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One more reason Amazon’s almighty algorithm is bad for us.

Jonny Diamond

September 13, 2021, 11:23am

There are many reasons why an opaque and all-powerful shopping algorithm attached to the largest “store” in the history of the universe is bad for books (and people!), but here’s another one.

According to this Business Insider article, when members of Senator Elizabeth Warren’s staff attempted some Covid-related searches on Amazon (“Covid-19” and “vaccines,” for example) their top search results were filled with conspiracy-addled bunkum like The Truth About Covid-19: Exposing the Great Reset, Lockdowns, Vaccine Passports, and the New Normal, by Joseph Mercola and Ronnie Cummins—this is the last thing America needs right now. Some of this is detailed in a letter Warren sent to the monolithic retail death star empire, calling them out for facilitating the distribution of deadly misinformation describing it as “an unethical, unacceptable, and potentially unlawful course of action from one of the nation’s largest retailers.”

In pretty typical fashion, Amazon responded by basically saying “algorithms don’t kill people, gullible conspiracists kill people.” (How else is one to read “Our shopping and discovery tools are not designed to generate results-oriented to a specific point of view.”?)

For many, the supremacy and ubiquity of Amazon is a foregone reality, an aspect of “life as it is now” that we cannot escape or resist (like the moon’s gravitational pull or podcasts). But as dispiriting as it is that so much of what passes for “culture” is now generated and amplified by the aforementioned algorithm, surely there has to be some kind of line… Like, perhaps, aiding and abetting the dissemination of lethal information?

It remains to be seen what will come from Senator Warren’s pressure on the company (which is happening alongside similar protestations from Congressman Adam Schiff) but I am glad that at least someone is trying to counterbalance the power of Amazon.

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