March 14, 2005 4:00 AM PST

Privacy advocates frown on Amazon snooping plan

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Post a review of a book or other product on, and the information may find its way into the company's file on you.

That's one key feature, anyway, of a system Amazon has invented to gather clues about customers' gift-giving habits in order to suggest future gifts and reminders. The company was granted a patent last week for the system, which also profiles gift recipients and guesses their age, birthday and gender.

Amazon says it hasn't put the "systems and methods" covered by the patent to use, so it isn't monitoring customer review pages yet. But that fact gives little comfort to consumer advocates, who have hounded Amazon for years over its customer-profiling practices.


What's new:
Amazon has been granted a patent for a system that gathers clues from reviews about customers' gift-giving habits in order to suggest future gifts and reminders.

Bottom line:
Consumer advocates worry that the company's profiling practices may have gone too far and could exploit the giving of gifts and the sense of community that customer reviews were designed to engender.

More stories on this topic

This latest invention is yet further cause for concern, because it could involve profiling children and exploit the giving of gifts and the sense of community that customer reviews were designed to engender, advocate groups said.

"Amazon has continued to set the low bar for privacy on the Internet," said Chris Hoofnagle, West Coast director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC. "It's almost no longer a surprise when the company announces some new way to profile people."

Here's how the proposed system works, according to Amazon's patent claim: Amazon would gather information about gift recipients, including their names, addresses and items customers send them. The system would then try to guess their gender, age and the gift-giving occasion based on the type of present, messages written in gift cards, dates gifts are ordered, items on wish lists, and commentary in related consumer reviews.

The system appears particularly geared toward people buying gifts for children, with its ability to recommend "age appropriate" gifts. For instance, the message, "Suggested Toys and Books That Would Bring A Smile To Joseph Doe, age 2!" may greet a registered customer who visits Amazon in the future, according to the patent claim.

The prospect of child profiling is particularly troubling in light of recent high-profile cases of criminal data theft at ChoicePoint, Bank of America and Reed Elsevier Group's LexisNexis service. The practice may even run afoul of online child protection laws, advocate groups said.

"There's no guarantee that there won't be some disastrous privacy invasion coming out of this," said Karen Coyle, a spokeswoman for Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility. "That's a very big risk to take with children."

Coyle's organization, EPIC and a number of other like-minded groups filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission a couple of years ago alleging Amazon's online toy store and children's reviews violate the

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Is this a 'new technology' that they are going to try and patent also?

Amazon turned into a joke, which is too bad since you can get a lot of things cheaply. I used to do business with them often, but refuse to do so anymore, and told them why. Little good it will do, but anyone who feels the same way I urge them to do the same thing and let them know.
Posted by Bill Dautrive (1179 comments )
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Your privacy is non-existant, get over it"
"People will hesitate to publish reviews if they know the result is to enlarge their profile in some secret marketing database."

-> The market speaks, business listens.

If you don't like the situation, it's simple... don't shop there. Enough people stop buying things change. Mission accomplished.

The "Market" will prove that most people could don't give a hoot. All they want is the product, Privacy, security as displayed by the recent ChoicePoint etc. Most people are unaware of the exetent of the data collection that's going on.

Where are all the law suites, news paper stories, Lawmaker crying out for justice!. Token investagtions the go on, and on , and on, and come to the conculsion that improper procedures were used, and that's it.

To paraphase Sun's CEO Scott McNealy "Your privacy is non-existant, get over it"

And the polly anna's wringing thier hands over this,
Posted by a09252003 (11 comments )
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Freedom Is Not Free
Apparently in the times we now live in privacy is not a right but a means for companies and instituitions to make money off your identity. Your individual responsibility is to make it as difficult for these enemies of privacy as possible. Generally speaking, the bigger the company the larger privacy threat they pose. The incremental cost to them to compile, track, rack, and stack data on you is trivial once they have the IT infrastructure in place.

The best way to ensure your privacy is to use cash. Remember what you did before Amazon? You went to the local mall or Main Street to buy a gift and a card (or maybe MADE a card), wrapped it, and mailed it at the post office. OK, so it's a little more work. But isn't your own privacy and security WORTH a little work? Freedom is not free.

Posted by Stating (869 comments )
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Am brocklynjerryben and want to join u ..................................
Posted by brcklyn (1 comment )
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