Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Targeted Scrubbing of "Controversial" Terms from Book Descriptions -- Automated does not equal Accidental

In September Target was at it again scrubbing "transgender" and "queer" from book titles.  Then after apparently forget what got white-washed from where, sometimes reinstating characters with the wrong description for example changing a "queer" character into a "trans" one.  Other redacted words were: Nazi, stripper, and bondage.

It was apparently an automated process that was applied across the Target website, but the first mistake was treating a book description like a listing for socks or cabbages--rather than an integral part of a copyrighted property that deals with issues of human identity.  "I just pressed a button" is not more of an excuse than "I was following orders".

The second mistake was in using automated redacting at all. Automated processes are still intentional acts that carry out actions based on our implicit and explicit biases, and express our ethical laziness.  If Target wants to avoid selling certain kinds of material they need to actively curate their listings, not let a cut/paste function run amok.

It is a lesson they are unwilling to learn -- probably for purely financial reasons.  Consider how many times they have already had to apologize for selling sexist  T-shirts (Hint. 08/201407/201508/2016, 04/2017, 01/2018--and many more).  And yet it still seems like they aren't going to bother to getting someone with a vagina check T-shirt text before listing products for sale.  It's cheaper to just insult woman, wait for the news cycle to move on, and continue with business as usual.

Companies want to make money by opening their sites as massive marketplaces.  But doing so without active oversight is selling your brand integrity down the river.

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