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Dead authors write to Amazon

It's a grave situation

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The fact that anyone can post bogus author comments on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk doesn't seem to come as much of a surprise to Reg readers - a lot of you seem to have enjoyed the feature for quite some time.

And 2600: The Hacker Quarterly apparently revealed the hole more than six months ago.

But Steve Frazier, MD of Amazon.co.uk, reckons the only occurrence he is aware of is when the Reg proved how easy it was, a couple of weeks ago. This is in spite of Ted Dewan, chair of the Children's Writers and Illustrators Group at the Society of Authors, writing to Amazon.co.uk expressing his concern about the problem on 27 July. Ted's concerns were based on postings to Amazon.com.

If anyone has seen an amusing fake author posting on Amazon.co.uk get a screen grab and email me here. The UK site, though a subsidiary of Amazon.com, reckons it runs better security procedures (which it won't elaborate on, but is probably someone just reading emails) which guard against joke posting. The Reg's test got through, apparently, because we used a message the author was happy to appear next to his books.

For your amusement here's some more bogus author postings from Amazon.com, courtesy of Need to Know.

Einstein has revealed that he got it wrong about quantum mechanics and God does play with dice. And Fyodor Dostoyevskywrites that he still likes his work even though he's dead.

And here's one we've discovered ourselves. Political writer Hugo Young wrote the book One of Us, a highly rated biography of Margaret Thatcher. In the US this is called The Iron Lady. One of its fans posted a five star review to Amazon.com in 1997 but also mentioned that Young was dead. So six months later, Young's son Dominic posted a message pointing out his dad is alive and well. He entered this in the author's comment slot. Both messages are still there.

If Amazon.co.uk discovered anything like this on its site it would take swift and draconian action. Following the Reg's test of Amazon's security the author Matt Thorne, (under whose name we posted our bogus message), had images of his book covers, reviews from national newspapers, synopses of his books, and reader comments removed from his bit of the site. Amazon.co.uk also removed the ability to post any further comments on his books. Everything was replaced five days later.

Amazon's explanation was they wanted to make sure Matt was totally happy with everything that appeared on Amazon.co.uk in relation to his books. ®

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