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.

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