Online giant Amazon has finally made public the list of government requests for data. The lack of transparency from the company has been a source of criticism from the American Civil Liberties union, and citizen watchdog groups that claim they have a right to know how companies disclose their information to governments. Amazon is notoriously secretive about its data, and the move has surprised insiders with its timing. Nothing that Amazon does in public is without a reason, and the question many have is whether or not the release is part of a push to boost its new gaming arm.
What the reports show
While Facebook has been subject to 10s of thousands of request for personal user data by governments, Amazon has had less than a thousand requests in a six month period. Of those request, barely 40 involved warrants. Of those with warrants, only 13 were responded to. In all, this is a strikingly different picture than is presented by the transparency reports from other social media networks. Facebook’s rate of request and fulfillment is much higher when you place the numbers on a scale. Not only does Amazon look like it is not a hot bed of governmental concern, but that they have been very successful in protecting their member information against disclosure. That they have only answered less than half of the warrants speaks volumes about the legal machine that powers Amazon.
The real question is why Amazon chose to release the transparency report now. Insiders believe it is part of a push to appeal to the demographic they are courting with their new gaming service. The fact that they can show themselves as more strident protectors of demands for information – even from public sources – may play well in the gaming community. Amazon is known for being to take on other tech giants and carve out a niche for their products, if not a leading edge. Just look to the Kindle for evidence of that. Google may be teaming up with YouTube to take on their gaming arm, but nothing Google has a good reputation for looking out for member privacy.
Does the recent transparency signal a shift in culture at Amazon?
Don’t get excited thinking that the release of the report is a signal that the company is going to become more open and friendly. Amazon’s business culture remains markedly closed, and that won’t change anytime soon. It shouldn’t, as it has proven to work successfully for them. As the released report shows, the close-lipped approach seems to also be benefiting the protection of its customers too. Business will probably continue as always, although the door is now open for regular transparency accounting too.