Amazon downplays privacy concerns

"EPIC is one of almost 500,000 Amazon associates," Bill Curry, an Amazon spokesman, said. "We respect their decision." An Amazon associate is a company that puts links on their Web site to Amazon's site and receives a referral fee every time they drive business to the online retailer, Curry explained.

Curry made the same comments about privacy advocate Junkbusters, which also announced Wednesday the ending of its associate relationship with Amazon, again over the company's new privacy policy.

Amazon maintains that the new policy, unveiled at the beginning of this month, serves to tighten up the terms of its previous, more open policy. "The old policy had a provision that said we don't sell, rent, lease or share information with third parties, [but that Amazon] may choose to do so in the future," Curry said. "That's a pretty broad statement with a lot of flexibility."

Curry said that the talk circulating in the market that Amazon in the past had issued "some guarantee of never selling [customer data] wasn't the case."

With the new privacy policy, Amazon has "drastically constrained and reduced the flexibility" implied in the old policy, Curry said, reiterating that the company is not in the business of selling customer information to third parties.

EPIC announced earlier Wednesday that it was immediately ending its relationship with Amazon and seeking a new way to distribute its books and other materials. Executive Director Marc Rotenberg told EPIC newsletter subscribers that the company could no longer continue its relationship with Amazon because the new policy means Amazon can no longer guarantee that it will not disclose customer information to third parties. EPIC also cited the absence of legal or technical means to assure privacy for Amazon customers as a reason for its decision to sever ties.

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