WHILE FACEBOOK AND GOOGLE get routinely raked over the coals for the creepy amount of data they collect, Amazon often gets a free pass. Which is weird for a company that knows exactly how many erotic short stories are on your Kindle.
Not today though, after news reached Buzzfeed that the retail giant has been asking new marketplace sellers to submit five seconds of webcam footage for "identification purposes".
If you're imagining Jeff Bezos wandering round a room full of heads like his own personal Game of Thrones-style Hall of Faces (admit it, you are now), we should make it clear that Amazon says the data is encrypted.
But it's certainly invasive. The tipster - a Vietnamese seller who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals from Amazon - said that it was impossible to opt out of, and he can't see any reference to it in his seller profile, meaning it's undeletable.
While the technique is certainly creepy, Amazon is trying to tackle a real problem here. Third-party sellers make the company a lot of money, but they come with their own problems - the main one being that counterfeit goods end up hurting Amazon's reputation. Having a user's face on record should mean that banned sellers have a slightly harder time getting back in, and will also make it tougher for individuals to manipulate listings by creating multiple accounts.
But it's not foolproof. Already Amazon requires sellers to provide a whole bunch of ID, and people still find a way around it. In China, there are reports of people being paid to create accounts using their own ID on behalf of others. Having to provide a face may raise the price a little bit, but it's not going to solve the problem.
"We always experiment with new ways to verify the information sellers provide us in order to protect our store from bad actors," the company said in a widely-shared statement.
(To be clear, in this context, bad actors refers to fraudsters and cheats: they're still selling Series 1-3 of The Bill. But we digress.)
"Seller identification information is securely stored and used only for identify verification," the firm added.
That may be true, but given Amazon has faced flack for its dubious use of facial-recognition technology before, it's still not exactly a reassuring turn of events. µ
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