Privacy Groups Seek Amazon Probe

Online privacy groups in the United States and the United Kingdom have asked government regulators, including the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), to investigate whether (Nasdaq: AMZN) is deceiving customers and breaking privacy laws.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and Junkbusters said in letters made public Monday that Amazon’s changes to its privacy policy are inconsistent with previous statements that the e-tailer would not disclose customer information to third parties.

Concurrent with the U.S. groups’ action, London-based Privacy International said it wrote to the UK Data Protection Commissioner about Amazon, saying the company was violating the UK’s data protection law.

Severed Ties

EPIC and Junkbusters are asking the FTC to 1) prohibit Amazon from disclosing information about customers without their “prior affirmative consent,” 2) require the company to offer customers the option of deleting all information about their identities and purchases, and 3) require Amazon to tell each customer on request exactly what information it has disclosed about that person.

In September, EPIC and Junkbusters said they ended their ties with Amazon because of the change in privacy policy. Now, they say they are stepping up their actions against the company because Amazon has not been responsive to their demands.

In a letter to Amazon chief executive officer Jeff Bezos, Junkbusters president Jason Catlett said his group is “escalating its campaign against’s unfair information practices and unacceptably weak privacy policy.”

Fraud Protection

In its new policy, Amazon says it shares information about customers for fraud-protection purposes, and discloses that in the “unlikely event” the company or its assets are acquired, customer information would be among the transferred assets.

Such a policy goes against previous promises that the company would “never” disclose information if customers did not want it shared, according to the privacy advocates.

In August, Amazon said it changed the policy because its growth strategy gave it a number of smaller divisions that might be sold or consolidated.

“In revising our privacy policy, we tried to take into consideration not only our current activities, but also those things we could imagine possibly happening in the future,” Bezos said at the time.

Second Front

Meanwhile, Privacy International asked the UK government to stop Amazon’s UK affiliate from processing customer data until Amazon gives customers access to the data and honors any customer requests to delete information about them.

Consumers routinely cite privacy concerns as a top deterrent to online shopping, and lawmakers in Washington are struggling with ways to protect consumers’ rights while allowing companies to make money by sharing information about their customers.

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