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Privacy groups call Amazon policy "deceptive"

The e-tailer's new privacy policy deceives consumers and violates laws against unfair business practices, according to a letter privacy groups wrote to the FTC.

2 min read
Amazon.com's new privacy policy deceives consumers and violates laws against unfair business practices, privacy groups wrote Monday in a letter to the Federal Trade Commission.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a research center in Washington, D.C., is asking the commission to investigate Amazon's practices and compel the bookseller to withhold information about its customers instead of selling it to third parties.

The group also wants the FTC to require Amazon to offer its customers the option of deleting all information about their identities and purchases and to disclose what is being collected and exactly how the data will be used.

"The initial wording in Amazon's privacy policy gave assurances it would never disclose consumer information," said EPIC executive director Marc Rotenberg. "Under the revised policy there are a whole series of circumstances where that information will be disclosed. We believe they are engaging in unfair and deceptive practices."

A human rights group in London, Privacy International, is seeking a similar recourse from England's Data Protection Commissioner.

Amazon representatives could not immediately be reached for comment, but in previous CNET News.com interviews, the Seattle-based company's spokesman, Bill Curry, acknowledged a change in the privacy policy.

Previously, the policy stated that "Amazon.com does not sell, trade or rent your personal information to others." The new policy, changed in September, says: "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," according to legal papers filed with the FTC.

In other words, the new policy alerts customers that information about them could be considered an asset in the event that Amazon is acquired, a condition Curry has described as "unlikely" to occur.

The policy change came shortly after Toysmart.com endured heavy criticism when it claimed names and information of 250,000 customers as assets that could be sold. The online toy store had originally promised its customers that information it collected about them would not be shared.

Collecting personal data from consumers has become a routine practice among online companies, which hope to use the information to lure advertisers. The data is used by marketers to better target sales pitches. But consumers have grown increasingly wary of divulging information about themselves for fear that it will end up in the wrong hands. As a result, privacy organizations such as EPIC and Junkbusters.com, a privacy clearinghouse in New Jersey, have lobbied lawmakers to come up with regulations that clamp down on the business of data mining.

The FTC is the Internet's chief privacy cop. A representative for the agency could not confirm whether an Amazon investigation has been activated, citing the commission's privacy rules.