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Amazon 'plans world's biggest personal data stash'

And tries to patent it too

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Amazon.com is investing in IP to create the largest database of personal information ever gathered by an online retailer, according to a report in its local paper.

The database would, the Seattle Post Intelligencer suggests, mingle information on sexual orientation and race, as well as purchasing habits.

And to prove it's serious, the newspaper reports, it's patenting the idea.

Patent application 20060178946 ("Providing gift clustering functionality to assist a user in ordering multiple items for a recipient") was filed last December and published last week, although it has yet to be granted.

The patent application is simply the latest in a long line of database mining techniques for online ordering filed by Amazon.com, and is no more intrusive than many other over-reaching patent applications. Amazon has patented, or attempted to patent, search histories, gift certificates, and customer reviews. In the aftermath of AOL's release of search queries from over half a million users recently, it is however, a lot more topical.

A suggested implementation of Application '946 includes data such as "education levels, genders, income levels, interests, races, ethnicities, religions, occupations, sexual orientations", which could not be accurately inferred from a user's purchasing history, and could only be gained from external sources or information volunteered by the Amazon user.

Amazon told the PI it has no "immediate intention" to create such a database.

Privacy groups in the US last week renewed their calls for search engines and commercial retailers to wipe their databases clean. They were joined by Sen Edward Markey (D.Ma) who earlier this year tabled legislation to outlaw data retention, as cable companies are already obliged to do.

The bill, HR 4731, The Eliminate Warehousing of Consumer Internet Data Act of 2006, has won little support in Congress. ®

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