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Privacy Groups Gun For Amazon...Again

Privacy rights advocates are upping the pressure to force a change to Amazon.com's privacy policy, arguing that a recent ruling from the Federal Trade Commission in favor of the e-commerce firm falls short of protecting consumers.

Last month, the FTC ruled that the online bookseller did not violate any laws by making changes to its privacy policy, dismissing a petition from privacy groups Junkbusters.com and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

However, the groups are firing back, arguing that the ruling and subsequent negotiations by the 12 Attorneys General have not resulted in a rectification of "the three principal inadequacies in Amazon's information policy and practices."

In a strongly-worded missive to the Attorneys General, Junkbusters president Jason Catlett and EPIC counsel Chris Hoofnagle said Amazon.com maintains the option to sell its customer database wholesale and is refusing to give its customers the right to see all the data it accumulates about them.

It also criticized Amazon.com for refusing to delete records of past book purchases, calling on state consumer protection officials to protect the privacy and intellectual freedom of millions of consumers in the U.S.

The FTC ruled that Amazon.com's revised privacy policy "does not materially conflict with representations Amazon made in its previous privacy policy and that it likely has not violated Section 5 of the FTC Act."

But, the privacy lobby maintains Amazon.com is violating users' rights. "We attempted to persuade them to reform their information practices and to undertake to return to the their promise never to sell personal information. They have repeatedly and consistently refused our requests," Catlett and Hoofnagle argued in their open letter.

"As a general principle, bookstores should not be selling dossiers on their customers' reading habits; such dossiers should be carefully restricted. In recent years, access to book sales records has been a matter of significant public concern," the two argued.

Noting that patrons of libraries are covered by privacy laws and regulations in all states, Catlett and Hoofnagle argued that Amazon.com should be held to those laws, as it related to online browsing of books.

"Amazon has attempted to reserve and reclaim a right to sell records that enjoy strong protections in other contexts. A transfer of this information impinges on intellectual freedom, and could subject readers to stigma for their book choices. Amazon actually can put its customers at greater risk than physical-world bookstores or libraries, in that the company can use cookies and personalization technology to track not only book purchases but also book browsing," according to the letter.

EPIC's Hoofnagle told internetnews.com the decision to continue its fight at the level of the state Attorneys General was based on fact that the 12 AGs were already in negotiations with Amazon.com on this issue.

"The AGs have the power to investigate and put pressure on these companies and we are confident they will act. These (12) Attorneys General on that list are zealous defenders of privacy law so we are confident they will take a stand," Hoofnagle said.

Specifically, the groups made four requests of the AGs, asking them to hold Amazon.com to its earlier promises. "We simply want customers to have the right to access their Amazon.com profile and to have the right to delete it, if they wish. And, we asked for an independent audit of Amazon's information collection practices," he said.

Officials at Amazon.com could not be reached for comment Tuesday morning. Spokespersons at two AG offices confirm receipt of the letter but said they never discuss specific investigatory activity.