Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

Did Amazon Share its User’s Private Information?

You can do a lot to protect your privacy on the Internet. You can block cookies, create elaborate passwords, and only do business with companies with strong privacy policies. But even if you do these things and twenty others, the fate of your information comes down to one thing and one thing only: persistence.

One company clearly has that persistence, and it is no other than Amazon.

Privacy policy documents on the company's website promise not to share user information with third parties for the purpose of advertising; but according to a class-action lawsuit filed in Washington, after tampering with users' computers, that's exactly what Amazon is doing.

The breach of the Amazon privacy policy begins with a breach of users' privacy settings, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Microsoft's Internet Explorer comes equipped with different privacy settings that limit the type of personal information a website can collect. As the paper explains it, Amazon uses a work-around to trick IE into believing that it is "more privacy-protective than it actually is." The work-around essentially allows the site to collect more information than a user would normally permit.

The complaint alleges that, after being subject to this trickery, the named plaintiffs received snail mail from third parties--an act in direct contradiction of the Amazon privacy policy.

The plaintiffs contend that Amazon caused them (and the rest of the class) financial harm by wrongfully selling personal information that has a discernible value in the marketplace. They also allege that Amazon illegally tampered with its patrons' computers, which is generally considered a crime.

Though it's not 100% clear whether or not tricking IE violates consumer protection or criminal laws, it is important to note that the practice is industry-wide. According to a recent study, a large chunk of websites provide false information in order to collect users' personal information. It appears that no matter what you do, your information is never completely safe.

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