Groups ask FTC to investigate Amazon.com's privacy policies

By Linda Rosencrance, Computerworld |  Business

Privacy groups on both sides of the Atlantic are calling on government agencies to
investigate Amazon.com's U.S. and U.K. operations.

The groups are alleging that Seattle-based Amazon.com violated U.S. trade practices
and data protection laws in the U.K.

In a target=NEW>letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) today, the Electronic
Privacy Information Center (EPIC) in Washington and Junkbusters Corp. in Green Brook,
N.J., asked the agency to determine whether Amazon deceived its U.S. customers by
changing its privacy policy to permit disclosure of personal customer information, the
groups said in a target=NEW>statement.

The two groups charged that Amazon's new privacy policy is inconsistent with its
previous policy, which said it would "never" disclose customer information to third
parties, and is therefore deceptive and illegal under FTC regulations.

Jason Catlett, president of Junkbusters, said Amazon's new privacy policy states
that in certain circumstances it releases customer account and personal information,
including exchanging information with other companies and organizations for fraud
protection and credit risk reduction.

Catlett said Amazon has removed the option allowing customers to send an e-mail
requesting that the online retailer not share their personal data with other companies.

"If Amazon gets away with this we are going to have to revise the meaning of the
word 'never' in dictionaries," Catlett said.

But Amazon.com spokeswoman Patty Smith disagreed with the information presented by
the privacy watchdog groups.

"[Privacy] is a serious issue for Amazon," Smith said. "We feel we have a customer-
focused privacy policy. We are not in the business of selling customer data, and we
never will be. We treat customer data with great care."

Smith said Amazon's new privacy policy allows the company to sell customers'
personal information only under certain circumstances, including if Amazon or one of
its business units is sold.

"If we sold our bookstore tab, the only customer data we would sell would pertain to
the bookstore," she said.

She added that Amazon would give customers the opportunity to have their personal
information deleted before it was sold to another company.

Catlett, however, said he has asked Amazon to delete his account and destroy all his
personal information. He said Amazon told him it couldn't honor his request because "it
is part of our business transaction records."

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