Groups ask FTC to investigate Amazon.com's privacy policies
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.
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
groups said in a target=NEW>statement.
previous policy, which said it would "never" disclose customer information to third
parties, and is therefore deceptive and illegal under FTC regulations.
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-
never will be. We treat customer data with great care."
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."
On the other side of the Atlantic, Privacy International, a London-based human
rights organization, sent a letter to the U.K. Data Protection Commissioner, asking
that he stop Amazon's U.K. affiliate from processing customer data until it complies
with the U.K. data protection law. Privacy International alleges that Amazon is in
violation of that law, which, in part, requires companies to show their U.K. customers
all information about them and to delete it on request.
The U.S. groups are asking the FTC to stop Amazon from disclosing customers'
information without their consent; to require Amazon to offer its customers the option
to delete all information about their identity and purchases; and to reqquire Amazon to
tell each customer who asks exactly what information it has disclosed or exchanged with
other companies and to provide each customer complete access to his customer profile.
FTC spokesman Eric London said the agency would review the information sent to them
by EPIC and Junkbusters.
Catlett said for the past several months, Amazon has refused to comply with the
demands set for by EPIC and Junkbusters. On Sept. 13, EPIC and Junkbusters severed
their ties with Amazon. At that time the groups told Amazon that they could no longer
participate in Amazon's affiliate program.
Amazon affiliates put a link on their Web sites directing customers to Amazon's Web
site.They receive a referral fee each time they direct business to the online retailer.
Barrett Ladd, an analyst at Gomez Advisors Inc. in Lincoln, Mass., said Amazon was
"Amazon has so many [partners] -- other online companies that they invest in like
Drugstore.com and Greenlight.com with whom they share customer data back and forth --
that they almost have to have that [new] policy because they don't want to get hurt if
those affiliates use their customer data," she said.
Smith said the only time Amazon would share customer information with one of its
partners like Drugstore.com would be if that customer chose to complete a transaction
"We may give the customer's address to Drugstore.com to make it easier for
Drugstore.com [to ship the goods]," Smith said. "But we would never tell Drugstore.com
about your book or CD purchases."