U.K. watchdog group Privacy International has sparked an inquiry into
eBay's handling of personal data, as part of a new campaign against e-commerce
sites that may be abusing the privacy of their users.
The civil- and cyber-rights group complained to the U.K.'s Information Commissioner this week about
eBay.co.uk, which it claims is breaching the Data Protection Act by making it
hard for users to cancel their accounts and delete details of their Web shopping
habits and other personal data.
A spokeswoman for the Information Commissioner confirmed Thursday that it is
examining Privacy International's complaint.
Privacy International also has published details of an
investigation into U.K. e-commerce sites. In it, it claims Amazon U.K. is "the
most blatant example of a company that refuses to provide account delete
"Nowhere on the site can a customer actually delete an account. A trawl
through all the 'useful information' statements ('customer charter,' 'privacy
site') reveals nothing about closing your account, deleting your personal
details or terminating your relationship with Amazon," said Privacy
International. "Even the site's search function is useless for this: You can
only search for products for purchase, not for information on how to manage your
account. In fact, a search for 'delete account' even points to advertisements
from 'sponsors' on how to open bank accounts."
According to Privacy International, this is a breach of the U.K.'s Data
Protection Act, which says that information "should not be kept longer than
Amazon U.K. did not respond to requests for comment. On a Web page outlining
its "Customer Promise," the company says it complies with the Data Protection
Act, but this page does not offer any help on closing an account.
Privacy International also accused eBay.co.uk of creating "substantial
obstacles" to customers who want to delete their accounts. In its investigation,
it said, it ploughed through numerous Web pages before finally finding one that
advised consumers to write to the company to get an account closed. eBay offers
the ability to close an account online, but Privacy International claims that
this page could only be found if a person happened to enter the right terms into
a certain search box.
eBay.co.uk did not respond to requests for comment.
Privacy International said that its complaint against eBay was a test case,
and could be followed by complaints against other e-retailers. The Information
Commissioner's office said it wasn't aware of any similar complaints being
investigated at this time.