Amazon blocked more than 150 LGBTQ-related search keywords in the UAE after the government threatened the company

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Amazon blocked more than 150 LGBTQ-related search keywords in the UAE after the government threatened the company
Amazon started removing search results for more than 150 LGBTQ-related keywords in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) after the government pressured it to do so. In June, protestors staged a die-in outside Amazon's corporate headquarters in Seattle.Katherine Long/Insider
  • Amazon removed search results for 150 LGBTQ-related keywords in the UAE, the NYT reported.
  • Same-sex sexual activity is criminal in the UAE, per the State Department.
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Amazon started removing search results for more than 150 LGBTQ-related keywords in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) after the government pressured it to do so, The New York Times reported on Wednesday, citing company documents.

The UAE government gave the ecommerce giant until Friday to comply with its request to remove LGBTQ-related search results and threatened to penalize Amazon if it did not do so, The Times reported. The article did not explain why the Emirati government asked Amazon to remove LGBTQ-related search results.

On Thursday, Insider searched various LGBTQ-related keywords on Amazon's UAE site, Amazon.ae, and found that several of them returned no results or mentions. Among those that yielded no results were "lgbtq," "pride," and "queer." Some books available on Amazon's US store, such as 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 site on Thursday, Insider found.

Some LGBTQ-related search terms seem to have bypassed Amazon's removal of search results. Insider searched for "rainbow flag" and found a listing for a writing journal called "Pride Story Paper Book" with a rainbow flag on its cover. Searching the term "same-sex" led to a listing for paper plates and napkins with the words "Mr & Mr" printed on them.

UAE-based users could still search for some LGBTQ-themed book titles, such as André Aciman's "Call Me By Your Name," Alice Walker's "The Color Purple," and a children's book called "Same but different Too: The Colourful Life" by Naomi y Kissiedu-Green and Chris Laxton, Insider found.

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Same-sex sexual activity is criminal in the UAE, and LGBTQ representation is heavily censored, according to a US State Department report released in April.

An Amazon spokesperson confirmed to Insider that the company has restricted some search results on its Amazon.ae store.

"As a company, we remain committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and we believe that the rights of LGBTQ+ people must be protected. With Amazon stores around the world, we must also comply with the local laws and regulations of the countries in which we operate," the spokesperson said.

The UAE embassy in Singapore did not immediately respond to Insider's requests for comment.

Amazon entered the UAE in 2017 after it acquired Dubai-based ecommerce platform Souq.com, which allowed the Seattle-based company to skip regulatory approvals to operate in the UAE. Amazon's cloud-computing unit planned to open three data centers in the country this year, per a company press release from May 2021.

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Various Silicon Valley giants have bowed to pressure from governments in exchange for the right to operate in those markets. Apple reportedly stored customers' data on Chinese servers and censored apps in the country, the Times reported in May last year. Apple told the Times it was following regulatory requirements in China and ensured that consumers' data was safe. And in 2019, Netflix removed an episode of a comedy show from Saudi Arabia that mocked the kingdom, the Financial Times reported.

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