Amazon.com’s latest privacy directive is not just a direct assault on privacy, but a direct assault on the industry and its attempts to maintain self-regulation.
First of all, it’s not voluntary. “By visiting Amazon.com, you are accepting the practices described in this Privacy Notice,” it states. In other words, just by typing “www.amazon.com” into the address line on-screen, any personal information Amazon might then collect on you becomes the site’s property, to do with as it wishes.
That Amazon intends to share information with whomever it wants will raise the hackles of privacy advocates and – I predict – the government. Amazon shares your data with all the companies it owns pieces of, but asserts it doesn’t control what those companies might do with it.
Also, in an attempt to forestall the kind of hassle Disney got in the closing of Toysmart.com, Amazon adds this little nugget: “As we continue to develop our business, we might sell or buy stores or assets. In such transactions, customer information generally is one of the transferred business assets.” In other words, what you told Amazon is Amazon’s, and if a company affiliated with Amazon (say, the late Living.com) chooses to sell your data to a spammer, you’re stuck.
You can only get out of Amazon’s information clutches by making the site useless to you. The page does describe how to keep your browser from accepting cookies, and how to browse anonymously, but again full use of the site is a quid pro quo – by using it you become subject to whatever Amazon wants to do with the information on you it collects.
Amazon’s attitude toward personal information is not unusual. The only thing that’s really unusual is how blithely and plainly this common industry practice is described. It’s not unusual at all for Internet businesses to share customer data with other sites they do business with. It’s not at all unusual for companies to consider their customer data an important asset, to be traded or sold like any other asset.
But the FTC has already moved against policies similar to those laid out here. There are tons of politicians now roaming the land, running for state as well as federal office, looking for issues and institutions to demonize. Some of them are going to find this Amazon.com policy, and – unless the industry is careful – they’re going to win political office by arguing against it.
That’s why it’s not just customers who are being hosed by this new policy, it’s the whole industry. And the industry and its interests will now go under the microscope.