January 06, 2006


from the Daily News:

Wal-Mart monkey biz
Friday, January 6th, 2006

Wal-Mart stirred outrage yesterday when its Web site suggested that shoppers who wanted to buy a "Planet of the Apes" DVD would be interested in biopics of famous black Americans like Martin Luther King Jr.
The giant retailer blamed a computer glitch for the "offensive" recommendations - and said it was overhauling its online operations until a fix could be made.

"We are heartsick that this happened and are currently doing everything possible to correct the problem," Wal-Mart spokeswoman Mona Williams said. "We are deeply sorry that this happened."

When visitors to Walmart.com plug in the name of a movie they want, the site also pulls up the name of several other "similar items" they might like.

For instance, a shopper who enters "Million Dollar Baby" is offered other 2004 hits like "The Aviator" and "Ray."

But in the case of "Planet of the Apes," consumers who clicked on the DVD of the original TV series - a cult classic in which the Earth is ruled by gorillas - were routed to four movies about King, actress Dorothy Dandridge, boxer Jack Johnson and singer Tina Turner.

New Yorkers were disturbed.

"They are making a statement relating apes to black movies?" wondered Denise Brown, 36, of East New York, Brooklyn. "'Planet of the Apes' was a science fiction movie. What does Martin Luther King have to do with that?"

"It's outrageous. I've never heard of anything like that," the Rev. Al Sharpton said when he was told of the pairings.

"They need to straighten it out, and if they do not clarify what happened, we need to take some action."

Wal-Mart said it began investigating as soon as it heard of the problem.

The culprit is a "mapping" program that selects alternate recommendations for each of the thousands of movies it sells online.

The process "does not work correctly and at this point is mapping seemingly random combinations of titles," Williams said.

"We were horrified to discover that some hurtful and offensive combinations are being mapped together."

As evidence that the "Planet of the Apes" recommendations were not intended as a slur, Wal-Mart pointed out that the film "Home Alone" yielded the same suggestions.

The company planned to remove the questionable combos from its Web site last night and suspend its entire "cross-selling" program until the snafu is corrected.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


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2:45 AM  
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