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Amazon's A9 Drops Retained Data Methods 94

Posted by Zonk
from the my-favorite-methods dept.
eldavojohn writes "The recent update to Amazon's A9 service has removed its ability to record searches. A9 (which now uses Windows Live & Alexa) used to tout the ability to save every single search the user made, which required a login. Now, they no longer require you to log in and have dropped the recording of searches from their toolbar. What they added was aesthetic changes to the search site. What they dropped was the A9 Instant Reward, the A9 Toolbar, the A9 Yellow Pages, the A9 Maps (including Block View), the user diary, bookmarks, and history. Although they claim that A9 is merely 'shifting its priorities to areas where it can provide the greatest benefit for customers,' this smacks of a move to avoid the ethical controversies and pressures that come with retaining your user data. What does the rest of Slashdot think about retaining search data? Is it a liability or an asset?"
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Amazon's A9 Drops Retained Data Methods

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  • Depends... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EaglemanBSA (950534) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @08:41AM (#16290807)
    I suppose that depends on what data is being stored, and why...in the case of Amazon, I personally could care less if someone else could look at which CD's I'm interested in. I think the decision should be left to the end user.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by VernonNemitz (581327)
      ANYTHING can be either used, or abused. And one way to ensure something is not abused, is to not have it around.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by IAmTheDave (746256)

        ANYTHING can be either used, or abused. And one way to ensure something is not abused, is to not have it around.

        I have a feeling Amazon was less worried about "abuse" of its retained data by authorities than it was profits. I have a feeling they thought the data they were retaining could be mined for profit - when they found out storing the data was more costly than the money they could make from it, they dropped it.

        One way to make sure extra storage isn't costing money is to not have it around.

        • by winnabago (949419)
          I think you meant that the liability of retaining the data was costing them. Strictly speaking, storage is dirt cheap. It's the layers of security, access, and legal protection that get you.
      • Hmmm...

        And I never even noticed it was there. I've always operated with cookies symlinked to /dev/null (i.e. definitively session-only). Maybe it behaves differently on non-*nix platforms, but I've always been able to search without logging in, which I often do. I only log in when I want to buy something.
    • I suppose that depends on what data is being stored, and why...in the case of Amazon, I personally could care less if someone else could look at which CD's I'm interested in. I think the decision should be left to the end user.

      Well, I popped this question because I think the recent news with the governments of multiple countries demanding search results has put a hampering on this data-mining-for-good-reasons initiative that so many companies have started. You didn't cover what would happen if the data u

      • by LordEd (840443) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @09:10AM (#16291189)
        The government> I accuse Mr. White in the Conservatory with the CD!

        A search is not a purchase. For purchases, there are already records. It doesn't matter if you're searching for that new-fangled satanic rock and roll. If it matters at all, it will be if you purchase (or download) the CD.
        • And government officials will care about this difference? If I check Mein Kampf out of the library and return it the next day without reading it I'll still be on a list if a government official requests it.

          WE know what the data means. THEY do not care.
          • by koehn (575405) *
            No, you won't. Libraries (at least in the US) don't keep your checkout information once the book has been returned, to avoid exactly this situation. I just contacted my local library to help my wife find a book she had checked out and read but could no longer remember the title. They verified that they don't keep that information, in large part to avoid uncomfortable and expensive litigation with government subpoenas.
          • by Plutonite (999141)
            You're quite wrong, government officials have better things to do than judge random people's interest in books.

            If they genuinely suspect you for something serious then they will do what they can to find out, but you have nothing to worry about in that case if you are innocent.
            They problems arise when goernment invades your privacy without legal processing, and do things like listen to you talk to your wife on the phone. In that case we should be angry, and we are.
      • by kinglink (195330)
        Are you one of those people who doesn't use the library because they record what you take out? Are you one of those people who are afraid when you see black cars? Do you test your food before you eat it? I'm assuming you use only cash?

        There's good paranoia and paranoia that is just hurting business and people. This is the later.

        Data retaining might not be the best, but you go to their site and search, who does it hurt if they retain your searches for their own data or system. They are a business.

        When
      • by RxScram (948658)
        If you had to click a EULA that said, "The government may acquire this stored information for prosecution ..." would you click it?

        Of course... who reads EULA's?
      • by iabervon (1971)
        If it were an option as to whether you wanted the search retained, I suspect that just about anybody who chose to have their data kept wouldn't care if the government got it, and the government wouldn't have anything useful to do with it anyway. (Of course, there would be exceptions, but they'd end up on the "dumb criminal" news.)

        Although what would be a lot better, both in terms of reducing unwanted disclosure and in terms of giving useful feedback, is if you could decide whether to retain the search when
    • by scott666 (1008567)

      I personally could care less if someone else could look at which CD's I'm interested in.

      What about books? What if the government decides they want to come interogate you because you bought The Anarchist's Cookbook [amazon.com]? I agree that musical preferences are for the most part harmless data, but Amazon sells quite a few things and we've got a government that's a little too interested in it's citizen's data.

      • by smparadox (831358)
        "What if the government decides they want to come interogate you because you bought The Anarchist's Cookbook?"
        More likely they would put you on the "No-Fly" list. Searching for information about protest groups might get you on there too. You also might get pulled over any time you crossed the border for a day at the Casino in Canada...

        Hmm, maybe I should have posted anonymously...
    • by tehcyder (746570)
      I suppose that depends on what data is being stored, and why
      Unless it's Google, in which case anything goes on /.
    • Initially, I was a user of the A9 web site. Then they changed their methods to include archiving my searches, so I changed my default search back to Google. I used the A9 site enough to get the rewards discount, but I used Google the rest of the time.

      I know that anything that goes out on the 'net is public, regardless of whatever security measures you attempt, but I would like to discourage the sort of thinking that allows and encourages this intrusion into my privacy.
  • by iamjoltman (883526) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @08:42AM (#16290817)
    So are they saying that you no longer get the A9 discount at Amazon if you use the search page? That's the only reason I was using it! Without that discount, I, and I'm sure others, will no longer use their search.
    • That's how I read their statement, but I still see the π/2% logo on Amamzon pages. So I don't know how much longer the discount will last.
    • .. how people will jump through hoops for something free/money off. The site offered about 1.5% which is pretty piss poor. I sure as hell wasn't going to dump google just for the sake of discount that wouldn't even cover postage.
      • by iamjoltman (883526) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @09:08AM (#16291161)
        Hey, when you have a family to support, every penny counts! And besides, I hardly ditched Google, I just sent a search through there once or twice a week just to keep the discount active, then I usually ended up putting the same search into Google anyway :P
        • by Kn0w1 (99910)
          Agreed. Same here; I just plugged in a search now and then to keep the discount going, but ended up googling anyway *especially* after they dropped Google. If they're dropping the discount too I'd say there is very little reason to install or use it.. given most of the features can be added onto Firefox with other extensions and search bars. Bookmarks.. well, there are plenty of other sites for that. The Diary feature might be interesting, but I've never used it. The History might have been handy since
          • by Kn0w1 (99910)
            hrmm.. Sorry, i guess i should add that i was talking about the a9 toolbar. I've hardly ever wasted the time to go to a9.com to search anything..

            From their own "What's New" page for Sept. 29 (http://a9.com/-/company/whatsNew.jsp):

            We have discontinued the A9 Instant Reward program, and the A9 Toolbar and personalized services such as history, bookmarks, and diary. To get help uninstalling your A9 Toolbar, visit toolbar.a9.com. We have also discontinued A9 Maps and the A9 Yellow Pages (including BlockView(

      • by bigbigbison (104532) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @09:38AM (#16291525) Homepage
        When A9 first debuted, it used google results, so it didn't really matter. Now it uses msn's search, it isn't nearly as good, but once or twice a week instead of typing in a url, I'll just search A9 for the title of the website.
        1.5% may not be much, but it takes so little effort that it is worth it.
        I just checked and the pi/2 discount is still in effect, so I'm not sure if that actually is going away or if they just aren't promoting it any more.
  • by Chrisje (471362) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @08:47AM (#16290899)
    Let's assume I'm not searching for too outlandish things. Let's pretend I do not look for 70's pr0n featuring dogs, or if I do, that my fiance is aware of it and condones it. Being fairly normal and open means I have nothing to hide. They can retain all the data on me they like. It's no skin off my back, if you will.

    The only but in that statement is that I don't want them to retain search- or private data under two circumstances:

    1) If the search data affects the answers given in future searches
    2) If it results in spam or theft of any kind

    Now, providing it's securely stored, doesn't affect answers to future queries and helps them enhance their services, I really don't mind.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      What if the government wants to troll through your search queries to see if you committed a crime? I assume that's ok with you.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Chrisje (471362)
        Yes,

        That is OK with me. I don't commit crimes. Misdemeanors in the realm of speeding, smoking where I shouldn't and taking a leak against a tree aside, I am pretty much squeaky clean. The government can definately look through my google search history.

        For the past 48 hours they will learn where to find bronze ore in MapleStory, they will learn I bought a Denon 1906 DTS 7:1 Receiver at a decent price, and they will learn quite a bit about the Wharfedale 3-way speakers I am currently looking at. Lastly, they
        • by Itsacon (967006)
          [mode type="MPAA"] IMDB reviews? You must be downloading movies illegaly!! [/mode]

          :-P
          • by Chrisje (471362)
            Actually, no.

            I downloaded the odd movie illegally, but was not pleased with the quality, so I quit. Before going to the movie theatre though, I look at what IMDB users say about movies, and loosely base the decision for seeing one movie or the other on the ratings and comments. Then I buy the odd DVD. The last ones I bought were Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers and Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Un Long Dimanche de Fiancailles.

            Furthermore I live in Israel and don't speak Hebrew, so I need IMDB to tell me what given movi
            • by Itsacon (967006)
              Hehe. I'm not an american either, don't worry.

              I was trying to be funny. Failed apparently :-) :-P
              • by Chrisje (471362)
                Not to worry. You were definately funny. :-D

                I just replied in this dry fashion to demonstrate how easy it is to debase foregone conclusions.

                Just like you debased my conclusion you must be a silly American for mentioning the *AA as something relevant to Life, the Universe and Everything.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by truthsearch (249536)
          IT DOESN'T MATTER. They should not be watching even this mundane information without probable cause. What if the movie review you read was for "Fahrenheit 9/11" and some government agents decided to punish all conspiracy theorists. Nothing of what you do or search for is the government's business until you break a law (over-simplified, but still basically true). And even then they're limited by your rights.

          History has taught us many lessons. And one of them is that information and power will be abused.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by MMC Monster (602931)
          It doesn't matter if you believe that you don't commit crimes. The problem is that government should not be invading your privacy without a warrant or probable cause of imminent harm. Not possible illegal activity. If the government was worried that you are doing something wrong, let them go through the proper channels and get a judge to issue a search warrant.
          • by Chrisje (471362)
            So the question becomes irrelevant. The storing of personal data (including search queries) isn't the issue. They can store what they like.

            If the legislative system in a given country is so diseased that any information can be pulled by the government without due cause, the question shouldn't be if we should make Amazon quit storing personal data, the question should be if the privacy laws and the governmental mandate to access information at their leisure ought to be revised.

            Still, as long as I'm clean I c
            • So the question becomes irrelevant. The storing of personal data (including search queries) isn't the issue. They can store what they like.

              To the user it shouldn't matter whether Amazon is retaining their searches or not, in terms of their privacy from the government. The government should be constrained enough that it would only go after the stored information after demonstrating probable cause and getting a warrant -- assumedly the same standards that would be required to search your house and take your c
        • by pizpot (622748)
          That is OK with me.

          It is also ok with me if the program that Amazon uses to log my searches is upgraded now and then to correct mistakes. Like the time, it confused your IP address with that guy from Fargo, who searched for bombs, anthrax and big shoes with false heels. Like heck it is.
          • by Chrisje (471362)
            > who searched for bombs, anthrax and big shoes with false heels. Like heck it is.

            Right. Last time I checked, searching for information on Bombs, Anthrax (good rock band, btw) and Big Shoes with False Heels was still very much legal.

            Even so, in the unlikely event of the governmant thinking this particular search was a threat to national security and sending a copper round to my house. He'll look for Bombs, Anthrax and Big Shoes with Fake Heels in my house in vain, after which I'll have a cup of coffee wi
      • What search proves I committed a crime? Or even hints I committed a crime? They'll probably incorrectly use this data to determine which citizens need to be watched. But I doubt they'll be able to use it effectively in criminal trials.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by mgblst (80109)
          What if a couple of dogs go missing in the neighbourhood, will you be pissed when the government comes to your door with a subpoena to search your premises? What if they come in to your work, and feel the need to talk to your fellow employees? (Maybe it was the Bushs dogs, Cuddles) Do you start to get annoyed now? What if they want to talk to your family about your strange habits, and your sister no longer wants you to hang around with your nieces and nephews?
        • by pizpot (622748)
          but I doubt they'll be able to use it effectively in criminal trials.

          Since when do terrorists go to trial?
    • Soon To Be Ex: I'm asking for full custody of the children, your honor, because Chrisje is not fit to be around children. He gets off on 70's pr0n featuring dogs.
      Judge: That sick.
      STBE: And twisted.
      Chrisje: But STBE knew about it and condoned it!
      STBE: Your honor, I had no idea. Once I found out, I knew that I just had to get my children out away from that bad man.
      Judge: I would have done the same thing. Full custody for STBE. I'm setting child support at $1,500.00 per month. Next!
  • Amazon would be downright stupid not to save the search data; they're just not visibly saving it anymore (thus, less questions), that's all.

    By this same argument, one might say "oh, look, google isn't saving search data either; if I can't see it, it's not there!". Yeah, riiight.
  • Sounds to me like they can't keep up with the big boys on this one. Not too many companies can compete in the all-facets-of-the-internet game like Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft. Amazon is just sticking to what it does best.

    On a side note, I haven't been keeping up with Amazon in the news for the past few years... has it turned a profit yet?
    • by tehcyder (746570)
      I haven't been keeping up with Amazon in the news for the past few years... has it turned a profit yet?
      Their 2003 accounts onwards show a positive net income.
  • The big issue on recording searches is that a third party is storing (and possibly selling/revealing) information on you. So what if the system were changed to store your searches locally, run the analysis locally, and report back only links between data, not the data, or personally identifiable information.

    For example, you search for David Bowie, then you search for 'The Cure'. The analysis process determines that you have linked David Bowie and The Cure and reports that link back to the search engine. Eve
    • Good point; security and privacy schemes in general need to start thinking in terms of local storage as an organizing principle. I wouldn't mind having my search results stored by A9, Google, etc. if they couldn't be used except in the context of providing me the data-dependent service.

      Right now this sort of thing could be accomplished with a browser extension or toolbar, but eventually it's probably going to take a whole protocol; something will need to encapsulate secure data exchange with client-side cry
  • by davidwr (791652) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @09:20AM (#16291295) Homepage Journal
    Web sites that do collect "non-essential" data should give the customer the opt in or opt out, depending on the nature of the site. Sites like banks that must create audit trails for certain transactions need to have full disclosure.

    Slashdot gives me the option of posting and submitting stories under my user-id or anonymously. Everyone knows that I, davidwr, posted this message at the time indicated above. Any paying subscriber can look up "davidwr" any time in the future and see all the messages I posted. If I wanted to be private, I could be "Anonymous Coward."

    I avoid newspaper sites tha require a login because I want to eliminate the possibility they will tie what I read today with what I read tomorrow.
  • ..you then need the right policies, procedures, and security to deal with it. Data Cleansing or Data Scrubbing is not a trivial process and unless you have the right models and expertise, you start to get buried. My guess is that this decision was one half poor planning and the other half was fear from all the bad press. Adding true relevancy to searching will take some type of historical data, but you need to how to use it correctly and protect it wisely...
  • by Comboman (895500) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @09:25AM (#16291351)
    What they dropped was the A9 Instant Reward, the A9 Toolbar, the A9 Yellow Pages, the A9 Maps (including Block View), the user diary, bookmarks, and history.

    It's a shame to lose A9 maps, the block view was a very useful feature. Google Map's integration of satellite photos is impressive but lets face it, most of us view the world from the ground not the from the sky, so the block view is helpful for seeing what your destination looks like. Unfortunately, they only got around to photographing the downtown core of a handful of major US cities.

    • by kurtis25 (909650)
      We lost a good friend in the map world! The street view was truly useful, I used it the other day to find a restaurant I would never have found otherwise. I was in DC and wasn't sure where it was so I looked it up got a picture of the façade and a few facades in the area put them on my phone and found the place. Right across the street from the mailbox where the photos said it would be. No other map service could do that (including maps.live.com). I'm interested in which competitor will pick up the bal
  • The problem with the whole setup is that it's seen as an asset for the business or service provider, A9 in this case. which is wrong. it shouldn't be. It is an asset though, for the users using that service. You and me could get great benefit from having our past search data, clikthroughs and surfing habits analysed and used to improve our web experience, however I don't trust any company (even ones that "do no evil") to do that without skewing things in their favour and/or violating my privacy, whether no
  • Removing the ability for users to save their own searches is not exactly the same as retaining user searches.

    I betcha the latter is still very much happening. If I were Amazon, I'd retain the data just to have it available for analysis. That sort of stuff has tremendous business value.
  • by blueZhift (652272) on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @09:58AM (#16291781) Homepage Journal
    Most of the time the stuff I look for isn't anything special as near as I can tell. But I'd ultimately prefer that my search data is not saved. What's innocuous today, could get one landed in jail, embarassed, or worse years later. When I browse a real bookstore, no one is following me around noting every book I pick up or cover I glance at. I'd like the same consideration given to my online searches. I have nothing to hide (right now), but I still don't want to be spied on, unless it's by attractive women with amorous intent! ;)
    • Careful, you'll be giving the government ideas. I mean, imagine if they hooked up with Match.com...

      Now, with Match.com, our (government) employees listen in on all of your phone conversations, looking for the best romantic match for you! (and checking to see if you're a terrorist.)

      The masses will be all over it! (This advertisement brought to you by Match.com, CIA, TSA, DHS, AT&T, FBI, GOP, and Little Richard.)
  • It's a liability if others have access to my searches, it's an asset if I do.

    The problem with me having access to my searches, is that it's possible for others to get access as well (cracking and court orders come to mind). Encrypted on my own hard drive is good, but still subject to court order (since it doesn't matter how "personal" your hard drive is, it isn't subject to the 5th ammendment - which only applies in the USA anyway). Encrypted in escrow is probably better, but really tough to get right.

    May
  • It always starts with, "why would I care about my CD searches... " it's down hill from there. The most unfortunate part is there is a huge level of end user responsibility here. End users must understand the choices and be able to make their own choices. Maybe this is a part of Web2, browsers where on can make the choices on a global level. Now matter what, it comes down to who cares and who cares more Uncle Sam, "The Amazons of the net" or John Q. Public. I can guess who is last in this list.
  • Retaining search data is both an asset and a liability to a company. The question isn't which is it, but whether it's value as an asset outweighs it's cost as a liability or not. If it doesn't, then it doesn't matter how much of an asset it is you get rid of it.

  • is that Block View is getting dropped. This was one great feature that A9 had that really is totally unrelated to any sort of ethical controversies. It was a great supplement to Google Maps if you're going to an unfamiliar place. Now its dead. RIP.
  • Slashdot blinders (Score:4, Informative)

    by deblau (68023) <slashdot.25.flickboy@spamgourmet.com> on Tuesday October 03, 2006 @10:17AM (#16292113) Journal
    What does the rest of Slashdot think about retaining search data? Is it a liability or an asset?

    This is a classic case of Slashdot blinders, thinking the entire world is black or white. Here, let me help you:

    Retaining data is obviously a liability. It's invasive of my privacy. It gives companies data on me that they can sell to other companies without my permission, and those other companies send me annoying pre-screened offers of credit. My info will eventually end up in a big database in the basement of the FBI, where they'll try to link me to terrorism by playing a big connect-the-dots game. 'He searched for the Anarchist Cookbook and Catcher in the Rye. Arrest his ass.'

    On the other hand, retaining data is obviously an asset. It allows companies to cater their services to my personal needs. It lets them suggest products that I may not have even known existed. My information builds company worth, which stimulates the economy and provides employees with jobs. It facilitates retailer/customer trust and loyalty, which benefits both parties.

    I'm sure I could go on and on with more arguments for both sides, but I hope you've gotten the point by now: the world isn't black and white, business decisions are hard, and the rest of the world already knows these things.

  • They retain FOREVER what books or other products you've purchased, and they retain all your amazon searches. They use this to 'recommend' other titles or products you might be interested in. Their internal data tells them exactly what percentage of people will "bite' on this method. If it gets any more sophisticated you won't have to order anything anymore. Just check the box that says, "Send me what I was going to order." This is not transparent. They tell you what they are doing, and you can even go to th
  • Most web browsers can already remember what you've previously entered on forms. The only risk of a privacy breach is if someone visits your house and starts to type "britain" and sees that it wants to prefill "brittany spears nude." Sure, you can't log in from another machine and scroll to that one time you searched for "why does it hurt when I pee," but isn't it just as easy to type that again?

    I heard that the average Google search is about one and a half words long. And if the search went well, you fou
  • I have never understood why anywone would want to save their previous search queries. The search strings themselves are usually not very long so it is not to save laborious typing. What is it for? I understand why the search engines want to save all search strings, but why would I, a user, ever want to review or re-search my previous queries? I do not care what I searched for a week, a month or a year ago, so would someome who cares please explain it to me? Thanks.
  • Damn, that was very useful for Manhattan. Any alternatives out there?
  • I enjoy the fact that I can easily see what and when I searched, using Google's search history. I use it and enjoy it. I have nothing against servers recording my personal information as long as I can benefit from it. If they record what I do and provide me no benefit, that makes me cranky. And no, better targeted advertising is not a 'benefit'.
  • I got my half-pi discount on Amazon on a lot of stuff, and I wanna keep using it!

    You mean I have to give this up because of all you privacy nuts?
  • Oh hell! I must have processed thousands of those block view records via Amazon's Mechanical Turk program.

    All those countless hours and all that work DOWN THE DRAIN!!!

    Well, almost. I did get a good $4.23* out of it.

    * = All kidding aside, I did manage to get about $60 into my account after a fair amount of work, but still...that sucks. :(
  • anything they keep, the government can subpoena, anything the government can subpoena can be used against you in court. And yes, what books you read, and what music you listen to and what movies you watch CAN be used against you. Has it been so long that we have fogotten the fascists FBI "commie" hunts of the 50's. Where they were snooping on anyone for anything they dreamed up, library card records, anything. Just hope you remember your apathy when you are the target of one of these soon to be reinstated f
  • It was a gimmick to get people to try the search engine, and hopefully like it. However, once people tried it for a week or so, they either liked it or moved back to their favorite engine, just sending enough searches A9's way to keep the discount up. So it was still costing revenue but not really generating new active users out of those signed up for the discount. A case could be made, therefore, that the cost per user continued to rise over time.

  • Personally I really liked the A9 toolbar. Using multiple machines I used the bookmarks very often and the history was very helpful a more than a handful of times. I'll miss it but at the same time giving Amazon access to all that data on me started to bug me so I'm glad it's gone so I won't be tempted to use it anymore. I just hope they trash all that past data on everyone.

    Are there maybe open source alternatives to the bookmarks and history in the toolbar that maybe I could serve from my own box?

  • Looking at the www.A9.com, its feels very much like Sherlock [wikipedia.org] on the Mac. That is, instead of being a general search engine, like Google, it is indexing specific major sites and allowing you to search within them. The one thing that Sherlock had going for it was the ability to add in other sites, that weren't orginally provided by Apple. I suppose Amazon decided that they weren't winning any ground in trying to by just another search engine, that they decided to make the engine different to what is already o
  • Initially I was devastated that my favorite start page was dropped without any advance notice. Funny how we get used to something even though the limitations drive us nuts. Oh well...

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