Jan 18, 2008

Your Amazon.com Profile...

So I was doing a Google search on my name - which I do from time to time. Mostly to see if there any press quotes out there that I missed (OK, so it's also fun to see your own name on the search engine). This time something showed up that I wasn't expecting:

Amazon.com: Profile for Karen Hobert(emailaddress)

The abstract was covered with my e-mail address. Of course I opened the link. What I got was a page on Amazon.com titled:

Karen Hobert(emailadress) Profile

There I saw all sorts of information on my activity with Amazon.com, reviews, wish lists, list mania, my screename (which was my email address), and other social networking stuff. Closer examination pointed out that what I was seeing was information that only I could view. So I changed the page to show me what Everyone could see (there's a handy drop down list to do this). The only thing that changed was I could no longer see my purchases (Phew).

After some clicking on help links to try to figure out how this profile got there and why my information, namely my e-mail address was made this public. I finally found a button to send a question to the support desk, to which I penned two, not one, steamed messages to Amazon.com support. They first one started out something like: "Hey! I go to Amazon.com to shop, not be a part of a social network." You get the idea. The second memo was more targeted at how I can get my e-mail address off the profile.

In the meantime I found out that I could lock down the viewership of each area of the page, so I set about to do the work. It took about 45 min to an hour. It took some time to figure out how to change my screenname from my email address to something else - apparently you can't not have a screenname and if I deleted the screenname it put my e-mail address back in the field. I tried the usual variations of camel-casing my name but for some reason they were not usable, so I opted for ihateamazonprofiles, which was OK. I was going with my emotions at that point.

About 6 hours later I received a reply from Amazon.com support explaining to me how Google worked and if I didn't like my information showing up there that I needed to deal with Google about that. They also provided the help information from the web site on how to configure the profile settings and explained that if I wanted to use the social features of the site - wish list, list mania, reviews, etc. - I needed a profile. Lastly they offered to remove the profile from the site if I wished, apparently something I can not do on my own. They also assured me that privacy was the utmost concern for Amazon.com and were sorry for any inconvenience.

So I replied the following (I saved my message this time):

Thank you for the detailed explanation of the My Profile feature of Amazon.com. I am aware of how Google works and I have no issue with it. I do have an issue with a feature on Amazon.com that defaults to posting my account information for everyone to see. If privacy is a concern wouldn't the My Profiles use different access defaults than "Everyone" for each area? I spent at least 45 minutes going to each area of "My Profile" to lock it down and correct the rest the default settings that used my email address as my screen name. I even went out and deleted a review I posted back in 2000 to clear the page. I'm not a hapless web application user - I've developed them for over 10 years - so it was slightly more intuitive for me to figure out how to protect my information, however I don't think my mother would have the first clue on what to do.


The only way I figure that I created the profile was when I added something to a Wish List or when I posted the only book review I've ever posted in 2000. I have never used List Mania or any of the other social features of Amazon.com. I am dismayed that I unwittingly put myself on a social network by adding something to a Wish List. I would not have used the Wish List feature if I had been aware I was joining what is essentially a social network and creating an openly public profile with much more information on my Amazon.com activity.


I am sure that Amazon is acutely aware of privacy concerns of its users. I have long been a user and an admirer of Amazon.com and its technological advances. I am aware that Amazon.com strives to bring new technology and solutions to its users and I applaud Amazon.com for it's strident efforts. It would be a shame for Amazon.com to fall into the scuttlebutt of a privacy issue in its effort to come up with innovative user solutions and features. While the attention span of the public is fickle, and Facebook recovered quickly from it's privacy debacle last fall, it would be a shame for Amazon.com to go through a similar event if it can be prevented.  The operative word here is prevented. Privacy issues like this one are preventable as long as the application designers take the time to consider privacy and develop accordingly. So many times developers  - and I include myself in that category - get focused on solving a problem that the big picture gets fuzzy. While the adage "there's no such thing as bad publicity" might work in Hollywood when it comes to technology and privacy there is, and it can scare off users.


Please remove my My Profile from Amazon.com.


Thank you for your help.

Ok it's still whiney, but I think I was pretty kind. They politely replied and removed my profile from the system (sadly it's something that I could not do on my own).

Many of those who know me know that I'm not hysterical about privacy, but I am concerned about what happens to my personal information on the Internet. I felt duped that I had unwittingly joined a social network when I thought that I was adding book titles to a wish list (the only thing I can figure I did to create the profile). It's not that I'm against social networks, I am a member of several social networks, it's just that I want to keep my activity on Amazon.com a more private matter.

I want to say that I appreciated how professionally Amazon.com treated me and how polite they were. I think this is a case where support gets the brunt of "when application design ideas have bad consequences." I only hope that Amazon.com has a system in place to send users' complaints and concerns back to the development team.

It's settled now and the nice folk at Amazon.com support helped me out. If you use Amazon.com and feel about this stuff the way I do, you might want to Google your name and see what comes up. At least you can go in and change the default settings.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Like you I do regular checks and am having this same experience. Looks like not much has changed over the last year. This profile info was not publicly available years ago, so I feel like Amazon "enhanced functionality" and all the defaults were to make things public. So much for privacy.