Amazon.com's gay-book debacle: Could a hacker have been behind it all?
Days after authors and readers noticed that Amazon.com had removed sales rankings from thousands of gay- and lesbian-themed books — in a move Amazon chalked up to a “ham-fisted cataloging error” — bloggers began speculating that hackers, not Amazon, were actually the ones responsible for censoring the titles. In fact, a notorious hacker known as Weev has even claimed to be behind the mishap, writing in a livejournal entry that he hired third-world workers to flag the material as objectionable en masse.
But would such an attack even be possible? According to a computer-security expert, yes. John Pironti, the President of IP Architects, LLC, who is familiar with Weev’s work, says it is “possible, plausible, and capable. It actually makes a lot of sense. And it [wouldn’t be] the first time we would have seen it done.” (An Amazon rep, however, still maintains it was a cataloging error.)
But stripper-turned-memoirist Craig Seymour (a former EW.com staffer) has a hard time believing a hacker is at fault, since he saw his sales rank removed by Amazon, “the world’s most consumer-centric company,” months ago. “It’s not consumer-centric if you’re not allowing people to search for books by title and author from your homepage,” says Seymour, who was told by a customer service rep in February that his gay memoir, All I Could Bare, had been booted because it had been classified as an “adult product.” “I’m not saying they should have a flash of me stripping across the homepage when you log on. But if somebody specifically looks up [my book], they should be able to find it.”
Hacker or no, the company claims the glitch will be fixed “as quickly as possible.” Not that spurned authors are quick to forgive. Even though Seymour’s sales rank was restored four weeks after he issued his first complaint, he says the shunning still stings, especially since bookstores were the only outlets to provide homosexual-centric information and entertainment when he was growing up in the 1980s. “Bookstores for me were always sort of a safe place,” he says. “And now, of course, Amazon is like a big virtual bookstore, and to feel booted out of that, it’s hurtful in terms of the role that books have played in my life and in the lives of a lot of gay and lesbian people.”