Amazon.com last week modified its search engine after an abortion rights organization complained that search results appeared skewed toward anti-abortion books.It turns out that one of Amazon's helpful search hints is biased in favor of the pro-life position.
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.
"I thought it was offensive," said the Rev. James Lewis, a retired Episcopalian minister in Charleston, W.Va. "It represented an editorial position on their part."
Patty Smith, an Amazon spokeswoman, said there was no intent by the company to offer biased search results. She said the question "Did you mean adoption?" was an automated response based on past customer behavior combined with the site's spelling correction technology.
Will the New York Times file a story if other activists complain about other search results? If you look up "liberal media" in Amazon, the first two items are "What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News" by Eric Alterman and "The Myth of the Liberal Media: An Edward Herman Reader" by Edward S. Herman.The Times noted that Wal-mart recently got in trouble for a similar situation.
In January, Walmart.com issued a public apology and took down its entire cross-selling recommendation system when Web customers who looked at a boxed set of movies that included "Martin Luther King: I Have a Dream" and "Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson" were told they might also appreciate a "Planet of the Apes" DVD collection, as well as "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" and other irrelevant titles.