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Amazon's privacy policy under attack again

'Illegal, illegal, illegal' is the rallying cry

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Update Privacy groups have attacked online bookseller Amazon in both the UK and US over its privacy policy and trade practices. Junkbusters, along with Privacy International in the UK and the Electronic Privacy Information Centre in the US, has requested a government investigation into the company.

Amazon.co.uk is breaking data protection laws by being unable to provide customers with their personal details or have that data deleted - it simply exists somewhere in the ether, according to Simon Davies, director of Privacy International. As Amazon can't comply with the Data Protection Act, it should be immediately shut down, he say.

Meanwhile, in the US, the privacy groups have gone to the Federal Trade Commission claiming that Amazon.com has deceived customers by altering its privacy policy to allow it to sell on personal information. Back in September, Amazon sent out an email drawing attention to its new policy - described as "unacceptably weak" by Junkbusters.

Previously, Amazon had said it wouldn't disclose personal information to third parties. Then it changed its mind and also pulled the email address that allowed customers to completely opt-out of information gathering by the company. This is illegal, say the concerned groups.

The focus on both sides of the Atlantic is to get Amazon to ask for prior consent before disclosing personal details, allow customers to know what information is held on them and request its deletion if so inclined. Amazon has refused to do so, hence the current action.

We tried to get a statement out of Amazon or its PR agency but no one has been available all day. Presumably because they're all in meetings discussing this very issue. Bit ironic. ®

Update

Amazon.co.uk has got back to us. A spokeswoman said she was unable to discuss the US situation but would happily talk about the UK. In direct contradiction to what Privacy International claims, she said Amazon customers can see the information the company holds on them and can change any wrong information. If you write to Amazon, it will also delete your data. Privacy International has not made a formal complaint, she said.

Amazon is "confident it is fully compliant with the data protection laws, and frequently meets with the commissioner to discuss its position." In fact, Amazon "recently met with the commissioner [Elizabeth France] and she was comfortable with its position". Aside from noting the words "confident" and "comfortable", we decided to call up the head of Privacy International, Simon Davies, and see what he had to say. He had plenty to say.

"First it all, I don't need to make a formal complaint - Amazon should read the [Data Protection] law," he told us. "I sent Amazon a letter setting out my complaints and under law it has to deal with my request within 40 days. Well, it's well past that now - I sent it over two months ago. I am amazed at Amazon's outright arrogance. It hasn't even done me the courtesy of replying. All I received was a one-line acknowledgement saying that the managing director was away on holiday."

Simon also stands by his accusation that Amazon cannot comply with the Data Protection Act. He is also not prepared to stop at the Commissioner now: "I want to take this to the courts independently and so establish it in law. If established, then all online systems will have to take note." He blames the situation on UK companies using US systems, which do not take account of UK data laws.

The argument continues. ®

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