Amazon bows to UAE pressure to restrict LGBTQ search results

Amazon is the latest Western company to be compelled by a non-European government to censor its content. The UAE government forced Amazon to start suppressing search results for more than 150 LGBTQ-related keywords in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), according to The New York Times, which cited company records on Wednesday.

According to The Times, the UAE government gave the e-commerce behemoth until Friday to abide by its request to suppress LGBTQ-related search results and threatened to sanction Amazon if it did not. However, the reason the Emirati government requested that LGBTQ-related search results be removed from Amazon was not stated in the report.

On Thursday, several searches were made on Amazon.ae, the UAE’s version of the retailer, using various LGBTQ-related keywords. Several of the searches produced no results or mentions. “LGBTQ,” “pride,” and “queer” were a few that didn’t turn up anything. On Thursday, Insider discovered that some books that were accessible through Amazon’s US store—including Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer: A Memoir” and Jacob Tobia’s “Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story”—were not accessible through Amazon’s UAE site.

The exclusion of search results for some LGBTQ-related search phrases on Amazon appears to have been circumvented. For example, a writing notebook called “Pride Story Paper Book” with a rainbow flag on the cover was listed when Insider searched for “rainbow flag.” When the term “same-sex” was searched, paper plates and napkins with the words “Mr & Mr” printed on them were listed.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker, André Aciman’s “Call Me By Your Name,” and the children’s book “Same but Different Too: The Colourful Life” by Naomi y Kissiedu-Green and Chris Laxton were among the LGBTQ-themed books that UAE-based users could still search for.

According to a US State Department report published in April, same-sex sexual activity is illegal in the UAE, and LGBTQ representation is severely restricted.

A representative for Amazon acknowledged that the business had limited some search results on its Amazon.ae site. Efforts for a response from the UAE embassy in Singapore were not immediately answered.

After purchasing the Dubai-based e-commerce platform Souq.com, Amazon entered the UAE in 2017. This allowed the Seattle-based company to bypass regulatory approvals and begin doing business there. According to a press statement from the firm from May 2021, Amazon’s cloud computing division intended to open three data centers in the nation this year.

Many Silicon Valley behemoths have yielded to government pressure in exchange for the freedom to operate in certain markets. According to a May 2016 Times investigation, Apple purportedly kept consumer data on Chinese servers and restricted apps there. According to Apple, which assured the Times that customer data was secure, it complied with Chinese regulatory standards. According to the Financial Times, Netflix also pulled a Saudi Arabian comedy program episode that made fun of the country in 2019.