It was an unlikely statement from one of the world’s biggest companies, but for a brief period on Saturday afternoon it appeared that Amazon had pledged its backing to a united Ireland.
The tech company has now apologised after telling a resident of Northern Ireland that he could not watch its rugby union coverage because he didn’t live in the UK.
Chris Jones, from Ballyclare in County Antrim, had spent an afternoon struggling to watch England’s game against Georgia, which was being aired on Amazon Prime Video.
Out of desperation he turned to Amazon’s customer support account on Twitter for help, only to be told he was blocked for geographical reasons. “We apologize but upon reviewing your location you’re in Northern Ireland. Rugby Autumn Nations Cup coverage is exclusively available to Prime members based in the UK. We don’t have the rights to other territories,” the Amazon account said.
The response swiftly went viral, attracting tens of thousands of responses and political attention.
Amazon appeared oblivious at times, requesting “further details” after an individual complained: “I ordered 32 counties for next-day delivery and it is coming up on 100 years of partition. Can I get a refund?”
In response to those pointing out that Northern Ireland is part of the UK, Amazon replied: “Than you for reaching out to us. We’ll be sure to pass your feedback along to the appropriate team.”
When another user complained about trouble accessing the rugby union stream, Amazon replied: “Hi there! We apologize for the troubles.”
The Northern Ireland justice minister, Naomi Long, joked that Amazon had caused an “international incident” with its customer service responses.
The company declined to comment further but insisted it was a simple error. “We apologise for the error in our colleague’s response. Our Prime Video subscribers in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK can access and watch the Rugby Autumn Nations Cup on Prime Video as part of their subscription,” it said.
Amazon employs thousands of staff in Ireland, and has a large customer service centre in Cork.
Jones, the man who had complained to Amazon, was amused by the responses. He said: “I was pretty close to the end of my tether by that point because I’d already been talking to five or six different people (or bots, who knows) on webchat and Twitter, just trying to explain what the issue was.”
Despite sparking an international incident, his tweet didn’t solve his technical issue around the rugby match, he said. “I didn’t get to see it in the end!”