Amazon Accused of Racism as Algorithms Prioritise “Free Books” by White Men


Fight for the Future (FFF), a non-profit advocacy group promoting causes related to online copyright legislation, online privacy and censorship, has accused Amazon of racism after claiming that white-male authors are often advertised above searched-for books by diverse authors. 

The non-profit is demanding transparency on an Amazon.com algorithm that “places free-with-subscription books by white authors—frequently white men—above searched-for books”. 

Fight for the Future describes itself as an “intentionally small, fierce team of technologists, creatives, and policy experts” who campaign to ensure that “technology is a force for empowerment, free expression, and liberation rather than tyranny, corruption, and structural inequality.” On Tuesday, FFF published an article accusing Amazon of attempting to destroy public libraries by curating a collection of one-million free-with-subscription books for Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited. According to the article, Amazon “frequently” displays “3 or more” books by white authors before showing the book which the customer has searched for. The organisation searched every book in Parade’s 2020 list “20 Upcoming Books By Black Female Authors You Don’t Want to Miss” and found that Kindle Unlimited books by white authors were “promoted above the book that was actually searched for at least 70% of the time.” 

Lia Holland, Campaigns & Communications Director at FFF, stated that: 

"The largest bookseller in the world is undercutting the few diverse authors getting published in a disturbingly undiverse industry. By advertising titles in a similar genre-free with subscription, Amazon is drawing customers searching for diverse authors away from them. They’re doing this because they want to capture and surveil readers in their Kindle or Audible systems, amassing data that will help them to continue to grow their monopoly power. Amazon isn’t a book company, after all. It’s a data company—it knows exactly what it’s doing here."

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