Privacy watchdog guns for Amazon and Friends Reunited

Privacy International is planning to complain to the Information Commissioner about two more companies
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

Privacy International (PI) is to make more complaints to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) after successful discussions with eBay to make its privacy procedures more transparent.

The watchdog is to make a series of submissions to the ICO, starting next week with complaints against social networking site Friends Reunited, and e-commerce site Amazon.

PIs's complaint against Friends Reunited is based on the claim that it is not easy for users to delete account information and close accounts, which makes it hard for users to control their own information.

Privacy International said it would like to see a button on the Friends Reunited account management page to enable users to close accounts more easily.

"There is a way out, but you have to hit it lucky," said Simon Davies, director of Privacy International. "You can't delete from the account management page. You have to go from the help page, where a small number of users may fluke [finding] it," Davies told ZDNet UK.

It is difficult for users to find the account delete function as it comes under "troubleshooting", Davies claimed. He maintained that users would be unlikely to look to delete accounts on that particular part of the site.

Davies claimed that, unlike eBay, Friends Reunited had been unapproachable when he had contacted them, even threatening legal action after a previous complaint. Davies claimed Friends Reunited had told him there was "no appetite" to change anything on its site, and that "life is too short".

Friends Reunited reacted strongly to Davies' claims, admitting it had told him life is too short for such complaints, but saying its comments had been taken out of context. The site maintained that Davies had made no effort to contact it before making this complaint to the ICO.

"When this issue arose [in August], Privacy International made no attempt to contact us and have not done so this time either," said Jon Clark, head of Friends Reunited. "The report has never been presented to us and we have had no right to response. We cannot respond to the complaints to the Commissioner before we've seen the report ourselves. We would like to point out that we strongly disagree with the claims of Privacy International concerning Friends Reunited's Web site, which we believe to be false," Clark told ZDNet UK on Thursday.

"We closely monitor feedback from our members and change the site accordingly. Problems with deleting profiles have never been flagged as an issue," Clark said.

Friends Reunited denied making any legal threats against Davies, who claimed Friends Reunited had attempted to force him to retract a previous statement.

Privacy International's complaint against Amazon centres around the claim that it is impossible to delete account information.

"We had several PhD computer science researchers trying to delete Amazon accounts, and there appears to be no way at all to do it," said Davies. "Amazon is one of the worst offenders, and it hasn't been bothered to contact us."

Amazon had not responded to requests for comment at the time of writing.

Davies claimed that companies make it difficult to delete account information because monetisation of a site through advertising requires a large user base.

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