Incident 15: Amazon Censors Gay Books

Description: Amazon's book store "cataloging error" led to books containing gay and lesbian themes to lose their sales ranking, therefore losing visibility on the sales platform.


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Alleged: Amazon developed and deployed an AI system, which harmed Amazon Customers.

Incident Stats

Incident ID
Report Count
Incident Date
Sean McGregor

CSETv0 Taxonomy Classifications

Taxonomy Details

Full Description

Amazon's book store experienced a "cataloging error" in which 57,310 books lost their "sales ranking", a number used to help books show up quicker in the book suggestions algorithm. The books affected are reported to include between "dozens" and "hundreds" of books containing gay and lesbian themes, often labeling them as "adult material" or "pornographic" when similar books containing heterosexual characters remain at the top of the sales ranking.

Short Description

Amazon's book store "cataloging error" led to books containing gay and lesbian themes to lose their sales ranking, therefore losing visibility on the sales platform.



Harm Distribution Basis

Sexual orientation or gender identity

Harm Type

Harm to social or political systems

AI System Description

Amazon's bookstore sales ranking algorithm used to rank popular books and display higher-ranking books on earlier pages of Amazon marketplace

System Developer


Sector of Deployment

Arts, entertainment and recreation

Relevant AI functions

Perception, Cognition

AI Techniques

content classification

AI Applications

sales ranking system



Named Entities


Technology Purveyor


Beginning Date


Ending Date


Near Miss




Lives Lost


CSETv1 Taxonomy Classifications

Taxonomy Details

Harm Distribution Basis

sexual orientation or gender identity

Sector of Deployment

wholesale and retail trade

Amazon Censorship - Who is affected?

Amazon Censorship - Who is affected?

Amazon Censors Gay Books

Amazon Censors Gay Books

'Gay writing' falls foul of Amazon sales ranking system · 2008

Online retailer blames reduced profiles of Winterson, Hollinghurst, Vidal and others on glitch in new family-friendly charts

The internet retailer Amazon has found itself at the centre of a censorship row after it decided to remove a number…

Why We’re Not Buying Amazon’s Gay Book ‘Glitch’ · 2009

It’s all a “glitch”, says Amazon. After a weekend of being bombarded by emails organized by Twitter (we told you it was an important gay political tool!) under the hashtag #amazonfail, the world’s largest online retailer of books is apologi…

Amazon Censorship - Who is affected? · 2009

I've been asked for more information and am collecting the books/authors that are affected

  • Author/title

  • Level of explicitness/genre

  • GLTB content?

  • Censored on which amazon website

  • Link (maybe even a screencap)?

Collection: Books …

Amazon removing "adult" (read gay) books from searches · 2009

But OP, why are you bringing up freedom of expression issues in the freedom of expression section? It seems crazy to me, a fact I will illlustrate by using a large bold font and some irrelevant reference to 4chan.

Amazon de-ranks so-called adult books, including National Book Award winner · 2009

One of these books has been removed from Amazon's sales rankings because of "adult" content; the other has not.

"American Psycho" is Bret Easton Ellis' story of a sadistic murderer. "Unfriendly Fire" is a well-reviewed empirical analysis of… · 2009

It’s been called #amazonfail on Twitter, but it represents the greatest insult to consumers and the most severe commercial threat to free expression that we’re likely to see in some time. Amazon has decided to remove certain books that they…

Amazon Censors Its Rankings & Search Results to Protect Us Against GLBT Books · 2009

April 12, 2009 Amazon Censors Its Rankings & Search Results to Protect Us Against GLBT Books

JaneLetters of OpinionAmazon / censorship / LGBTQ

UPDATE No. 2: Amazon executive customer service email is: and the customer service… · 2009

Within 24 hours, authors of erotic books that found themselves de-ranked on speak out online and in mainstream media, with Zoe Margolis becoming the issue's spokesperson in the UK. Amazon accused of censoring books by removing ga… de-ranks LGBT books, blames "glitch" · 2009

Online bookseller blamed technical problems after lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual (LGBT) themed works disappeared from searches on the site over the weekend. Several authors, however, are skeptical of Amazon's explanation…

#AmazonFail : Why Did Delist Gay, Lesbian Books? · 2009

I can tell I’ve been out of PR for a while. My spidy sense did not kick in when I made my first #amazonfail tweet about 4 pm Pacific. About an hour later, I realized that #amazonfail had passed a tipping point. A Twitter search on #amazonfa…

Amazon 'Glitch' Delists Gay-Themed Books, Interwebs Cry Foul · 2009

Hundreds of gay-and lesbian-themed books suddenly disappeared from's rankings over the weekend, causing an uproar among authors and activists who alleged it was a stealthy extension of the company's policy concerning adult conten… · 2009

UPDATE: Amazon Gay Book Removal Was Massive Prank, I Did It, Claims Troll

This holiday weekend, Amazon quietly made some changes to their sales ranks, removing selected gay and lesbian books from the site-wide rankings and from some search …

Amazon criticized for deranking 'adult' books · 2009

Updated at 7:15 p.m. PDT with comment from recently delisted from its sales ranking system gay and lesbian book titles that it deemed "adult," raising the ire of some who characterize the move as online censorship.

Au… says it has fixed error that removed gay, lesbian sales rankings · 2009 says wide variety of titles among 57,310 books removed from global rankings. released a statement this afternoon seeking to explain why thousands of books — including many gay- and lesbian-themed titles — were removed … · 2009

After gay-themed titles disappeared from's search results this weekend, everyone looked for someone to blame. One hacker took credit. Some faulted an Amazon engineer in France. One source thinks it was the Conficker worm.

The onl…

Conspiracy theories aplenty as Amazon delists gay books · 2009

Gay and lesbian advocates took umbrage at on Monday after the online seller removed sales rankings for hundreds of books that contained homosexual themes.

The delisting, which affected books including James Baldwin's Giovanni's R…

The New York Times · 2009

One hacker even tried to take credit for the incident, writing on his blog that he had taken advantage of bugs in Amazon’s Web site to trick people into flagging gay-themed books as inappropriate. Thousands of Twitter users included the tag…

Amazon: 'Glitch' caused gay censorship error · 2009

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Online retailer Amazon has said a system error caused it to remove a number of gay and lesbian-themed books from its sales charts.

American novelist Gore Vidal has long been known as a liberal intellectual.

On Sunda… · 2009 apologised yesterday for an "embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error" that led to the sales ranking being removed from tens of thousands of books.

The online retailer initially said on Sunday that a "glitch" had caused the p…

The Amazon affair · 2009

The Amazon affair

Chronicle columnist, Jon Carroll , stands for a photograph inside the studio on Thursday Jan. 29, 2008 in San Francisco,Calif. Chronicle columnist, Jon Carroll , stands for a photograph inside the studio on Thursday Jan. 2…

Amazon censoring books with Adult Content? Feels like the 1950s... · 2009

Amazon censoring books with "adult content"? Feels like the 1950s... Amazon's decision last weekend to make their website more "family friendly" can be described as nothing less than a complete balls-up.

Archive This article is from our arc…

Lessons to be learnt from 'Amazonfail' censorship row · 2009

Amazon’s apparent censorship of gay authors has been a marketing mess for the company, writes DANNY O'BRIEN

PUBLIC RELATIONS can be a tricky business on the internet: there aren’t many other media that can love your company on a Friday, tur…

Amazon Censors Gay Books · 2009

Gay literature has a long history of censorship. Since the 1881 censorship of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, gay and lesbian content has been classified as obscene. As recently as 2001, the ACLU was asked to intervene when the Anaheim, Cal…

Amazon hides erotic novels from appearing in its search results · 2018

Amazon is trying to make its vast website a bit less NSFW.

The internet giant made some sudden changes to the way that erotic novels surface in its search results.

As a result of the update, erotic novels have been filtered out of the resul…


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