April 14, 2004

A9 Search Goes Live... With The Attendent Privacy Issues

From Amazon. What they say it will do:

That's quite a list. However, it offers after sign-in to give me access to some of these features, but the sign-in page is asking for my Amazon.com account and password. Interesting, as they have such an incredible amount of information on heavy buyers and browsers, and tying that together with your search over the web, is some pretty powerful personal information they are aggregating, including your credit card for purchases made mixed with all your other search. Let's see Google best that database of intentions. According to A9's privacy policy, they will be sharing this info with people outside the company under a variety of circumstances. Which means they can really do it whenever they want with whomever they designate a partner.

Don't think I'll be installing the toolbar anytime soon. Reminds me of the GMail controversy in terms of the privacy concerns. While I don't think either create enough problems to warrant not using them at all, I would be careful with both systems.

Update: check out danah's excellent "ickiness factor" and more privacy write-up. She articulates very well the issues around our discomfort with private information leaking out all over, and what designers might do to make things better.

One additional thought has to do with the "A9+everything you every bought at Amazon+everything is that there in your search history" information -- it's a preference threat, as it were, where your preferences are used to make decisions about you because someone can, because they gather your purchasing and browsing data, and decide you are X thing... and then redline you, or treat you differently or one-sidedly change what is happening without your knowing or consenting. It's a kind of threat that can have many manifestations, because the information leaks out to places the person did not intend when exchanging personal information for some purpose. When I get a driver's license, I think of this information, my driving record and the data on the license, as associated with driving, and some kind of state identification. When I purchase at Amazon, I think of that purchase as something between me and Amazon, not me+Amazon+all their partners+those that want to check out my interests beyond purchase (searches and intentions using A9).

This is what is so bothersome, because when I made the Amazon purchases in the past, A9 didn't exist. And yet now, all the personal information and preferences and purchases from that past can be lumped together with all the searching I might do. And they seem, from their privacy policy, to have no concept that I may not want all this information about me to go everywhere, or that I might not want it lumped together. Yes, I could make a different account on Amazon, with a different credit card and email address, buy why not do the right thing. Give me the choice to keep my information separate, and unconnected. Let me use the functionality of their search system, without having to tie it to my credit card.

Posted by Mary Hodder at April 14, 2004 03:30 PM | TrackBack

If only real life worked that way!

Posted by: Philosocles at April 7, 2005 02:58 AM