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.

Jeff Bezos during an Amazon media event last year. (GeekWire File Photo: The company didn’t allow photography during the shareholder meeting today.)

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.”

Follow-ups …

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  • intosh

    “why the company would limit the sale of firearms and accessories while selling what the group considers the most violent video games and movies.”

    So firearms and violent movies and videogames are the same thing? Should we also limit the sale of films of wildlife by National Geographic too?

    “Parents cannot always control what their children are doing, and I think that you hold some responsibility for this.”

    I just can’t believe this. If you are able to purchase stuff from Amazon, it means you have a credit card and it means you are not a child but that you are old enough to inform yourself and decide. Now if a kid got a credit card or paypal account, whose fault is that? Amazon???

    These knuckle draggers constitute an element that is counterproductive to the cause they are trying to push because of their lack of perspective and their display of stupidity.

  • Guest

    Many studies have found the same thing: A dose of violent gaming makes people act a little more rudely than they would otherwise, at least for a few minutes after playing.

    It is far harder to determine whether cumulative exposure leads to real-world hostility over the long term.

  • TrimmZimm

    Man I never even thought about it liek that.

  • celeb

    I always i like to buy products from amazon, nice post. Thanks for sharing

  • Michael Destefanis

    That’s a pretty stupid question… comparing firearms to violent video games and movies. Considering a firearm should in all cases require a mandatory background check and personally I don’t feel they are something that should be sold and delivered to a doorstep. Get off your ass, go to a gun shop and purchase one there legally. God I used to work for this company and I can only imagine the redneck hick that calls in complaining about his gun he ordered.

    Another facepalm moment is the notion that because a parent does not control everything their kid does that others are held responsible as well? No.. it’s called discipline and strict monitoring of your child if you have a problem with them watching certain movies or video games. Your child’s misconduct to your own rules are not anyone’s responsibility but your own. Period. My answer to customers who always complained about adult books and what not was to monitor their child’s activities and implement a more effective disciplinary measure that would help deter them when the parent on the phone complained about their kid having access to their 50 Shades of Grey books. (this was before we managed to implement the ability to block archived items from being downloaded to the device but of course this meant the parent would need to either buy their kid their own Kindle or simply delete the books before letting the child use the device)

    That was one of the larger aggravations I had while working at Amazon were parents in sheer denial that their kid is downloading raunchy books and that we were just randomly sending them adult books. The world does not revolve around children people. They are a part of the world but not THE world. Stop punishing your kids with kind words of encouragement if it’s not working and just go the old fashioned way and give them a good old fashioned spanking. Irked me every time some parent would call in and whine about mature content.

    Amusing though were the times a mom would call in and be having some sort of mental breakdown because they’re finding homosexual romance books on their archived items and flat out deny that their child is the one buying them but despite informing her that the Kindle device or app the book was sent to was the one she had stated earlier in the convo belonged to her son. Because with unauthorized charges I always questioned who owned the other device. I swear sometimes I just really wanted to tell them to quick yelling in my ear, it’s not good business to give away product that could be objectionable for free and at random, let alone items geared toward a mature audience, and just accept she likely has a gay son and to go and show him some love and support and have ‘the talk” and get the hell over it. Some of the customers I’ve dealt with there over the years were decent, some flat out awesome but man especially in Kindle.. it’s always a toss up to determine which department has the overall worst customers and I’m amazed I survived Kindle support for as long as I did.

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