Amazon Kindle Lock Screens Are Showing Ads for AI-Generated Books

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Amazon has been a huge staging ground for the proliferation of AI-generated spam. In fact, as we noticed earlier this year, its marketplace has already started to fill up with shoddy AI-generated listings — at the same time, of course, that Amazon itself is working on tech to generate more of the same.

Now the consequences of this proliferation seem to be spilling over into the world of Amazon’s millions of readers. Many of its Kindles, by far the most popular e-readers in the world, are displaying ads for blatantly AI-generated books. And they’re showing up not as a little box but in one of the most conspicuous advertising spaces in the publishing industry: the Kindle’s lock screen.

If you were unaware that these reading devices could also be ad vehicles, here’s a quick background. In the US, Amazon sells Kindles, including the popular Kindle Paperwhite, at a $20 discount off its retail price of $189.99 if you buy an “ad-supported” edition. Take the discount, and your Kindle will essentially show ads as a big screensaver when the device is locked, along with smaller ads on its home screen.

Ad-weary users can pay to remove them at any point for a one-time fee of $20. A somewhat slimy practice, no doubt, but it saves people money, and at the very least some users enjoyed getting recommendations based on their reading habits.

Starting several months ago, however, this conspicuous piece of ad real estate started being taken up by junk books with clearly AI-generated cover art. Kindle owners, taken aback by what they were seeing, began to complain on social media.

“I’ve owned a Kindle for 10 years or so now,” wrote one Reddit user in a post with over 700 upvotes. “I’ve never minded the ads on them… until they became flooded with AI-generated books.”

“I don’t know why or how this is happening, but it’s driving me insane that the only ads I get now seem to be these AI kids stories when I’ve never gotten a children’s book from [Kindle Unlimited],” wrote another aggrieved owner. “Is anyone else tired of these? I’m about to cave and pay the $20 to have ads turned off.”

And who can blame them? Had your smartphone’s lock screen start bombarding you with spam AI imagery, you’d probably be annoyed too.

Here’s a small sampling of the book titles we’ve encountered ourselves and on social media: “The Secret Adventures of the Magical Forest,” “The Boy and the Monsters,” “Riddles of the Alchemy,” and “The Unexpected Consequences.” An astounding proportion of them have some variation of the subtitle “Bedtime Story for Kids and Adults” — which isn’t surprising, because we’ve already seen that lazy content creators are eager to shovel AI slop onto children, who likely won’t have a good understanding of what they’re seeing.

Worse, some of the AI books advertised by the Kindles appear to be flagrant ripoffs of existing works, such as this book called “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark: The Haunted House” — an obvious imitation of the classic children’s horror short story collection by Alvin Schwartz.

On the books’ Amazon pages, scant details are provided beyond an author name with no biography and maybe a generic blurb. Notably, these author names are never featured on the AI-generated book covers themselves, or anywhere else in the Kindle ads.

The cover images are just as derivative, invariably cribbing the style of mobile-game-art-aping-anime-art. Meanwhile, some of the ones that are still up appear to have either swapped out their cover images or have been replaced by another AI imitation under the same title. Compare this listing of “Whispers of the Secret Portal,” for instance, with the image below.

Another puzzling wrinkle: none of these AI-generated books appear to be popular whatsoever, so one can only assume that their sellers are somehow gaming Amazon’s algorithms or that perhaps Amazon itself is intervening by manually favoring these fake books in some sort of experiment.

Whatever’s driving it, it feels like a flood. Once the ads for AI-generated books started appearing on this reporter’s Kindle lock screen, they quickly took over, with ads for popular books and taste-based recommendations disappearing for, at certain points, days at a time.

After this story initially ran, Amazon said it had removed the AI-generated books we identified.

“We aim to provide the best possible shopping, reading, and publishing experience, and we are constantly evaluating developments that impact that experience, which includes the rapid evolution and expansion of generative AI tools,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement.

“All books in the store must adhere to our content guidelines, regardless of how the content was created,” the spokesperson added. “We both proactively prevent books from being listed as well as remove books that do not adhere to those guidelines. Amazon’s ad policies aim to maintain a high customer experience bar for the ads that we show and all ads must meet Amazon Advertising Guidelines and Acceptance policies.”

AI-generated books proliferating on Amazon isn’t a new phenomenon. But it’s surprising to see Amazon giving over the lock screen on its Kindles, its breakout hardware platform and a valuable ecosystem for readers and authors alike.

As such, it’s a grim preview of AI-generated dreck getting amplified by advertising algorithms. The clear takeaway? That Amazon can’t be bothered to curate — or even seemingly get a human to look at — one of its most valuable marketplaces as it’s taken over by lazy spam.

Or maybe by taking your lock screens hostage, Amazon hopes to push readers to finally shell out the extra $20 to stop getting ads at all. It’s a stretch, sure, but who knows: perhaps one day we’ll be paying for a subscription tier to see “real” product promotions instead of algorithmically delivered AI-generated ones. As one Kindle owner whose lock screen was plagued with AI imagery implored: “How can I get more targeted ads?”

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