Tanya Tate

Amazon is deleting sex workers' wish lists without warning

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Last summer, Tanya Tate received an e-mail from Amazon saying that her Amazon wish list had been deleted. A well-known British adult performer and cosplayer who recently starred as Cersei in the porn parody Game of Bones, Tate had not received any prior warning that her wish list was being deleted, so she called Amazon, asking why it had been taken down.

“They told me it was being used for ‘bartering purposes,’ because I’d written in the description, like, ‘Send me gifts and I’ll send you a thank you or pictures of me wearing this dress or lingerie,’” Tate says, describing a common practice in the adult industry. “So I put my wish list back up again, with no text at all.”

Tate’s new wish list did not allude to trading gifts for personal photos or videos, and she says it was connected to her SFW cosplaying website rather than her adult page. Nonetheless, a few days later, Amazon deleted her second wish list, then Tate’s entire account. She also lost the balance on her Amazon gift cards in the process.

Furious, Tate sent an e-mail to customer service and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, demanding to know why her account had been taken down when she had adhered to Amazon’s terms of service. She received a reply from a staffer, telling her once again that she had violated Amazon’s terms of service by creating a wish list for “bartering” purposes, that the wish list was intended “for family and friends only,” and that Amazon reserved the right to take down her account without notice.

Tate was appalled. “In my opinion, they were just refusing to allow to me have a wish list because I’m an adult star,” she says. “There’s no reason for it other than discrimination ... if the wish list is intended for family and friends, my fans are my friends. And if they wish to treat me to something, they should have that right.”

Although she eventually got her account reinstated, her vouchers back, and now uses a personal website to host her wish list, Tanya Tate was far from the first sex worker to have her Amazon wish list deleted without notice.

For months, Amazon has been deleting the wish lists of porn performers, models, and other members of the adult entertainment industry, to the point where it was a topic of discussion in a Theorizing the Web panel on sex work and the Internet last week.

Often, Amazon will cite “inappropriate” use of the wish list, such as it being used for “bartering” purposes, as grounds for deletion—even when, in the case of Tate’s second wish list, there is no real evidence to that effect. In an e-mail to the Daily Dot, Julie Law, a public relations representative for Amazon.com, said that while she couldn't comment on individual customers' cases, "typically the real issue may be objectionable content in the profile of the wish list including an obscene photo or a wish list that violates community terms."

Amazon has also deleted adult entertainers’ wish lists on the grounds that they include “inappropriate” items, such as adult toys or DVDs, despite the fact that Amazon offers these products on their website.

“These adult items are for sale on Amazon and one does not need to be logged in or provide any information to be able to view them,” says cam model Emma Ink, whose wish list was deleted late last year and posted the email she received from Amazon on her Tumblr. “If Amazon finds sexuality or pornography objectionable, perhaps they should stop selling sex toys and pornographic DVDs.”

Having a “wish list,” either on Amazon or on another online retailer, is an extremely common practice among adult performers, who include items on their lists ranging in price from DVDs to Macbooks. Many adult fans view wish lists as a way to interact with their favorite performer, and will often ask them to put a specific item on a wish list up so they can purchase it for them.

“I think one of the reasons why [fans] enjoy the wish list so much is because it makes them feel like they’re part of the experience,” says adult performer Jenna J. Ross, who had her Amazon wish list deleted last year. “They get to buy us something and then they see it on camera and they’re like, ‘I got that, that’s mine!’ It makes them feel involved.”

Of course, wish lists also have substantial material benefits for the performers as well: Ross estimates that fans have purchased at least $5,000 worth of items on her wish list over the past three months alone.

Yet Amazon’s practice of removing the wish lists of performers who do not violate Amazon’s terms of service by using it for “bartering” purposes or featuring “inappropriate” items strikes performers like Tate, Ink, and Ross as discriminatory.

“What we’re doing is not illegal. [Amazon] just frowns on it,” says Ross. “It’s just annoying that I constantly have to change what I’m doing just because someone has a problem with it.”

Amazon's practice of deleting wish lists is but one example of establishment businesses making life more difficult for sex workers. Last week, it was reported that Chase Bank had terminated the accounts of adult performers without warning, deeming them a “reputational risk,” and adult performer Kitty Stryker blogged about her difficulties with the payment processor PayPal last month.

Although an Amazon customer representative says that the site does prohibit the use of wish lists for “bartering” purposes, it’s unclear why they would delete the wish lists of performers like Ink and Ross, who say they did not state in their wish list descriptions that they would exchange goods for gifts. But even if she had, says Ink, “I fail to see why that is a reason to remove a wish list. What I do with the items purchased for me should not matter to them.”

When asked about these terms and conditions, Amazon's customer representative confirmed to the Daily Dot in a live support chat that a wish list will be deleted if there’s “evidence” it was being used for bartering. When asked what constituted such “evidence,” the representative said it was if there was “proof that the wish list is directly connected to an adult site as an option for ‘gifting,’” even if it did not feature any language to that effect.

The customer representative also told the Daily Dot that a user’s wish list will be deleted if its settings are set to “public,” rather than “shared” or “private,” and it features “certain” adult items.

So, which products constitute grounds for deletion and which ones do not? The representative sent links to two separate sex toys: one, a compact vibrating personal massager, and the other, a slightly more phallic-looking Rabbit vibrator. Although both products serve the same function, the representative said the latter product was grounds for deletion if you featured it on your public wish list, due to its “more suggestive shape.”

In this sense, Amazon’s terms and guidelines for deleting users’ wish lists seem to have less to do with overt discrimination, and more to do with a lack of a clear distinction between which adult products are appropriate for public view, and which ones aren’t. But it’s still unclear how being connected to an adult website in itself constitutes evidence of “bartering,” or why Amazon has this anti-bartering policy in the first place.

Not everyone in the adult industry thinks that Amazon’s behavior is discriminatory against sex workers. Cam model Blaze Fyre, who also wrote a Tumblr post about Amazon deleting cam performers’ wish lists, said in an e-mail to the Daily Dot that the idea that Amazon is biased against sex workers is “a ridiculous thing to assume."

"Amazon payments, cloud, and private servers are all adult friendly...It has nothing to do with discrimination against sex workers," Fyre adds. "If you are facilitating large amounts of traffic from an adult website they are probably going to look into it.”

Even Fyre acknowledges that being a sex worker on the Internet, particularly on an enormous site like Amazon, often forces you to be more conscious of your online behavior than mainstream users are.

“I think that sometimes we forget we are not the norm,” says Fyre. “As much, as I would like to be, we aren’t. We have to respect the services we use. I can see why a business would be nervous about [adult] wish lists like this. Amazon is only trying to protect itself and its users from fraud, spam, and any other illegal activity.”

Tate, however, disagrees. “So many people have wish lists up. There’s no reason other than discrimination [for] why I was targeted,” she says. “Amazon is happy to have me buy goods from them, but other people can’t buy goods for me, just because I’m an adult star. They’re picking and choosing who they want to use their services.”

Photo by gCD600/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)