Amazon’s customers in the United Arab Emirates won’t find listings for LGBTQ-related products on its website anymore. According to The New York Times, the Emirati government has demanded the removal of products associated with LGBTQ people and issues and has threatened to penalize Amazon if it doesn’t comply by Friday. In response, the e-commerce giant has pulled individual product listings and restricted search results for over 150 keywords. The UAE criminalizes consensual same-sex relations, and punishment could include imprisonment and even the death penalty.
Some of the search terms the website had restricted are broad enough to cover most items, including “lgbtq,” “pride” and “closeted gay.” However, some blocked search terms are more targeted, such as “transgender flag,” “chest binder for lesbians” and “lgbtq iphone case.” The Times says those terms didn’t produce any result when the publication tried them out.
In addition, Amazon blocked several books in the region. Nagata Kabi’s My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness and Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist are two of the affected titles. In a statement sent to The Times, spokesperson Nicole Pampe said that as a company, Amazon remains “committed to diversity, equity and inclusion” and that it believes “that the rights of L.G.B.T.Q.+ people must be protected.” Pampe added, however: “With Amazon stores around the world, we must also comply with the local laws and regulations of the countries in which we operate.”
Amazon is but one of the companies in the tech industry that has given in to the demands of a restrictive government in order to keep operating in a region. Netflix, for instance, previously pulled a show critical of the Saudi government, while Apple reportedly gave the Chinese government control of some of its data centers in the country. Google once developed a censored Chinese search engine called Project Dragonfly, though it ultimately terminated the initiative in 2019.
Outside of regions with restrictive laws, Amazon is much less likely to remove items from its product listings. When a group of employees in Seattle called on the company to remove books that suggest kids who identify as transgender are mentally ill, Amazon said that as a bookseller, it has “chosen to offer a very broad range of viewpoints, including books that conflict with [its] company values and corporate positions.”
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