January 19, 2001, 12:00 AM

Watchdog Group Cuts Amazon Ties Over Privacy

Don Davis

Editor in Chief

The Internet's largest retailer took what critics say is a backward step in its privacy policy two weeks ago with changes that could open the door to the future sharing of customer information with third parties. Now, an Internet consumer advocate group that had been an Amazon affiliate has responded by cutting those ties. In a statement released Wednesday, the Washington, DC-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, which had sold its books and reports through Amazon, said it would no longer continue the relationship "in the absence of legal or technical means to assure privacy for Amazon customers." Amazonâs new policy, posted on its web site, notes that collected customer information is a business asset that would be transferred if the ownership of Amazon were ever to change. Such information is "incredibly valuable" to Internet companies as it provides data that allows web sites and other marketers to create consumer profiles, notes Chris Kelley, an Internet privacy policy analyst with Cambridge, MA -based Forrester Research Inc. . Kelley gives Amazon points for taking steps to notify customers of the change and for providing them with the opportunity to opt out of information sharing through a web site link. "But at the end of the day, they have a privacy policy that's worse than it was in terms of consumer friendliness," he says.

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