According to company documents reviewed by The New York Times, Amazon moved to restrict items and search results related to LGBT people and issues on its website in the United Arab Emirates on Monday following pressure from the government.
Emirates government gave Amazon until Friday under the threat of penalties, the documents show. What those penalties would be was unclear. homosexuality is criminalized in the Emirates and is punishable by fines and imprisonment. according to the State Department.
Amazon’s product restrictions in the Emirates are indicative of the compromises tech companies are willing to make in order to operate in restrictive countries, even as they profess to be adamant about free speech in their own country. Netflix pulled the show in Saudi Arabia and censored scenes in Vietnam, Apple saved customer data on Chinese servers, despite privacy concerns, and Google remote app for a Russian opposition leader last year after he was threatened with prosecution there.
After hearing from Emirates, Amazon ordered its Restricted Products team to take steps to remove individual product listings, and the team that manages the company’s search capabilities has hidden results for more than 150 keywords, the documents show.
The target conditions of the search varied widely. Some were broad, such as “lgbtq”, “pride”, and “closet gay”, while others indicated a deliberate search for merchandise, including “transgender flag”, “queer brooch”, “lesbian bib” and ” lgbtq case for iphone. All of these terms failed when The Times tried to comply with requests on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Several specific book titles have been blocked, including Nagata Kabi’s My Lesbian Experience of Loneliness; Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maya Kobabe; and “Bad Feminist” by Roxanne Gay. They are all available in print and digital formats on the Amazon US website. (Ms Gay is a frequent contributor to The Times.)
“As a company, we remain committed to diversity, fairness and inclusiveness, and we believe that the rights of LGBTQ+ people must be protected,” Amazon spokeswoman Nicole Pampe said in a statement. “With Amazon stores around the world, we must also comply with the local laws and regulations of the countries in which we operate.”
The Emirates Embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment.
Amazon entered the Emirates in 2017 when it spent $580 million to acquire Souq.com, a Dubai-based e-commerce site known as the Amazon of the Middle East. Two years later, he rebranded Amazon.ae to include products from Amazon’s U.S. operations. The company has announced plans to open a new cluster of cloud computing data centers in the Emirates this year.
Over the weekend, a Pride parade in Amazon’s hometown of Seattle showed the challenge of a global company trying to juggle many ingredients. While Amazon celebrates Pride in many of its operations, provides benefits to same-sex partners, and promotes LGBT films on its website, the company is no longer a sponsor of Seattle Pride after parade organizers said they rejected corporate support is due in part to Amazon’s financial donations to politicians opposed to LGBTQ rights.
The company has said it will make political donations even if it doesn’t support every position individuals or organizations may take.
At the parade, transgender employees marched under the banner of No Hate at Amazon, a group that has garnered more than 600 employee signatures on a petition demanding Amazon remove books from its US website that workers say were anti-transgender and violated company policies. prohibition of incitement to hatred.
Amazon generally avoids removing sensitive or controversial books. “As a bookseller, we believe that providing access to the written word is important, including content that may be deemed objectionable,” its policy states.
The company recently adapted its politics to allow more leeway to remove “offensive” content, and said last year that he would remove books that viewed transgenderness and other sexual identities as mental illness.
The Emirates is one of several countries where Amazon has had to face censorship demands.
Reuters reported last year that, under pressure from the Chinese government, Amazon removed all ratings and customer comments on President Xi Jinping’s book of speeches and writings. The company recently closed its Kindle store in China, although it denied censorship concerns were the reason. Amazon’s cloud computing division made it harder to circumvent censorship in China as well as Russia in the past because it disallowed workarounds that clients used.