Monday, April 13, 2009

We briefly interrupt this quasi-non-hiatus to say: Fuck Amazon.com

Here's why. It's not just affecting LGBT "adult" books either. Also see re: why it matters.

If you'd like to let them know your feelings, here's their express customer service form. or call 1-866-216-1072. or just join the boycott.

good a reason to patronize indies as much as possible anyway. Powell's still seems to be okay, also.

eta: "Book Depot" in the UK looks promising. free worldwide delivery!

eta again: someone cynical theorizes this is a sophisticated trolling effort of some sort. if so, as far as I'm concerned all it means is "hey, still another party is (also) an EPIC asshole!"

and, this is also not the first time this sort of thing has been discussed wrt Amazon, apparently.

but, yeah. "lulz." wtfever. well, hey, if it turns out to be the case I guess we'll hear it from the PR eventually. can't wait for it. so far the response, "skeleton crew" or not, has been less than satisfactory.

In other but sort of thematically related postage: I can't get behind lesbian comic author Erika Moen anymore, much as I've liked a lot of her cartoons in the past. Here's why. And disgusted with Annalee Newitz--another person I -wanted- to like-- for similar reasons: here's why. (including comments section).

O.K. Really, I'm...busy. no more blogging for a while. hold my calls. Really. Oh, and happy Zombie Rabbits And Candy Eating Day.

p.s. Doctor Who special was v. disappointing. why can't Tennant stick around for Moffat? whhyyyyyyy???

later to all 7.8 of my readers...

ETA okay, whether he's actually behind it or not, I think we can all agree that "Weev" is a smug entitled POS

Hay dude. Amazon removed its customer-based reporting of adult books yesterday. I guess my game is up! Here's a nice piece I like to call "how to cause moral outrage from the entire Internet in ten lines of code".

I really hate reputation systems based on user input. This started a while back on Craigslist, when I was trying to score chicks to do heroin with. My listings like "looking to get tarred and pleasured" and "Searching for a heroine to do the paronym of this sentence's lexical subject" kept getting flagged. The audacity of the San Francisco gay community disgusted me. They would flag my ads down but searching craigslist for "pnp" or "tina" reveals tons of hairy dudes searching for other hairy dudes to do meth with. So I decided to get them back, and cause a few hundred thousand queers some outrage.

I'm logged into Amazon at the time and see it has a "report as inappropriate" feature at the bottom of a page. I do a quick test on a few sets of gay books. I see that I can get them removed from search rankings with an insignificant number of votes.

I do this for a while, but never really get off my ass to scale it until recently.

[some code which I have no fucking idea about really]

...and I have a neat little list of the internal product ID of every fag book on Amazon.

Now from here it was a matter of getting a lot of people to vote for the books. The thing about the adult reporting function of Amazon was that it was vulnerable to something called "Cross-site request forgery'. This means if I referred someone to the URL of the successful complaint, it would register as a complaint if they were logged in. So now it is a numbers game.

I know some people who run some extremely high traffic (Alexa top 1000) websites. I show them my idea, and we all agree that it is pretty funny. They put an invisible iframe in their websites to refer people to the complaint URLs which caused huge numbers of visitors to report gay and lesbian items as inappropriate without their knowledge.

I also hired third worlders to register accounts for me en masse.

...The combination of these two actions resulted in a mass delisting of queer books being delisted from the rankings at Amazon.

I guess my game is up, but 300+ hits on google news for amazon gay and outrage across the blogosphere
ain't so bad.


Funny. Really funny.

More on why Amazon still isn't off the hook:

What I think is going on: there is a severe vulnerability in the Amazon flagging-for-inappropriate system, and it's been found and exploited by one or more nerds with too much time on their hands. Amazon's mistake, vis a vis the brave new world of social media, is two-fold:

Refusing to acknowledge a vulnerability. People are reaching the point not just that they like transparency in dealing with people who hold lots of important info on their behalf, but they are coming to demand it. Amazon's "nothing more to see here" approach is damaging to the relationship they have with those outraged by the exploit.
Refusing to acknowledge the pain of affected people. If you have an entire relationship built on trust (with personal info, with commitments to move products, with referrals and wishlists, etc), you have the obligation to have that uncomfortable sit-down when a betrayal is introduced to the relationship. Amazon hasn't done that yet. Yikes.
There's a livejournal blogger out there now claiming responsibility for the exploit. I won't link over, because I actually think he's full of crap, as do those who've attempted to reproduce his exploitative code. It's a well known practice for those with no skillz to take responsibility for things they have no part of to build up their hacker cred. Please. You know what tipped me off, for the record? The references to wanting to have anonymous sex with women and heroin from Craigslist. Fetishy-objectifying of women is common in the hacker community, for sure, but this guy is just… silly.

This doesn't mean that someone didn't come up with something similar– I'm almost positive they did. Which means that Amazon has a serious problem, and they better have a better explanation than the "glitch."

There's a bigger picture here: cultural implications

From a tech point of view, recommendation systems and flag-as-inappropriate tools that aren't built to handle gaming the system are just no good. It's unacceptable that a masterminding giant such as Amazon wasn't prepared for this kind of attack. Especially considering how much it affects Amazon's contract and relationship with the people that provide them with the goods its users demand, and how much users trust Amazon to do the Right Thing.

On a wider cultural scale, as I'd mentioned in the article in the WMC, the cultural implications of these attacks — especially when it's big enough to get this kind of attention — are huge. Geek culture is one of the last vestiges of an overtly sexist and toxic environment for anyone who's not a straight guy, most likely white and middle-class. (Not limited to the nerds of computer love, either– check out this post on misogyny and comic books from Amptoons.) When these attacks occur, it reveals not just the hatred that the hackers themselves have for women and LGBT folk, but the wider cultural intolerance we still have running rampant.

...Some would react by clamping on the anonymity, the level of free speech and the accountability, often all at once. Sure, keeping trolls off your comments section is probably a good idea. Enacting laws making it impossible to operate independently and anonymously online? Bad idea. Very bad. We need to be addressing the root causes of our misogyny, our racism, our homophobia — not piling on bandaids, duct tape and bailing twine to keep people's mouths shut...

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Weev is part of /b/--he's one of the basement-dwelling inbreeds covered with orange cheese powder who diddles on the internet. Don't know if you remember the NYTimes article, but his pic is part of it:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/03/magazine/03trolls-t.html

And you can see a vid of him an another dipshit at the Toor Conference a few years ago here: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5643217366887354926

His real name is Andrew Wbeelsoi.

Anonymous said...

Er, and that comment was posted by me.

--Sheelz

belledame222 said...

oh, charming. no, don't remember that one, but doesn't surprise me. ick.

belledame222 said...

...oh lord. talk about straight out of Central Casting...

SnowdropExplodes said...

Which Dr Who special are you talking about? The one on in the UK at the weekend was "Planet of the Dead", with a red London bus falling through a wormhole, and personally I rather enjoyed it. OTOH most of the Xmas specials have been a bit rubbish in recent years.

belledame222 said...

I did mean "Planet of the Dead," although I agree that it was at least better than the last couple of Christmas specials, which were basically RTD in his worst channeling-Baz-Luhrman mode. it wasn't as blatantly cringeworthy, just felt rather flat to me.

belledame222 said...

The NYT article is interesting. That's not caused by technology; that's a sociopath who happens to be good with computers.