Amazon Yields to Privacy Complaints

Just days after rolling out a new feature it hoped would give shoppers another reason to browse its online book shelves, Amazon.com yielded to complaints from some book buyers that their privacy had been invaded. The Internet’s top bookseller will now revamp their ‘Purchase Circles,’ which were designed to steer online gift-buyers to selected book, music or video selections.

The program compiles what Amazon called “anonymous lists” by analyzing domain names and other geographic information from its 10.7 million customers to divide purchases into various categories. Using this system, Amazon displayed the most popular items within a particular institution, company or geographic area. The company said it has created thousands of Purchase Circles, including lists for Harvard Business School, Oracle Corp., non-profit groups and various branches of the government.

Changes on the Way

Amazon now says it will modify the program to allow individual customers to exclude their book, video and CD purchases from the database used to compile the ‘Purchase Circle’ lists. In addition, entire company-specific domain names can be blocked from the program at the company’s request. Amazon said it would implement the changes as soon as possible, but did not give a specific date.

“While the vast majority of feedback from our customers indicates that ‘Purchase Circles’ have been well received and are extremely valuable in making informed purchase decisions, some customers have expressed concerns, so we’re letting people decide individually,” Amazon Director of Product Development Warren Adams said. “Amazon.com must continue to be an innovative pioneer, and pioneers inevitably create some controversy.”

Amazon Not New to Controversy

Adams pointed out that Amazon has recovered from similar public relations black eyes in the past, such as publishing storewide sales rankings a year ago and allowing customers to post negative reviews of books on the Web site.

“The one thing that we’d like everyone to know is that even as we explore the unknown, we’ll always be trying to do the right thing, and we’ll always be listening to our customers,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos added.

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