then they have to back those changes out of the system - and it does take days.
Posted by Christy O on April 13, 2009 at 10:57 AM · Report this
Taking undeserved credit for a popular irritant is a fun idea. I call dibs on paper cuts.
Posted by TK on April 13, 2009 at 10:56 AM · Report this
The 'we spotted a glitch' line is probably the dumbest part of the whole thing. Would have thought that with her experience and years at Amazon, Patty Smith could have come up with something better. Seriously insulting to everyone's intelligence.
Posted by Gregus on April 13, 2009 at 10:55 AM · Report this
A "glitch" is probably the legal department's suggestion for a situation where they have no idea what the fuck is going on, but they need to provide responses to the thousands of emails pouring in.

The official "this is what happened and this is how we fixed it, our apologies" response is probably going to hit the main page and press releases first, and when it does get passed on to individual responses, it will STILL be a form letter, although hopefully better than the one above.

But definitely keep writing. Even if all the emails get automated responses and aren't read at all, someone's probably counting them. And hopefully that number will affect how the idiot responsible is reprimanded.
Posted by snakes on April 13, 2009 at 10:44 AM · Report this
ah, human error--comedy of errors. check out this book:
i highly recommend it to everyone. it helps to put these things in perspective. available on amazon!

i have a theory that the same impulse that drives us to believe in "intelligent design" is the same impulse that drives us to assume amazon did this deliberately and w/forethought. ha!
Posted by ellarosa on April 13, 2009 at 10:36 AM · Report this
If you want a personal, handcrafted reply to every complaint you make to Amazon, be prepared to pay for it.

Personally, I prefer the low-priced books along with a reasonable automated system.
Posted by seandr on April 13, 2009 at 10:22 AM · Report this

Here's a rebuttal to that post. I don't think weev is responsible for this.…
Posted by sf_dramarian on April 13, 2009 at 10:18 AM · Report this
...there's only [one] book...
Posted by UNPAID COMMENTER on April 13, 2009 at 10:16 AM · Report this
Silly Amazon. Everyone knows you don't need to placate the bigots- there's only book they'd ever consider reading, and even then they have to have it read (not to mention interpreted) for them.
Posted by UNPAID COMMENTER on April 13, 2009 at 10:15 AM · Report this
I blame bacon. And ninjas. and lolcats. And other internet memes.
Posted by Original Monique on April 13, 2009 at 10:15 AM · Report this
After hearing from people on the inside at Amazon, I am convinced it was in fact, a "glitch."

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 this situation.

The CS rep who responded that this was Amazon policy was just confused about what they were talking about, and gave standard boilerplate about porn.

The dumbest part is saying it was a "glitch". A "glitch"? Just say that it was one of your workers making an editing error. Really dumb PR move, that one.

Let me know if you actually want more details on how it went down, but it's pretty boring and technical.

Posted by Mike Daisey on April 13, 2009 at 10:14 AM · Report this
uh, I'm going to go with option #1...Option #3 seems unlikely, considering Amazon, as a company, is gay as a picnic basket...
Posted by michael strangeways on April 13, 2009 at 10:13 AM · Report this
And before we get started pointing fingers, let's just quickly review a definition that comes up here a lot lately:

credulous = "willing to believe or trust too readily, esp. without proper or adequate evidence; gullible"
Posted by Ackham on April 13, 2009 at 10:07 AM · Report this
"oh my god, this is amazing. I can't wait to see all the libtards' reactions when they figure it out"

Yes, the hacker claiming responsibility ALSO has a comments section.
Posted by Ackham on April 13, 2009 at 10:04 AM · Report this
@6 Thanks for that post.

It explains a good deal more than all the other theories.

If a lone hacker sought to demonstrate how knee-jerk reactionary outrage can be so simple to trigger...
well, it worked, I'd say.
Posted by Ackham on April 13, 2009 at 10:02 AM · Report this
@4 Yeah, that's gotta be it. Gays and Pirates, locked in constant struggle for internet supremacy.
Posted by Hernandez on April 13, 2009 at 10:01 AM · Report this
Damn -- there's the lot of wadded panties this fine Monday morning..
Posted by Good Grief on April 13, 2009 at 10:00 AM · Report this
Jesus did break Dan Savage's computer on His holiest day of the year. Coincidence?
Posted by elenchos on April 13, 2009 at 10:00 AM · Report this
I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Posted by kresblamania on April 13, 2009 at 10:00 AM · Report this
As someone who:
* is gay
* is a software developer for 15 years
* has made an inordinate amount of music purchases via Amazon in the past (because I couldn't find it at Easy Street, etc.)

..whom would I best contact to get a personal response to my "WTF is going on?" question to them?

I realize the request might be futile, or asking this here might be futile. But I hope I can be proven wrong.
Posted by mackro mackro on April 13, 2009 at 9:55 AM · Report this
Someone is claiming responsibility, stating it was a joke to stir up 'moral outrage':…

Posted by Dave on April 13, 2009 at 9:53 AM · Report this
I really hope it's the automatic complaint one. That sort of makes sense and doesn't completely piss me off, though they still should have checked it out. But I think it's something more nefarious... hey maybe we should shop in stores for awhile so they don't all go out of business....
Posted by sepiolida on April 13, 2009 at 9:52 AM · Report this
I blame pirates!
Posted by Baconcat on April 13, 2009 at 9:51 AM · Report this
It's possible that some homophobic programmer set it up that way without any approval, at least not from the top.
Posted by Matt from Denver on April 13, 2009 at 9:43 AM · Report this
I'm really glad the media, including THE SLOG, is onto this. This email proves what I usually expect with big corporations (including "customer-centric" ones): A single complaint from a consumer, or even multiple ones, are often ignored, simply because they can be.

I'm offended by this "glitch" and even more offended by their changing rationale (it wasn't originally a glitch, was it?) and attempts like this to dismiss consumer emails.
Posted by Nandor on April 13, 2009 at 9:39 AM · Report this
God work in Mysterious Ways.
Posted by lustschild on April 13, 2009 at 9:36 AM · Report this

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