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Friday, 30 March 2018

Amazon and the Prudish Algorithm: Amazon Erotica Book Ban

Amazon have placed a shadow ban on erotica titles including the best-selling Fifty Shades of Grey series. This means that although the titles are still available in the Kindle stores they will be all but invisible. Basically they may as well not be in the store at all.

It difficult to see what Amazon are doing here, but it certainly seems a strange move for the company who did more than most to popularise eBooks and self publishing.  Maybe the reason is, as I suspect, they have been affected by the bizarre new  US FOSTA bill becoming law. This bill is ostensibly intended to fight sex trafficking, but it has already had unexpected and quite crazy effects such as Micrsoft enacting a strict PG content policy in Office 365, Skype, and Xbox Live. Reddit has also removed several forums, and Craigslist has removed its entire personals section.

Craigslist recently made a statement that went - 

 Fosta seeks “to subject websites to criminal and civil liability when third parties (users) misuse online personals unlawfully”. If any sex work happens on their site, Craigslist itself could be sued.

We can’t take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking Craigslist personals offline,” the ever simple internet billboard wrote. “Hopefully we can bring them back some day. To the millions of spouses, partners, and couples who met through Craigslist, we wish you every happiness!

There have been have been numerous reports on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere that Amazon has adopted a new policy where some romance titles, most notably those titles that Amazon has identified as erotica, have been removed from the Kindle Store best-seller list.In other words, the eBooks are still being sold, they are just not showing up in rankings and have lost the algorithmic benefit of their previous sales rank.

Amazon who apparently can't tell the Bronte sisters apart, have decided to ban (or remove the visibility) of books it decides contain erotica. Apparently thousands of books, mainly those categorized as Gay & Lesbian and Erotica, were suddenly hidden, - their sales ranks were unavailable. Within hours of this, Bloggers were in a frenzy, Amazon was dealing with hundreds of angry eMails, and petitions against Amazon started showing up on the web. 

Some people are furious and one Twitter user called Amazon, Nazis with their book ban. Amazon are no strangers to tackling erotica and back in 2015 the company made the bizarre decision to ban dinosaur porn. 

Matthew Prince, CEO of cloud services provider CloudFlare, commented in 2015 that his concerns around internet censorship were shaped by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' decision to ban dinosaur erotica from the platform. 'I worry about Jeff Bezos' bizarre obsession with dinosaur sex,' Prince told ZDNet.   'You can make a rational argument that if you're writing books fantasizing about having sex with animals or children, maybe that promotes a certain kind of deviant behaviour. But there's no risk of someone abusing a dinosaur.'

At the time the Dino Porn ban worried the then British Prime Minister, David Cameron who has a well known fetish for making whoopy with farmyard pigs, that his favourite title 'Five Pigs and a Jar of Lube'  would be banned.

However this move worries many - at the moment Amazon are targeting sex content but will violence be next? Could we see the end of novels that contain violence and sex, being sold on Amazon?  If so the Kindle bookstore is going to be pretty sanitised.

At one time Amazon sought to empower authors, but with this they seem to setting themselves up as moral judges of what should and should not be available....A bad move for the company.

There is an interesting article on the Amazon/Erotica ban at Digital Reader

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