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A group of American and European privacy advocates asked their respective governments on Monday to investigate alleged violations of fair trade and data privacy laws at Amazon.com and its British subsidiary. The Electronic Privacy Information Center and Junkbusters have asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Amazon for “unfair and deceptive trade practices,” while London-based Privacy International asked the U.K.’s Data Protection Commissioner to investigate Amazon.co.uk for violations of British data protection law. The advocacy groups are concerned about an Aug. 31 change in Amazon’s privacy policy that classifies customer information as a business asset, and thus is transferable if Amazon or one of its business units is sold. Previously, the company had promised its customers that it would not sell, trade or rent personally identifying consumer data. Also, Amazon’s customers previously had the option of barring prospective transfers of such data to “trusted third parties” by sending an e-mail to [email protected] “Amazon seems to have redefined the meaning of the word ‘never,’ ” says Junkbusters President Jason Catlett. “ If we don’t get good privacy from Amazon, we’re unlikely to get good privacy from any company at all.” Privacy International director Simon Davies alleges that Amazon violated British data privacy law by not satisfying Davies’ September request for access to and deletion of his personal data held by Amazon. Davies then asked the British commissioner to bar Amazon.co.uk from processing customer data or transferring it to the U.S. “They’re raising their displeasure regarding our privacy policy,” says Patty Smith, an Amazon.com spokeswoman. “We feel we have a very strong, very customer-focused privacy policy.” Smith pointed out that though Amazon now allows for data transfers in the event that all or part of the company is sold — terms that Smith defines as a normal business practice — Amazon now also pledges to otherwise never share customer data with third parties, except for transactional data. Monday’s complaints come against the backdrop of likely congressional action next year on a new online privacy law, as well as the heightened prospect of online retailers facing either reorganization or bankruptcy. Several of the leading bills floating on Capitol Hill contain “safe harbor” exemptions for companies that offer privacy notices certified by third-party watchdogs. But privacy advocates such as EPIC and Junkbusters say Amazon’s unilateral change to its privacy policy is proof that a new law is needed. Last summer, defunct e-retailer Toysmart attempted to sell its customer data during bankruptcy proceedings, only to be thwarted by a lawsuit brought by the FTC and dozens of state attorneys general. The two sides reached an out-of-court settlement allowing Toysmart to be purchased lock, stock and barrel by a similar company, but so far no eligible suitors have emerged. “A lot of people perceived [Amazon's] change as a response to Toysmart,” says EPIC director Marc Rotenberg. “But there are a lot of dot-coms sitting on some valuable lists looking for valuable partnerships and mergers.” FTC spokesman Eric London said the commission has received the letter from EPIC and Junkbusters and is reviewing it. Related Articles from The Industry Standard: Amazon’s Privacy Problems Privacy International Slams Amazon’s Data Policy For Amazon, Honesty May Not Be the Best Policy Copyright � 2000 The Industry Standard

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