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December 06, 2006


Mason’s article on online privacy brings up many good points about how information gathering may be bad for personal freedom. Based on his PAPA framework (Privacy/Accuracy/Property/Access), he concludes that changes to data collection must be made in order for Americans to maintain their dignity.

Let’s tackle each one at a time and see how it relates to what Amazon.com is doing with their personalized, targeted homepages.

Mason’s concern about privacy is relayed through a story about monitors in the bathrooms of a Florida school. There’s no question that this is an idea of questionable character to begin with – while it is understandable that you would have to collect some data to see whether or not a bathroom is worth keeping, watching people actually use the bathroom seems to be a ridiculous way to achieve that goal. That’s a true invasion of privacy. Amazon.com will look at previous searches and try to target products to the user that relate to them, but at no point does it do something in even the same zipcode of creepiness that the Florida school did. Frankly, we have no problem with Amazon holding onto that information as long as they do not share it (as they maintain that they don’t.)

Do we trust Amazon? Well, AOL did let its user search data hit the internet recently, but in spite of that, we do trust Amazon to keep our searches under wraps due to the horrible publicity resulting from AOL’s gaffe.

Accuracy doesn’t really apply to what Amazon’s doing – at least not in the same sense that it applied to the story of the bank in Mason’s article. The point taken from that is that computers are still operated by fallible humans.

Who’s property is the information provided to Amazon? Hopefully, just Amazon. We agree that Amazon’s service can help us by providing better targeted information, but if Amazon were to sell the information, they could cause a lot of headaches when more and more advertisers started bothering us.

Access to this technology isn’t such a huge deal when relating to Amazon.com either. While people who are connected (thusly probably better off to begin with) are getting better deals (because they can use Amazon rather than a brick-and-mortar), it makes sense based on the fact that Amazon’s costs – with no actual stores – are much lower.

In the end, Mason brings up some important points, but when it comes to online shopping, as long as the transaction is secure and personal data isn’t escaping Amazon’s clutches, we really don’t mind having our preferences tracked in the name of a better deal.

Posted by amweibel at December 6, 2006 10:16 AM


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