The Industry Standard: Intelligence for the Information Economy

This story was written by Keith Dawson for the Industry Standard's Media Grok email newsletter. It is archived here for informational purposes only because The Standard's site is no more. This material is Copyright 1999-2001 by Standard Media.

Is Amazon in the Wrong Business?

May 29 2001 08:12 AM PDT

The top exec at the biggest online retailer isn't Jeff Bezos, it's George W. Bush.

Is Amazon in the Wrong Business? If you were reading the tech press over the holiday weekend - and we sincerely hope you weren't - you would have seen two stories linking and the federal government.

In one, a study attempted to total up sales from U.S. government Web sites and concluded that last year the government outsold In the other, the Federal Trade Commission gave Amazon a pass on a privacy question.

First to online sales. Of the $3.6 billion dot-gov total, $3.3 billion fell into the Treasury Department's column for savings bonds, notes and T-bills. ( racked up $2.8 billion in sales last year.) The remaining $300 million accruing to the government was spread among some 165 other sites, according to a four-month study funded by the Pew Internet and American Life Project and carried out by Federal Computer Week reporters.

USA Today ran an FCW-authored story on the study. This comprehensive summary delved into questions of the propriety of government sites operating in competition with commercial enterprises - a wrinkle not mentioned in the wire-service coverage of the study. The AP's D. Ian Hopper helpfully listed and linked 23 government sales sites in a handy sidebar. (USA Today's FCW piece mentioned only eight such sites.)

On the privacy front, the FTC declined to investigate's privacy practices. Two watchdog organizations, Junkbusters and the Electronic Privacy Information Center, had requested an investigation after changed its privacy policy last year (a move the Register headlined as "privacy sleight-of-hand").

The privacy advocates had chided Amazon because the retailer stopped promising never to sell its customers' personal data. The FTC decided not to get involved, because Amazon has not, as yet, actually sold any such data. Most outlets ended their stories with EPIC's all-but-promise to pursue further action in federal court or before Congress.

In E-Commerce We Trust
The Industry Standard

Dot-Gov Goes Retail
USA Today

U.S. Government Outsells Amazon

Government Online Sales Outpace Retailers' (AP)
San Jose Mercury News

FTC Blesses Amazon's Privacy Sleight-of-Hand
The Register

Amazon Wins Privacy Victory
Internet News

Amazon in the Clear on Privacy, FTC Says (Reuters)

FTC Says Amazon Did Not Deceive Customers With Privacy Policy (AP)
ABC News

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