August 31, 2000 8:10 AM PDT

Amazon bares its privacy policy

Over the next couple of days, giant online retailer Amazon.com will be informing its millions of customers by email about its new, revamped privacy policy, a company spokesman said today.

The move comes amid concerns by consumers and privacy advocates that online companies are not doing enough to protect the privacy of Web users, as the Seattle-based company prepares to face several class-action lawsuits filed on grounds of electronic privacy invasion.

Amazon's privacy trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 26, 2001, in the U.S. District Court in Seattle.

The policy change comes also as the Federal Trade Commission looks into the company's software unit that collects information about how people use the Internet.

Amazon said it is making the move to build trust among its customers and to explain what exactly it does to protect the information customers provide.

"Customers are concerned about privacy," said Bill Curry, a spokesman for Amazon. "We wanted to clarify what we're doing and not doing to protect their privacy."

The new policy notice on the company's Web site explains what information the company gathers, why it gathers that information, and by what means it gathers that information--by email, for instance, or through the use of "cookies."

Cookies are small files that online companies transfer to a customer's computer hard drive through the Web browser he or she uses. These files enable the company's systems to recognize the browser and some of a given customer's online activities.

The posting also explains how the company protects data that consumers send its way. Among other things, it encrypts information during transmission using Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) software and reveals only the last five digits of a consumer's credit card number when confirming an order.

The company also reminds customers of steps they can take to protect against unauthorized access to their password and computer, such as signing off when finished using a shared computer.

In its legal battle, Amazon stands accused of invasion of privacy under Washington state law and of violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, both federal laws.

The accusations stem from the company's implementation of technology acquired along with Alexa Internet one year ago. Alexa makes software that monitors Web traffic patterns. Amazon has transformed that technology into a shopping comparison tool dubbed zBubbles.

Claims that Alexa was collecting personal information about individuals, including names and physical addresses, sparked a complaint filed to the FTC. Those claims are at the root of the lawsuits.

 

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