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Abortion, Adoption, Amazon

By - March 21, 2006

This NYT story is getting some pickup across the mainstream mediasphere, it demonstrates how search and clickstream habits can create sticky political wickets. From the piece:

Amazon.com last week modified its search engine after an abortion rights organization complained that search results appeared skewed toward anti-abortion books.

Until a few days ago, a search of Amazon’s catalog of books using the word “abortion” turned up pages with the question, “Did you mean adoption?” at the top, followed by a list of books related to abortion.

Amazon removed that question from the search results page after it received a complaint from a member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, a national organization based in Washington.

In short, it seemed to the pro-choice group that Amazon had an editorial opinion. I am quite sure this is not true (Amazon denies it), but it’s yet another example of how we see ourselves reflected – at least how we wish to see ourselves reflected – in the cultural mirror that is search. Amazon decided to disable the search suggestion, which, to be honest, *is* an editorial decision.


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8 thoughts on “Abortion, Adoption, Amazon

  1. chunaun says:

    but customer is always right; isn’t it?

  2. pg says:

    Talking about editorial opinions…it seems that google has one too since they alter their organic search engine results based on your search history. The proof here: http://personomies.com/google-altering-organic-search-results/

  3. pg says:

    Doh. I had not realized but the comment above is erroneous…as someone pointed out: personalized search is well…personalized search…

  4. Honestly, I think this is thing with Amazon was just the software they were running; it did not know the word “abortion” and found the closest related word in it’s vocabulary list “adoption”. No one deliberately put that there – it just happened.

    Reminds me of the stories about how inappropiate contextual advertising would occasionally appear next to news stories (I’m thinking of the case about a year ago in the New York Times when there was a grusome murder and some one was discovered packed in a suitcase – meanwhile a contextual ad for “sports luggage” appeared next to the story. It was quickly noticed and corrected – but no one deliberately set that up….it just happened.

    Like you say, it’s an editorial decision how it’s handled – since some people want to be offended by this kind of thing – it makes sense to accomodate them up to a point. As long as they leave out that part with Amazon being Anti Choice or Pro Choice – Amazon probably had no position .

  5. Jeff Nolan says:

    Here is an interesting perspective on Windows Vista and how it will affect online video, music, and photos.

    Why Windows Vista Delay is Bad News for Apple and Google

  6. Rondo says:

    Amazon’s search engine stills appears (and appearance is everything) oddly partisan–

    A recent search on “abortion” on the “new” Amazon.com shows books for and against abortion. That makes sense if their system is bringing up products that have “abortion” in their descriptive text.

    BUT on this search Amazon also offers “PRO LIFE” bracelets, and the descriptive text for these bracelets don’t even mention the word “abortion”.

    Does Amazon allow their advertisers to associate their products with search terms that may not appear in their descriptions?

  7. Carole says:

    check out: http://www.DeathRoe.com for what others think of abortion.