SEATTLE – Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) said Monday it had modified the way its search engine handles queries for the term "abortion" after receiving an e-mail complaint that the results appeared biased.
Until the recent change, a user who visited the Seattle Internet retailer's Web site and typed in the word "abortion" received a prompt asking, "Did you mean adoption?" followed by search results for "abortion."
Spokeswoman Patty Smith said the automated prompt was purely based on technology, and that no human had made the decision to show the question.
"Adoption and abortion are the same except for two keystrokes," Smith said. "They also, in this case, happen to be somewhat related terms."
Still, Smith said she and other company officials decided to remove the question after receiving an e-mail complaint and deciding that it raised a valid concern.
People who type in the term "adoption" do not see a prompt asking "Do you mean abortion?"
Smith said that's because more people did adoption-related searches after typing in abortion, and said there are other words where the prompt works the same way.
For example, if you type in the word "plaque" you get a prompt asking, "Did you mean plague?" but not the other way around.
Smith said people who search for the word "abortion" would continue to see "adoption" and "pro-life" under the heading "related searches," which gives people other, similar terms to search. People who type in "adoption" do not see the word "abortion" under "related searches."
The change was reported Monday by The New York Times.