Hacker claims responsibility for Amazon hit over adult books sales rankings

News by Dan Raywood

A hacker has claimed responsibility for a hit on the Amazon website that saw adult-themed books lose their sales ranks over the weekend.

A hacker has claimed responsibility for a hit on the Amazon website that saw adult-themed books lose their sales ranks over the weekend.


The hacker, identifying himself as ‘Weev', claimed that he exploited an Amazon.com feature for reporting inappropriate content. He said that a small number of reports on any given title would cause it to lose its ranking, so he created a script to find all gay- and lesbian-themed books and sent in complaints about them.


Claiming that other websites promoted his idea, he wrote: “They put ... invisible iFrame(s) 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.”


The hacker claimed that the inappropriate content reporting feature no longer appears to be present on Amazon.com book pages and was removed from the site on Sunday, following his attack.


Books including Annie Proulx's Brokeback Mountain, Gore Vidal's The City and the Pillar and Jeanette Winterson's Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit had their sales ranks removed, which indicate how well a product is selling on the site. A stronger score can lead to better placement within in-site searches and bestseller lists.


Twitter user Colleen Lindsay, who describes herself as a ‘literary agent' and ‘publishing survivor' claimed: “The Anarchist Cookbook is ranked; The Joy of Sex is unranked. In other words, Amazon would rather you make napalm than get laid.”


Meanwhile an online petition, which has so far collected 21,400 signatures, asked Amazon ‘why the explicit books with a heterosexual focus are allowed to keep their sales ratings while the non-explicit romances, the histories and the biographies that deal with LGBTQ issues are not.'


The petition posted a letter from Ashlyn D at Amazon.com member services, said: “In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude ‘adult' material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.”

However PC World posted an update from Amazon spokesperson Drew Herdener. He initially described the issue as ‘an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloguing error' and when asked specifically whether Amazon had any stance on the hacker's claims of involvement, he responded only by stating that it was ‘an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloguing error by *Amazon*' (his emphasis).


He also pointed out that the effects were not limited to gay- and lesbian-themed titles, as nearly 60,000 products were impacted, including titles within the site's health and mind and body sections. He claimed the errors are being corrected as quickly as possible.


Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Video and interviews