May 11, 2009
Amazon Should Implement Granular "Safe Search"
Amazon recently got hammered over someone assigning any and all books with positive outlooks on homosexuality to the "adult" category, effectively stripping their page ranks. This was very scattershot, and seemed to have been happening "quietly" for a while. Needless to say, it hit both Twitter (#amazonfail) and various blogs and exploded.
Now, I am a former employee of an Amazon subsidiary. I can tell you straight up that a) Amazon is not a homophobic company - they offer DP benefits, and no one bats an eyelash about people bringing their same-sex partner to company family events - and b) they want people to actually be able to find and buy what they are looking for! The whole idea of providing the "long tail" of uncommon stuff is part of what makes Amazon work.
The problem comes in the somewhat naive way they handle the "adult" designation. Apparently some sales guy got a complaint about gay stuff, so he blithely marked a whole bunch of it as adult. Apparently that happens a lot - some group with an agenda complains, it gets shoved into the adult ghetto by customer service or an automatic complaint handling script.
Now, this pisses off gay activists and just ordinary readers, because all that was left when searching on "homosexual" was those abominable psuedoscience books on "ex-gay" and "de-gaying" that cause more harm than good. Also, it catches stuff that is merely reportage, not advocacy at all!
On the other side, you have the folks that don't want the search to turn up *anything* that *they* determine is not good for kids to see. These people abrogate their responsibility as parents to supervise their kids, or make judgments about what they see and just not look farther, and want Amazon to do it for them. Hence, the oversimplified "adult" pigeonhole and categorization.
Now, I can see an advantage to making the default, not logged-in search very vanilla. It makes it safe to allow in schools without causing parents with sheltered kids heart attacks. But these same parents should be able to control what their kid sees, not just all or boring. Hell, they may not want to see certain kinds of stuff themselves, or may be searching on an office computer and logged in.
So, I suggest (since I'm not working there, that's all I can do) a nice, granular "safe search" methodology for logged in users, with the default search having several of the categories left out. None of the page ranks would be touched, even for the raunchiest porn (hey, the makers need to know what the market wants).
Account holders would get a list of letter codes for stuff they *wanted* to allow in their results, with check boxes, and then could pick what they see. A future version could even have location browsing profiles (work vs home). Amazon would then apply the filters to the search results, and everyone is happy.
Propsed letter codes for what it contains:
S = Sex
X = Explicit
V = Violence
P = Profanity
G = Gay
H = Hate
C = Controversial
Let's take these one at a time. First, the no-brainers, the standard (even obvious) categories. These items would be applied to the default, not signed in, search. They substitute for the rather overbroad "adult" category:
Sex (S): Dildos, butt plugs, penis pills, pouch masturbators, the Kama Sutra, basic porn, nude calendars. This is the garden variety sex stuff, but a lot of people are still uncomfortable with it.
Explicit (X): This is the "over the top" graphic porn, fetish, bodily fluids, BDSM and other stuff. Think "Two Girls, One Cup" explicit. Very NSFW.
Violence (V): Slasher flicks, news archives, FPS video games would fall in here. Again, mostly an issue for parents, but also pacifists.
Profanity (P): Rock and rap with grown up lyrics, George Carlin's 7 Dirty Words, books and graphic novels with swearing, movies with swearing. There are still people who get their knickers in a twist over profanity and obscenity, and don't want their kids to see/hear it.
Now, here are the ones that the knee-jerk "protect the children from the world" would demand as well. These filters would *not* be part of the default filter set, but could be selected by those who felt they needed to be protected from the ideas.
Gay (G): Anything from children's literature, biographies and porn can fall in here. Some people want to be sheltered from the realities that exist, and want their kids kept away from it as well, so let them filter it out.
Hate (H): Stormfront, Mein Kampf, de-gaying ministries, anti-semitism, various forms of blatant bigotry. This is stuff that would outrage the SPLC and other hate-watch organization. Again, some folks don't want their kids exposed, and would rather not see it themselves, but the rest of us adults can cope (we just don't buy it). Besides, some of this stuff is actually illegal in places like France and Germany.
Controversial (C): This is for all the stuff that social conservatives consider unsafe for reading or seeing because it violates their worldview. Books on evolution, alternative religions and other stuff they want to put their blinders on for would go here.
So, even a children's book like "Heather Has Two Mommies" would be rated "G" and "C".
With this in place, people would be able to decide what types of thing they considered "adult" and didn't want to see. The page ranks would still be present, and people could still search for whatever they wanted to buy, even raunchy, violent gay porn filled with cussing and non-standard fluid exchanges. Amazon could have a sanitized default search, without cutting off its ability to sell what buyers want.
So think about it, Amazon. I know you have the talent to implement this, and it would eliminate some of the tug of war between conservatives, regionally restricted content, and people who don't just buy vanilla.
[P.S.: Hey Werner, do you still care about search and buying things, or is your head in the "cloud".]
Posted by ljl at May 11, 2009 1:42 PM
Post a comment
Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)