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The Internet

Amazon Rethinks Purchase Circles 57

Dredd13 writes "Amazon.Com announced today that they are rethinking their position on Purchase Circles. They are going to permit people to remove their purchases from being added to Purchase Circles, as well as allowing companies to opt-out of the Purchase Circle listings. Personally, I think that it should be explicitly opt-in for companies, because it is far too easy for a company to have its secrets unknowingly leaked to the world via its book purchases. If a precedent is set allowing Amazon.Com to do this, then before a company allows purchases from an online retailer, they may have to spend time and energy researching the company making sure silly things like Purchase Circles don't affect them. " Opt-out sure is an interesting choice. I know one of my old employers is actually quite upset by the whole idea of purchase circles.
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Amazon Rethinks Purchase Circles

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    I suppose the wave of email they got from customers saying "See ya!" kind of helped them see the light.
  • Is anybody the slightest bit surprised that Spamazon is acting this way? After all, they spam, and they reserve the right to sell your email address to other companies unless you follow an obscure and poorly documented procedure for opting out. Using your information in ways you don't want is just business as usual for these scumbags.
  • At first I thought this was a horrible thing for Amazon to do. Then I played with it a little and now I'm not sure what I think.

    I think government purchases are supposed to be totally open, so I don't think about can really complain about being able to see what was sold to .gov people.

    And I kind of like having the tables turned on the mega-corporations. When I think of the possible profiles they can build on me, what's the harm with seeing what their buying habits are like? Plus it's funny seeing that the #4 book to Ford is about how Chrysler got to be the hottest car company (or something like that).

    At the very least, it might make the big corporations a little more sensitive to the privacy concerns of their customers. But then again, if there's a buck to be made...

    And for all the consipracy buffs out there, any guesses why Amazon did this? I don't think it would take a psychic to predict people would have a problem with this.

    -EC
  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Friday August 27, 1999 @03:42AM (#1722620)
    > Opt-out sure is an interesting choice.

    I've refused to shop at Spamazon for quite some time due to their penchant for spamming. Cases in point go back at least as far as early 1998 [internetworld.com] and are widely documented on Dejanews.

    A better write-up of their business practices can be found at the page of Peter Seebach [plethora.net], a long-time n.a.n-a.e (news.admin.net-abuse.email) regular.

    Finally, there's Spamazon's practice of shilling for themselves on USENET - an "astroturf" campaign eerily reminiscient of Micros~1's "independently-written letters to the editor" stunt. (Available through Dejanews - Start here [deja.com] or search for Message-ID <3584e5cc.1368345@news.sirius.com>.

    While I'm as disgusted at the "purchase circles" idea as anyone, I'm not at all surprised. Spamazon doesn't think in terms of customers; merely in terms of targets for additional marketing. Take your business elsewhere. (Many on n.a.n-a.e have recommended Powell's [powells.com]. I concur.)


  • Shop at Barnes and Noble, the store not the
    "online" version.

    It is interesting to look at what is being
    bought. The DVD version of Dr. Strangelove
    placed 9th in my little home town. That's
    cool!

    Checked my last employer, "Digital Signal Processors Demystified" placed first. Sounds
    like a cool book and software.
  • by dirty ( 13560 ) <dirtymatt@gmMONETail.com minus painter> on Friday August 27, 1999 @03:48AM (#1722622)
    Actually corporations have the exact same rights. Corporations are basically considered a person. Companies also need some degree of privacy. Let's say company X has delt with Microsoft exclusively for years, they are getting tired of being controlled by microsoft and see linux as a way out of that controll. Company X starts buying a lot of linux books from amazon.com, Microsoft, being the evil empire that it is, regularly checks up on what books it's "partners" (read slaves) are buying. Microsoft notices that company X is buying said linux books, microsoft knows that company x might be thinking of some sneaky way to get away from them. microsoft in some way manages to crush company x before they have a chance to impliment their "linux liberation plan." In short, companies need privacy too.
  • by Gleef ( 86 )
    dirty writes:

    Actually corporations have the exact same rights. Corporations are basically considered a person.

    First off, the original poster wasn't saying that corporations don't have the same right of privacy, he was saying they shouldn't. There's a big difference.

    Secondly they are and they aren't considered people under the law. They are granted the same rights as a person, and then a few extra rights as a corporate entity, yet they have less responsibilities, and are subject to less punishment for wrongdoing. When was the last time you saw a company go to jail for fraud or theft? Go to jury duty? Vote (yes, they buy votes for their candidates, but they don't vote directly)?

    Personally, I think this is the wrong way to go about it. A company is not a person, it is an organization. Organizations cannot be given the same responsibilities as people, therefore they should not be given the same rights.

    ----
  • I'm not sure if maybe I'm missing something, but Amazon spent a_lot of time and money getting those statistics together. And now they're publishing them. On the web. For free. I poked around the site and looked up some of the "groups" to which I belong, almost scarily accurate in some cases, in others not so much. In any case, I see enough things that I bought to bet that the stats are real so to speak. So what's the motivation for putting hard-won marketing data up on a publicly available site? Don't feel that Barnes and Noble has been competing well enough? Or do they just want to create equal-opportunity spam?
  • I think government purchases are supposed to be totally open, so I don't think about can really complain about being able to see what was sold to .gov people.

    It's NOT "government" purchases, it's purchases to people who happen to have a .gov address. The same is true of the corporate purchase circles. They aren't tracking what the corporations are buying, just what employees who work there buy.

    And for all the consipracy buffs out there, any guesses why Amazon did this?

    Duh. Maybe people told them they would stop buying from them. They probably also got a couple of letters from legal depts at various corporations who don't like to be used as spokesmen for Amazon.

    Whenever I use my employers email, I always include (as per company policy) a disclaimer that says that I do not speak for them. Now Amazon comes along and claims that everyone at Ziff-Davis really likes to read "Memoirs of a Geisha". Really, it's #2! Sickos.

    Now, it looks to ME like Ziff-Davis is advertising for both Amazon and for "Memoirs of a Geisha" and, even more embarrassing, Tom Brokaw's book! And ZD doesn't even get paid for this humiliating ad.

  • Is that there isn't a purchase circle for where I live (Bloomington, MN [bloomington.mn.us]). There are 45 Minnesota cities with purchase circles, some of them absolutely tiny, but I am apparently the only person in the state's 3rd largest city who ever buys stuff at Amazon.

    Not only that, but neither my company [daytons.com] nor our two largest competitors have purchase circles. What a bunch of illiterate morons we are.

    Rupert
  • These are NOT books purchased by the corporation. They are simply the purchased of free and private citizens who happen to have email provided to them by their employers.

    Ok, SOME of these might actually be the "corporate" purchases. But they can't be distinguished. Do you really think the PG&E bought its employees "Who Moved My Cheese" as part of their severance package?
  • I see that M$ is no longer listed. I guess they weren't happy that Amazon was using them to advertise a book on Netscape...
  • about having to read about this on Yahoo, while nothing appears on the Amazon site about it.

    It makes me feel this is just a trial balloon, so if this concerns you, be sure to keep those cards and letters coming.

    D

    ----
  • Cripes! Don't buy from Barnes & Nobles, the
    Walmart of the book world. Support local booksellers (see BookWeb.org [bookweb.org], the American Booksellers Association site) and libraries. An organization of independent booksellers serves effectively the same purposes and goals as Slashdot: peer equivalency, idea exchange, and independence.
  • This isn't about rights; it's about business.

    When Company A buys a service from Company B, this is a private transaction. Company B isn't going to announce the transaction unless Company A gives them permission. You don't say "FrogData spent $100,000 on our software product" in a press release unless FrogData says it's cool. Quite frequently, FrogData turns you down, because they don't want to give information to their competition, because they don't feel like publicly endorsing your product, or because the marketing director had a bad weekend.

    Endorsements are a favor one company does another; they aren't a guaranteed part of doing business. Amazon is trying to make it look as if Oracle, Microsoft, and so on, are endorsing Amazon's services. They aren't. They're using Amazon's services, which is a different matter entirely.

    Nobody would do business with a headhunter if they ran ads in the trade press saying "FredCO hired 57 MUMPS / OS/360 experts from us; why don't you do the same?" Amazon's telling the world which books a company's employees buy falls into the same basket. We don't have to invoke rights when we can invoke the power of the marketplace.

  • >And for all the consipracy buffs out there, any guesses why Amazon did this?

    Duh. Maybe people told them they would stop buying from them. They probably also got a couple of letters from legal depts at various corporations who don't like to be used as spokesmen for Amazon.


    I understand why they stopped. Why did they do this in the first place? I'm no Kreskin, but I could have told them that this would not be generally well received.

    -EC
  • The important thing here is that the Net was used effectivley here by consumers to MAKE A DIFFERENCE. Perhaps for the first truly recordable, documented time ever, consumers didn't have to rely on government, privacy groups, or "merchant goodwill" to protect their data. Rather, a bad idea was brought to the online world's attention, out in the open air...and for the first time ever, a mass of customers was able to act as one body in forcing a change.

    This kind of "sunlight is the best disinfectant" policy in action is one of the brightest hopes I've ever had for the Net. It's wonderful to see it in action. The moral of the story is: KEEP BEING OUTRAGED and ACTING ON YOUR IMPULSES TO EMAIL OFFENDING PARTIES! Hey...we all helped make at least some differences in the whole RedHat IPO/E*Trade situation. Now this.

    We're those people on the Internet that Congress was warned about! *grin*

    Power to the E-ple.


  • A lot of time and money? Give me a break! If I had access to their databases, it wouldn't take long to come up with that information. It's exactly the sort of thing that database query engines are designed to calculate.
  • > Why did they do this in the first place?

    One word: Clueless. Really, I think that's all there is to it. Clueless in a Big Way.

    According to the original Wired article, they thought it would be "fun".

    From letter to me when I told them I would no longer purchase their, THEY seemed surprised. They must have thought I didn't understand that these were aggregate invasions of privacy, not personal ones.

    I suspect it was letters from legal depts threatening action on behalf of the companies whose names were being used that had a far bigger effect. I mean, look at what their reaction to the outrage was: the absolute LEAST they could possibly do, probably just enough to avoid lawsuits...
  • Yesterday I ripped all links to amazon and amazon-related sites, and yanked the orders I had placed. Now I am looking around at other sites.

    Someone mentioned Powels (sp?) elsewhere, and there is fatbrain, but what else is there? I must say that having books and DVDs on one site was pretty kickass, but 800.com seems to be the best DVD place. Are there any other sites besides the wicked evil amazon that do DVD/Books/Toys?


    Mister programmer
    I got my hammer
    Gonna smash my smash my radio
  • I still don't see an invasion of privacy, even if AMZN is throwing darts at a board to generate the list. I'm under the assumption that they're already selling individual sales data, probably with some choice demographics.

    I would like for some folks to explain why publishing (regional) summary sales data is a Bad Thing.

    Have any x-number of /. ers compared lists for a given company/area? Let's check to see if the lists aren't being doctored based on our own purchase history. For example: San Francisco, 8/26/99:
    1)The Silicon Boys
    2) Nudist on the Late Shift: And other true tales of Silicon Valley.
    3)The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing
    4)Cryptonomicon
    5)Memoirs of a Geisha
    6)Burn Rate: How I survived the Gold Rush Years on the Internet
    7) The Beach
    8) Turn of the Century
    9) Our Dumb Century {"Holy f-ing Cow! Man lands on f-ing Moon! haha}
    10) Jacques Pepin's Kitchen: Encore w/ Claudine

    ...does everybody get the same results for San Fran (the city, not metro)?

    "Semi-Solid" evidence like this is a foggy stained-glass window into a company's state of being, not an open window, and I doubt that AMZN is pulling the feature due to customer feedback.
  • Engines don't write themselves. This sort of information is an accountant's dream, whether done electronically or by ledger. Wouldn't almost _any_online business love to know what Amazon is selling, and to whom?
  • Why did Amazon do this? Marketing.

    It reminds me of an old Bloom County cartoon. Oliver Wendell Jones is sitting in front of the TV that is announcing that (paraphrased) "You are a major dork weenie if you don't have a Captain Death action figure!" His mother, horrified, goes to his father to complain who is also watching TV and being told "You are a major bolchevik weenie if you don't vote for Senator Biggums". (again, I've paraphrased - the cartoon is better).

    How does that apply to Amazon? Go check out Microsoft. If you want to be widely successfull like Microsoft, you should be reading TechBook, Second Edition just like them! Buy it now (even if you never would have thought to by yourself)! Say... everyone else in my town is reading LameStory... what am I missing out on? Buy it now! Etc, etc...

  • Corporations already enjoy too many priviledges of personhood and citizenship, so, while I am strongly in favor of privacy, I am less concerned about a corporations precious secrets leaking out and am opposed to any governement intervention or lawsuits attacking this policy.

    On the other hand, I think the old policy was just bad business. By not allowing corporations, or individuals which make up those corporations, to opt out of these circles, amazon is giving corporations, who will clearly want to maintain some secrecy, only one way of doing so: halting all business with amazon.
  • I was poking around last weekend and found www.dvdpricesearch.com and thought it was the coolest thing ever. I wish I could find such a thing for books and CDs. (anyone know of one?)

    basically, you build a list of things you want, and you click a button, and it compares prices at the major internet sites and tells you where you can get the set cheapest. it takes shipping into account for determining the cheapest site, and you can have it "break up" the order to get a better overall price by using multiple vendors. You can also have it exclude certain vendors (hint, hint).

    IMHO this just totally rocks! I've found other sites that do single item comparisons, but this is the first site I've found that does multiple items at once (and takes shipping cost into account).

    just think if you could do this at pricewatch...you could select all of the components you want in your system, and then have it figure out where to buy them.
  • I'm not saying it was M$ in particular, but I did phone the UK and US hq's yesturday, and spoke to several "important" people to ask them "why is it that the 9th most popular book that _your_ company pays for is the Microsoft File: The secret case against Bill Gates?"!!! They were to say the least "dumbfounded" to hear that people such as myself know about their Anti M$ fealings! I expect a couple of similar cases occured yesturday.... Jon.
  • Yes there was this was #5 on the Microsoft circle page. Competing on Internet Time : Lessons from Netscape and Its Battle With Microsoft by Michael A. Cusumano, David B. Yoffie
  • http://www.acses.com/
  • Last days, I navigated in the "Purchase Circles" of Amazon like a true spider.
    I saw the top books on every enterprise was bestsellers, nothing strange.
    Then Amazon didn't show anything, Amazon would
    show something with a complete list of Books, no the firsts.
    Purchase Circles is a Lie.
    A stupid Lie.

  • Ok, maybe I'm still asleep, but I don't see what's wrong with the Purchasing Circles. This is aggregated statistics, like bestseller lists and the "people who bought this also bought these" listings that were already there. You can't figure out what I've bought from Amazon through PC. Where's the privacy violation?
  • After the last /. post, I sent am email to Amazon. Strangely enough, the timing is about right.

    Here's the contents:
    --------------------

    Dear Amazon:

    I should let you know that this new feature has been posted on Slashdot, an online forum for "geeks", where this is sure to raise some eyebrows about privacy conserns. You are sure to get a lot of knee-jerk reaction about this, so I thought I'd try to present a more balanced statement.

    I realize that profiling goes on all the time. The value of profile data is extremely high from a marketing perspective, and I find it interesting that you are releasing this information to the public at large. Amazon.com has
    always been innovative in my mind, and this seems to continue the to idea that you "buck the trend."

    What I think needs to be done in any case is to update your privacy policy to include a clause about what and how you use profiling information. As it reads right now, it could be misread that you are breaking your own policy by offering such a service. Also the clarification would be helpful for many of us with privacy conserns, and perhaps a method for the die-hards to opt out.

    I applaud amazon.com for it's openess with profile information, after all, it can be useful to consumers as well - but I think your policies need to be ironed out a little more.

    Sincerely,

    Michael Wilkinson
    Amazon.com customer
  • by Anonymous Coward
    How is this any different from the New York Times' bestseller list? Explain to me the logic of why one particular form of personal data aggregation is permissible while another form is not. In either case, no purchases can be traced back to any individual. So there's no privacy issue here. I think people just like to flame success, and this is an example of that.
  • Now I can get a jab at Amazon and sell the same information for lots of money!

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Odd. This is pretty much the single most quoted reason as to why people prefer shopping at Amazon. I've got some very nice book suggestions in the past, and appreciate things like the 1-click ordering system for instance.

    If you truly believe that other stores aren't keeping this kind of information on you, you're sadly mistaken. Amazon is just being honest and open, and is allowing you to see and make use of their data in new and novel ways. Bravo for them.

  • As long as companies continue to prostitute personal information that belongs to their customers (to the monetary benefit of the company, no less), I have absolutely *NO* problem with making the purchase information of companies public. If anything, it evens the playing field.
  • I buy my books in person, at independent bookstores, with cash. They've got nothing on me.

  • Point 1:

    I am glad that Amazon gave corporations the ability to opt out. To do otherwise is borderline ethically and downright rude.

    Point 2:

    I hope few corporations decide to opt out. I think companies have a lot more to gain by having this information public than they have to lose. The competitive intellegence gathered this way is really weak (Intel employs a lot of geeks! Microsoft workers are a bunch of toadies!), but the benefits to that company's culture can be huge. New employees can come to grips with a company's mindset much more quickly by reading their company's top 10. Managers might even be able to get a clue about what their geeky employees are thinking about.

    Summary:

    The net is changing all the rules. We should be vigilant about privacy issues, but also be ready to benefit from these kinds of aggregations. We might get more from them thean we give up.

    BTW, has anyone else noticed how really nimble Amazon is? When the net disagrees, they can change direction in a day.
    --Tim
  • Long enough for me to set up a crawler to download the entire Purchase Circle portion of their website, sans images. Which is what I did, and I'm sure I'm not alone, as soon as the original story was announced on Slashdot a few days ago.

    Why? Oh, nothing sinister -- I just thought (1) it would be interesting (not important, just interesting) data to have, and (2) I knew Amazon would back down and start pulling at least some of it off the web as soon as the privacy guys started going nuts. So, they can pull it down now if they want, but since they already let the cat out of the bag, that data is as good as public.

    Robot.txt? What's that? :)

    Cheers,
    ZicoKnows@hotmail.com

  • Dude, while I appreciate your enthusiasm, this wasn't even close to being the first time. Back in 1996, Lexis-Nexis met the wrath of The People when they put up a service to let subscribers look up other people's social security numbers. Not that I'm claiming that that was the first time, either, just that it predates this Amazon episode by a good three years.

    Just as an aside, we really don't have that much privacy, anyway. Just check out http://www.pretext.com/nov97/featu res/story1.htm [pretext.com] for some good evidence of it, as well as some of the facts of the oft-misreported Lexis-Nexis P-TRAK story.

    Cheers,
    ZicoKnows@hotmail.com

  • Well, here's one big objection.

    Despite claims to the contrary, Amazon are publishing results for some very tiny domains. So let's suppose I'm the only woman at ten-person-company.com. Which one of us is likely to have placed the order for, say, _Jane's Guide to Uterine Fibroids_? Or maybe _Wondering If You're A Lesbian_?

    I don't order my books as an employee; I don't want them to be listed against my employer's name.
    City or town listings seem generally harmless, but what if you live in a REALLY small place?
  • adbusters.org has made some interesting propoals for a corporate "Death Penalty". To operate a corporation (at least in the US) you need to get permission from a state in the form of a licence or charter. Conversely, a company that behaves criminally can have it's charter revoked.

    Quite the powerful concept, when you consider that the status quo is to let the company do bad and then punish them with fines. The fines don't always prevent bad future behavior, unless they are bankrupting.

    http://www.adbusters.org/campaigns/charter/death .html
  • And now amazon is down. Was it slashdotted? ;)
  • I don't think we have made enough difference, I'd like to see them crash and burn. Another company will come up and provide the service but it will be paranoid about my data as well. Amazon hasn't made any amends for doing such a stupid thing. I'm never going to order from them and I will advise others not to. There are a number of other companys out there. I say live by the net, die by the net. If we kill one company, that will make a difference and no one will forget.

    Cheers Andrew

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