Amazon Gathers Info on White, Gay Christians Earning Big Bucks

Discussion
Aug 11, 2006
George Anderson

By George Anderson


Amazon.com has filed an application with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office for a system the company is developing that would capture intimate details on customers such as their ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation and income.


The database from the system would come from information voluntarily provided by Amazon’s customers. While the company is developing the system, it said it has no plan to put it to use at the present time.


By applying for a patent, Amazon is looking to lockout competitors who may be considering developing a similar process to get at consumers’ personal details.


The goal behind Amazon’s expanded personal information gathering system is to help make its product recommendations feature more precise.


The new system would also help gift givers, for example, by accessing a recipient’s preferences to make recommendations. The recipient would have to grant permission for their personal information to be accessed.


As Amazon’s patent application states: “Even if a customer does not know demographic information or interests of a possible recipient, the system may be able to access such information from a user profile for the recipient, from past ordering patterns of the recipient, or from publicly accessible databases.”


Patty Smith, a spokesperson for Amazon.com, refused to lay out a timetable for implementing the system.


“Not every company uses a patent it has in its name, but it may have a patent in portfolio,” she told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “Who knows, 10 years down the road or five years down the road? It might be good to implement. We want to protect our intellectual property.”


Ms. Smith said her company is also looking to protect customers who may share more of their personal details with the e-tailer.


“Amazon is always careful how it uses customer data so the customer experience will be as good as it can be,” she said.


Discussion Question: While it may be years (or never) before Amazon.com puts its expanded information gathering and product recommendation system into
use, what do you see as the potential benefits and drawbacks of such a program?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

9 Comments on "Amazon Gathers Info on White, Gay Christians Earning Big Bucks"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Bernice Hurst
Guest
14 years 6 months ago

My first reaction to this was that, although I wouldn’t dream of participating, I wouldn’t stop other people who had no objection to disclosing private information. My second thought, though, was a worry about how easily information is lost or stolen and that even if people did voluntarily supply it to Amazon, they would need to think carefully about the possibility that some employee would download it onto a laptop which would then fall into a stranger’s hands. Still their choice, of course, but risky.

Kenneth A. Grady
Guest
Kenneth A. Grady
14 years 6 months ago
Gathering personal information for use in better serving customers will continue to gather momentum as a tool. The benefits of using information to refine the retail experience outweigh the risks (many of which exist today and have existed for many, many years) of having databases with such information. While Amazon has bobbled the public relations aspect of the application, the idea has great merit. Other retailers will want to consistently increase their abilities to collect and use personal information to refine their business models. They should learn from what Amazon did (and didn’t) do to ensure that their customers understand how they will protect sensitive information. One of the biggest missteps retailers have made in the privacy area is underestimating the need to build their customers’ trust on information issues. Privacy is a broadly used and misused term, and only by consistently and repeatedly educating customers can retailers overcome reluctance to share information. Those retailers who fail to be proactive in this area will soon find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.
Mark Burr
Guest
14 years 6 months ago

This all makes the assumption that both the giver and the receiver are customers of Amazon. That’s fairly presumptuous, I would think, in the first place.

So the question is, when is too far – too far? It appears that while profiling is inexcusable for any other reason, it is okay in the world of retailing – regardless of the implications.

My experiences with Amazon (albeit limited) haven’t been what I would call exciting. So, it would seem to me that I have no worries – or do I? These types of things do cause one to pause, to say the least.

It makes me wonder what has happened to ‘real’ retailing? Have we suddenly lost any ‘art’ whatsoever to this business that these types of intrusions are all that is left?

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
14 years 6 months ago

“But the alarms bells went off because of the incendiary reporting”……..Oh fiddlesticks, I loved the headline (!)

Back on topic, I’d have to go with those who see little merit in this: in no small part because of the large percentage of people who will refuse to participate, but also because I don’t think (either) that these labels make very good predictors. Sure, the program would have a lot of hits, but after a few too many “if you’re gay you like ballet” stereotype-generated targetings, most participants will hit the “No” option….vigorously.

Bill Robinson
Guest
Bill Robinson
14 years 6 months ago

Amazon’s patent application looks innocent. But the alarms bells went off because of the incendiary reporting.

Amazon wants to enhance the gift giving experience by leveraging information volunteered by the recipient and shared only with the recipient’s consent. How many times have we been stymied in online gift purchases? You don’t know their size, color preference, reading preferences, etc? Amazon apparently wants to help us get it right. Sounds good to me.

Meanwhile, Amazon needs to improve its public relations to strengthen its leadership in consumer privacy issues. We need Amazon to be totally responsible with consumer data, leading the pack of online retailers away from any abuses. Hopefully, we’ll look back at this PR gaff as an aberration.

Tom McGoldrick
Guest
Tom McGoldrick
14 years 6 months ago

I would probably allow this and would appreciate it when buying gifts for someone. If they can get past the PR issues and horrendous timing relative to the AOL debacle, it seems like a good strategy.

However, I worry that this type of system will limit the new things I am exposed to. If I always get my news from sources that have philosophical positions I support, buy products based on past purchase behavior and received gifts based on my historical profile it will greatly limit the amount of new and novel things I am exposed to. This could make it more difficult for products to expand into new markets or for new products to come to market.

In the past I have received gifts that I would never have been exposed to let, alone chosen that turned out to be wonderful.

Mark Barnhouse
Guest
Mark Barnhouse
14 years 6 months ago

As a gay man, this move by Amazon just reinforces my belief that it’s best to buy goods from brick-and-mortar stores whenever possible, because retail stores contribute to my community (I mean my actual city, not the so-called “gay community”) by means of sales taxes, employment opportunities, and creating a more vibrant urbanism, and Amazon and other online-only retailers do not. I realize, of course, that this makes me a minority within a minority, but since I’m also left-handed, I’m used to that.

Giacinta Shidler
Guest
Giacinta Shidler
14 years 6 months ago

Just one comment… how in the world does knowing a person’s sexual orientation or skin color accurately predict what kind of gift they will like? Every person is different. If Amazon wants to make predictions based on other information they provide, like their hobbies and interests, that seems like it would be more accurate.

Not that Amazon’s predictions have thrilled me in the past. From my own experience, they seem to be out in left field. It’s a nice idea, but it’s hard to believe they could know so much about me, intimately, that they could predict what I will like! And even if they’re right, how do you know the recipient doesn’t already have it?

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 6 months ago

Amit Agarwal’s data-mining patent for Amazon is a tremendous public relations black eye. Amazon needs to plan ahead for its privacy disclosure issues, simultaneously announcing safeguards. Without people’s belief in safeguards, privacy issues become big turnoffs for many customers.

wpDiscuz

Take Our Instant Poll

How willing would you be to provide information, such as race, religion, sexual orientation and annual income, to Amazon.com or other reputable online retailer?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...