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Is it Time to Start Protecting Kids From Adult Content in the Kindle Store?

October 12th, 2013 by · 21 Comments · Uncategorized

The 3848497685_18664b6f87[1]Daily Mail, or the UK’s leading tabloid, has just discovered to their horror and dismay that ebookstores sell adult content:

WHSmith was last night accused of profiting from the sale of vile books glorifying violent pornography, rape, incest and bestiality.

The high street chain openly advertised titles with disturbingly graphic content on its website, right next to children’s literature.

Typing the word ‘daddy’ into the search box, for instance, brings up disturbing fictional accounts of bondage and sexual humiliation, as well as collections of bedtime stories for youngsters.


The Mail on Sunday investigation found that pornographic ebooks – the majority of which are self-published by their authors – are also available through Amazon, Waterstones and Barnes & Noble.

It almost makes you wonder where they thought people were buying 50 Shades last year, doesn’t it? (Sorry, that was an immune response to faux outrage. I’ll try to keep it in check.)

On a more serious note, now might be the time for ebookstores to consider adding optional kid-friendly filters on adult content. What do you think?

This is something that parents have been requesting for several years now, but hardly any of the major ebookstores offer such filters. I know that Smashwords has one, but they’re the only one. And even though B&N and Amazon both offer a way to lock down their tablets, this option doesn’t extend to their ereaders, apps, or websites.

I know that some might argue that kids shouldn’t be allowed unfettered access to ebookstores any more than they should be allowed unfettered access to the internet, but that is exactly my point. There are many different ways for parents to block content on computers and mobile devices, including apps, browser plugins, paid services, and more.

Don’t you think parents should have similar options for filtering out certain types of content in ebookstores?

I am finding myself in favor of the idea, but I also want to know what you think.

P.S. If nothing else, the growing hysteria fanned by story after story after story is going to pressure the ebookstores into adding filters, IMO.

Update: Or maybe not. It seems the ebookstores decided to remove the content instead.

image by Hopefoote

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21 Comments so far ↓

  • flyingtoastr

    BN already provides content filtering for child profiles that a parent can opt in/out of. Granted, only from devices (the website is free access to all) – but it’s still better than nothing if you’re into that kind of thing.

  • Ralph Hummel

    Hmm, this whole thread seems a little odd to me. I am a parent, my children have e-readers and personal computers, yet when they want a book they simply need to come and see mum or dad (or both) and shop with us. How so? Here are the answers

    1. I want to know what they read, watch on TV or what video-games they play so I can know about the content and decide if the content is appropriate for their age.
    2. They don’t have credit cards until they are of legal age AND make their own money. Then they can spend their money according to their wishes as they like. Until such time, that ain’t going to happen.
    3. I have installed appropriate software on their personal computers that will restrict site access according to their age when surfing on the net if certain “banned” keywords are picked up in the meta-data or the page content. I am then notified so I can, if I want to, review the page and allow or deny access.
    4. Their personal computers can only access the net during certain periods in the day, usually times when my wife or I are around to check, if necessary, what they are up to.

    Why did we do that? Because we feel that WE are responsible for our children, their behaviour and education. That’s why we do not leave it up to commercial entities whose sole purpose of existance is to make money. Asking a commercial entity to restrict their offering to the public is a futile effort as it is 100% against their purpose of existance.

    Bottom line: Parents need to stop demanding that other people do their jobs for them and act responsibly!

    • Nate Hoffelder

      So your filters already block the questionable content in the ebookstores? In that case I’ not sure we really need more than that – aside from wanting to make the ereaders and apps secure as well.

      ” Parents need to stop demanding that other people do their jobs for them and act responsibly!”

      I’m suggesting that the ebookstores offer parents another tool, not that ebookstores do the parent’s job on their behalf.

    • Mark Coppock

      Ralph – Thanks for that. Yes, exactly: it’s up to us parents to decide how we manage the content our kids have access to. Sure, it’s helpful when a company adds filters, creates apps, and in other ways adds a layer of protection, but it’s not _essential_. What IS essential is that parents take responsibility, and if anything’s missing, it’s that.

      Nate – Yes, I know you’re not implying otherwise. I just think there’s some value in pointing it out.

  • Ralph Hummel

    I get that Nate, but that is not the answer to the problem. The answer is that parents need to be more responsible when it come to their children. Heck, it’s easy enough to procreate, but then what… Agreed, it’s hard work, but hey that’s our job for 20 or so years.
    Commercial entities will provide some tools, but they cannot be perfect, because there are just too many children and parents with different points of view out there. What some might call appropriate filtering will become abusive filtering for others.

    • ucfgrad93

      Agreed. It is my responsibility to decide what is appropriate for my child to view, read, etc. While it is nice that companies help, warnings for explicit content on movies, games, etc., in the end it is my job.

  • Xendula

    I don’t think ebook stores should be any different from regular book stores. If parents have issues trusting their children, or feel strongly that they need to influence what they read, they can do so by setting rules in their home, e.g. “no book shopping on your own”.

    Demandig that vendors filter what kids can see is like saying Walmart can’t have thongs visible in their stores for fear that children may see them.

    I am lucky in that my reading content was never filtered by what my parents thought was age appropriate, and I think I turned out quite well.

  • fjtorres

    I doubt it.
    A more likely outcome is they’ll update the TOS with a click-through “I certify I am over 18 years of age” checkbox. And set up a separate kid-focused ebookstore, like Netflix did.
    ( I vaguely remember that Amazon tweaked their search engine and alsobot to marginalize erotica. That is bad enough. I see no need to start purging stuff.)

    There is a slippery slope there; first they ask to be “spared” from erotica and then it is other forms of “offensive” content. Give in to one pressure group, as W.H. Smith just did, and others will start queuing up.
    Today it is crude erotica, tomorrow it is sexy romance, next week it’ll be STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND and FARNHAM’ S FREEHOLD. Or anything that actually expresses an opinion.
    Life can be offensive.
    Deal with it.

  • John

    Amazon has just started censoring erotica. I write the stuff (under a pen name) and one of my books got pulled yesterday with a very vague description as to why. When I asked for clarification they would only say ‘the title and the description’. That was all. They wouldn’t/couldn’t even tell me what was wrong with those two things.

    a number of other authors are seeing their books pulled today as well. So if you want to buy erotica, unless it’s a big name like ’50 shades’ you will no longer be able to buy it on amazon.

  • Greg M.

    What about a filter that removes books for kids and young adults? I’ve occasionally almost been fooled into buying a young adult novel when browsing. I’m an adult (who does’t read “porn adult” books) but I still don’t want to scroll though books not written for adults.

    What about filters for x, y, and z? Someone else might not want their kids (themselves) to view books which have Buddhism, Atheism, Christianity, or tofu eating in them.

    If I do some how pick up a young adult book, no big deal, I just put it down and pick up something else. Likewise, if a kid picks up a porn book, no big deal and no harm done, IMHO. Maybe the kid gets a thrill. When I was fourteen umpteen years ago I was way into Penthouse. When I finally grew up I didn’t care so much about the magazine. I think the big problem are parents who sweat over their kids getting their hands on adult material. Yeah my mother would have freaked if she caught me with a girly mag, but who really cares about that now?

    • fjtorres

      “Adult” sex stuff is readily available on pay cable and the internet.
      Or, in our sexualized societies, slightly less blatant stuff is all over on the free channels and schoolyards.
      There’s so much free stuff out there, Penthouse filed for bankruptcy.
      But the busybodies don’t worry about that, do they?

  • Ryan Field

    The photo you used is very interesting.

  • Bethany Burke

    As a publisher of romance, romantic erotica, and out-and-out erotica, I can say that we’ve been begging Amazon for a simple rating system for years. I’ve read on other sites that “authors wouldn’t use it,” but I don’t think for the most part that’s true. Most erotic writers and publishers are parents themselves and we see the problems. We genuinely want our products to be purchased and read by the intended audiences, adults.

    Amazon has stabbed at it with their “ADULT” tag (which has been applied completely inconsistently) in the past, and now they are removing books wholesale. In the carnage, books like a title of mine “The Babysitter” has been removed, even though it’s a story about an adult couple, the cover is G rated, and the description contains nothing sexually explicit. The story contains no children at all. (“The Babysitter” is a bodyguard.)

    I absolutely cannot understand why we cannot rate our books using a simple system similar to the MPAA movie ranking system of G, PG, R and X. And like the movie industry, where all studios understand that their movies will be rated by the MPAA, all publishers should get together and agree on a system. I can look at every book in my catalog and know exactly where the book would fit under such a system. NetNanny and the others could easily implement filters based on it. Parents could set filters on their kids’ reading devices blocking all R and X, but allowing G and PG to come through.

    I simply don’t get all the hand-wringing. Porn? Amazon has porn? Who knew? Right…..

    For those uninitiated among you, Amazon is the largest purveyor of sexually explicit content in the world. They sell billions of dollars of it annually, and overall that’s not going to change. What’s going to get lost in the shuffle is scores if not hundreds of indie authors and small publishers are going to have to scramble and re-do covers and resubmit books. hoping for the best. Countless authors who have quit their jobs and are writing full time (and producing material based on what Amazon was allowing last week) are going to have their livelihoods impacted, in some cases seriously.

    Stop dicking around with ineffective systems that don’t protect kids! Give us a rating system. Give us a rating system that’s easy to use, easy to understand, and can be implemented across all the major booksellers. Give it to me tomorrow afternoon, and I’ll stay up all night rating my books.

    • Greg M.

      The problem is such a rating system would be self selecting and therefore nearly worthless. A good rating system would be done by an outside source with rules and an appeals process. Authors or publishers would have to pay to get a rating. Even setting the rules and agreeing on who is qualified to judge would be a nightmare of epic scale.

      I also think a rating system is just a bad idea. It’s a gimmicky fix to an overblown problem. I personally think there would be better movies if the studios were less concerned with the big movies getting that all important PG13 label. I’m not so sure if the downstream effect would be the same with books, but imagine a publisher sending Blood Meridian back to Cormac McCarthy with request to tone down the violence.

      • John

        Why do you think it would be worthless? The people who write erotica WANT their stories to go to the proper people! That’s where the sales are after all. The only way to get found on an ebook site is by putting the proper tags on your work. It is incredibly simple to set it so that those tags are automatically ranked as adult.

        Plus most places already have a system to flag if your book is for adults or not (well Smashwords and Barnes & Noble to at least). Do you really think that authors want to push adult books to underaged readers? Heck no! You can get sued for that! Plus the ebook vendor would drop your books and you’d lose your income.

        Trust me NO erotica (or porn) writer wants kids getting their hands on their stuff! They don’t want that kind of trouble.

  • Shannon

    I wouldn’t trust any filters from the bookstores. I have an 8 year old and she can’t buy anything without me. Just like in a real store, I’m the one at the checkout.

    I’d also like the rating system. If I’m an author, why would I want to rate my book for “teen” when it’s for adults? I don’t want to expose teens and kids to my writing. I’m with Bethany Burke.

    • John

      You are a smart Parent. All these parents who let their kids run wild on the internet should be charged with abuse. It’s like letting your kids run free in the worse places in the world!

      I agree with you as I said above: Writers want their books to go to adults. Heck I even put ‘mature’ labels on my mainstream sci-fi and fantasy novels, because they have adult situations in them.

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