Amazon just wrapped up its annual meeting of shareholders at Seattle Center, with Jeff Bezos giving a broad overview of the company’s business and fielding questions from shareholders. But the hot-button issue during the Q&A wasn’t profit margins or taxes — it was the company’s policies about sales of violent games and movies.
Three shareholders questioned Bezos about the issue, starting with a representative of the conservative National Center for Public Policy Research asking the traditionally libertarian Bezos why the company would limit the sale of firearms and accessories while selling what the group considers the most violent video games and movies. The representative asked how Amazon made the decision to restrict one form of product but not the other.
“I appreciate your comments and we’ll look into it,” Bezos said. “Thank you.”
But by the second time the question was asked about the company’s process for approving or rejecting products, Bezos was feeling slightly more verbose. Another shareholder asked about the product called “My Ex Girlfriend,” a mannequin shooting target that was pulled by the company earlier this year.
Bezos said that was an example of a product sold by a third-party seller, noting that the company is “constantly working on improving our methods” for policing those items. It needs to be self-service. “If we gated that a priori that would throw the baby out with the bathwater,” he said.
“We have millions of millions of items,” he said. “It’s a difficult technical challenge, it’s a difficult organizational challenge to police those items.” He promised that the company will continue working on it with the goal of making its processes “statistically indistinguishable from perfection.”
Unlike the labor protests faced by the company last year, the questions did not appear to be an organized effort. The third time around, a shareholder asked Bezos for the specific steps to be taken by the company. “Parents cannot always control what their children are doing, and I think that you hold some responsibility for this.”
Bezos pointed out the parental control features in the Kindle Fire tablets, including the “Free Time” feature that lets parents control what their kids watch and listen to.
And then he told a personal story about hosting a sleepover for one of his four kids. He collected all the electronic devices before they went up to their rooms. One of the kids asked if he could keep his Kindle.
“E Ink or Fire?” Bezos asked him. It was E Ink, so Bezos let him keep it. “If he had said Fire I’d have said no,” he said.
He concluded, “Policing different content … people have a lot of different opinions and what is appropriate content, what is inappropriate. This is going to be an ongoing challenge for us, and we’ll do the best we can.”
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