Friday, August 11, 2006

Amazon And Customers' Personal Data

I've been using Amazon since 1997. Computer books were very expensive in Australia. Amazon provided the same books for cheaper prices even after the currency exchange rate and shipping fees. Since then I've become a loyal customer of Amazon online shopping.

With Amazon expanding from selling books to selling many other items, life became easier especially for someone like me who HATES mall shopping and prefer to shop for everything in one place to save time and money. When you shop online, you aren't tempted by an ice-cream, pretzel or pizza. You also can find the item you seek with a click of a button.

Today, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported something that may tick off people who shop on Amazon: is developing a system to gather and keep massive amounts of intimate information about its millions of shoppers, including their religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity and income.

The database, which would combine information disclosed voluntarily by customers with facts gleaned from public databases, conceivably would give Amazon a larger or more detailed profile of its customers than any other retailer.

The Seattle-based company, with 59 million active customers, said it has no immediate plan to implement such a program. Its ability to do so emerged in a detailed patent application with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, disclosed Thursday.

A privacy expert said customers should be wary about Amazon having the capability to gather such a large amount of detailed information.


There's a reason to worry. But, why? Amazon already collects this information based on the customer's shopping patterns. People who shop regularly from Amazon know what I mean. Open the Amazon page while logged into your account and you'll see a list of recommended products, which are related to your recent purchases.

Amazon is not the only place where your information is collected based on your purchases. Other retailers do the same. For example, Kroger issues product coupons on the spot based on the purchases of their Kroger Plus customers. They also send targeted monthly coupons to customers' home addresses based on recent purchases.

There are things shoppers can do to partially protect their information. First, provide the least information needed to purchase online or at a store. Don't give your phone number voluntarily. Don't store your credit or debit card information online. Amazon gives you the option to remove this information from your account. So, make sure to remove it after your finalize your purchase and your card is charged for the exact amount.

In today's world, there's nothing private when it comes to shopping, especially if you pay by check, debit or credit card. The competition is very high among retailers. They'll do many things to attract customers. So, there's nothing new regarding Amazon's intent to build a database of their customers' personal information. Just be careful where you list your information.

The only true way to protect your information is to live like a hermit in a cave.

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