Amazon Honor System Draws Scrutiny

Amazon.com Tuesday unveiled its Honor System program, which allows visitors to its site to make monetary donations to benefit other online locations.

The purpose of the system is let Web users support the sites they like, according to Jeff Bezos, president of Amazon.com. “People are realizing that even the best Web sites need new sources of
revenue to flourish,” he said. “Until today, if you wanted to give a dollar to your favorite Web site, you’d have to pull out your checkbook, write a check, address an envelope, lick a stamp
and drop it in the mailbox.

“This system makes it safe and easy for customers to express their
appreciation to their favorite Web sites in seconds,” he said. “Plus, any
Web site can now effortlessly collect money from appreciative users.”

At launch, the program had 50 participants — with content focusing on a wide range of products and services. Visitors to those sites are greeted
with a box that invites them “click to pay” or “click to give.”

However, this newly implemented system is being scrutinized by those in the online privacy arena.

“Amazon.com deliberately chose to require participating sites to have the click-on graphic served from Amazon’s Web site rather than the participating site so Amazon gets a cookie identifying the surfer, ” said Jason Catlett, president of Junkbusters, an agency devoted to the enforcement of privacy. “The surfer may not be aware that the information is being reported to Amazon.”

“This technology is similar to that used for Web bugs and banner advertising,” he said. “Web sites that considering this program may not be aware that by installing it they may be dishonoring their visitors’ privacy.”

This accusation is simply not true, Alan Caplan, vice president, payment services at Amazon.com, told Internetnews.com.

“It saddens me that some of our critics did not read the
Frequently Asked Questions regarding our privacy policy. If they had, these accusations would not have been made.

“To combat privacy issues, we modified our server software so that it would not save information that is normally saved,” he explained. “We do not collect or keep any records of the paybox we served
or of the customer’s presence on the third-party site.”

“We are trying to create a source of revenue in a safe and easy-to-use environment,” he added. “The sites that donors are supporting do not get information about the customers who clicked on the boxes to donate funds.”

Here’s an example of the Honor System service: Visitors to Chank.com can click on the box to make donations or to learn more about the Honor System program. If visitors click on the donation box, the link brings them to an
Amazon-branded page that offers payment options as well as this text:

Support Chank’s Free Font Archive

By supporting the Chank.com Free Font Archive, you are helping Chank
meet his goal of creating and distributing fresh new typefaces by
up-and-coming young designers from all over the world. These font
enthusiasts create new faces out of a love for type and the joy of playing
with the alphabet. The Chank.com Free Font Archive is frequently updated
with high-quality new type designs which reflect today’s typographic trends.
In addition to these free fonts, Chank.com offers custom font services and
sells more than 100 professional fonts with complete character sets. Your
interest and support will encourage the creation of new fonts and keep the
Chank.com Free Font Archive thriving. BONUS! Use the Honor System to make a
donation today and you’ll also receive Jingles Bold, an exclusive bonus font
that’s not available anywhere else in the world. Don’t delay, pledge your
support today!

Amazon.com’s privacy policy includes this promise: “Even though the Amazon Honor System generate

s personalized payboxes, we do not save copies of those payboxes. Most Web server computers automatically create logs of information transmitted over the Internet. The Amazon Honor System uses special software that removes your name and similar information from the system’s records before they are stored in our server logs. We do not maintain records on any of our internal computers that track the Web sites you visit or would permit us to construct a record of the Web sites you visit.”

Caplan noted that the modified software also prevents the Honor Sysem from being used by “undesirable” sites. “We worked with the National Consumer League to alleviate concerns that some sites might use the system to defraud or mislead customers,” he said. “Since we serve up the Payout boxes, we can take the offer off of a site just as easily as it was put on. We have a policing policy in effect because we want to make sure that we do right by our customers.”

Caplan added that the new system has gotten great response from both customers and the sites that use it.

However, Evan Hendricks, editor of Privacy Times, remains skeptical of the company’s intent.
“The company showed its true colors when it
redefined its privacy policy,” he said. “In its quest for profit, Amazon has called its entire business model into question.”

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