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Amazon blocked LGBTQ-related search keywords in the UAE

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Amazon has been compelled by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) government to start suppressing search results for more than 150 LGBTQ-related keywords, according to The New York Times, which cited internal corporate papers on Wednesday.

The UAE government threatened to sanction Amazon if it did not comply with its request to remove LGBTQ-related search results and gave the e-commerce giant until Friday to do so, according to The Times. However, the reason why the Emirati government urged Amazon to delete LGBTQ-related search results was not stated in the report.

On Thursday, Insider conducted a number of searches on Amazon’s UAE website, Amazon.ae, using various LGBTQ-related keywords, and discovered that several of them produced no results or mentions. For example, “LGBTQ,” “pride,” and “queer” were a few that produced no results. Additionally, on Thursday, an investigation revealed that some books that were available on Amazon’s US site—including Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer: A Memoir” and Jacob Tobia’s “Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story”—could not be found on Amazon’s UAE website.

The exclusion of search results from Amazon for some LGBTQ-related queries appears to have been circumvented. For example, findings revealed a listing for a writing journal named “Pride Story Paper Book” with a rainbow flag on its cover after searching for “rainbow flag.” In addition, a listing for paper plates and napkins with the words “Mr & Mr” printed on them appeared after searching for “same-sex.”

Insider discovered that users in the UAE could still look up several LGBTQ-themed books, including André Aciman’s “Call Me By Your Name,” Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple,” and a children’s book by Naomi y Kissiedu-Green and Chris Laxton titled “Same but different Too: The Colourful Life.”

A US State Department study published in April stated that LGBTQ representation is severely suppressed in the UAE and that same-sex sexual behavior is illegal there.

The corporation has blocked some search results on its Amazon.ae shop, an Amazon spokeswoman said.

The UAE embassy in Singapore did not immediately answer requests for a response.

As a result of its 2017 acquisition of the Dubai-based e-commerce portal Souq.com, Seattle-based Amazon was able to bypass governmental approvals and begin doing business in the UAE. According to a business news release from May 2021, Amazon’s cloud computing division intended to establish three data centers in the nation this year.

As a result of government pressure, a number of Silicon Valley tech giants have conceded access to such markets. The Times reported in May of last year that Apple allegedly kept consumer data on Chinese servers and restricted apps there. Apple assured the Times that it complied with Chinese regulatory standards and protected the security of customer data. According to the Financial Times, Netflix deleted a mocking episode of a comedy show from Saudi Arabia in 2019.

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