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Amazon Wants to Know If You’re Catholic, Gay and Rich

Digital Journal — If Amazon has its way, the dot-com giant will know everything about its customers, right down to their religion, sexual orientation and income.

According to a story in the Seattle Post Intelligencer, this would create the largest database of personal information ever gathered by an online retailer. While Amazon suggested it had no plans to implement the idea yet, the Seattle-based company filed a patent application for the technology in December.

“Not every company uses a patent it has in its name, but it may have a patent in portfolio,” Amazon spokeswoman Patty Smith told the 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.”

Amazon, which has 59 million active users and is the 15th most popular site in the world, could conceivably cull info about its customers with data both voluntarily disclosed and gleaned through public databases. This impressive compendium would include the gender, date of birth, interests, occupation, education, income level, residence, race and ethnicity of customers for Amazon’s “gift clustering” program.

This dropped bomb from Amazon comes at an already worrisome time for Internet users. AOL recently published a list of around 650,000 user searches that revealed names, addresses and Social Security numbers. While the company apologized and removed the data, its misstep stormed across mainstream and Web-based media like a forest fire. Internet privacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation is asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate AOL and require strengthening of its privacy protection.

What’s rightfully worrying privacy advocates about the Amazon patent is the potential for hackers or government officials to grab consumer profiles from the database. Undoubtedly, all this customer info is like a bank vault filled with gold — incredibly lucrative for the many retailers who do business with Amazon. And like any bank vault, criminals will be hungry to steal information they can sell secretly on the black market.

So there you have it — your Web searches could be catalogued, your foray into Amazon could turn out to be a case of leaked identity. What’s next, YouTube tracking my love affair with Bumfights?

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