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Amazon Slammed Over Customer Profiling Patent

by Glen Shapiro, LawAndTax-News.com, New York

16 March 2005


Online retailer, Amazon has been slammed by privacy advocates and consumer groups for a patent granted to it last week which will allow it to build a profile of both customers and gift recipients.

Under the proposed system, in addition to gathering information on the gift-giving habits of Amazon users, data on the recipients of the gifts would also be logged. The patented technology would then attempt to guess from that information their gender and age, and the gift giving occasion.

Messages written in online gift cards, items on wishlists, and customer reviews of products would also be used by the system to create a profile of site users' and gift recipients' tastes.

The patented technology has been condemned due to the fact that it could be used to collect information on children under 13 without the consent of their parents (in contravention of the Childrens Online Privacy Protection Act), and also due to more general privacy concerns.

However, speaking to the CNET News service this week, Amazon spokeswoman, Patty Smith sought to play down concerns, arguing that:

"When we submitted the patent application, we tried to be as forward-thinking as possible as to how we might apply the technology, but it's not something we're currently doing. It's all hypothetical."


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