“Technical Error” Exposes Dark Underbelly of Amazon’s Influence
It’s been nearly a week since Amazon very quietly sent out an email to some of its customers explaining that a “technical error” resulted in their names and emails being exposed. Beyond the fact that there was this technical error and that some personal information was exposed, there’s very little else known about what happened, why it happened, and how many people exactly this happened to.
Aside from customers sharing their gripes with the company online, there’s really no way of telling how widespread this leak was. Amazon, for its part, has shared no information with anyone—beyond the email to customers—that could answer potential questions as to what this technical error was, what caused it, in what fashion customers’ information was exposed, or how many customers were impacted. What the company did say is that the issue had been fixed and that there was no need for the customer to change their password or take any other action.
Amazon's legit been sending out notices saying sorry we exposed your email address. Seems likely related to this https://t.co/21cRB2dHTk… Besides the brevity, what's giving people pause is they sign the email https://t.co/KDiteRFaeR Why cap the "a" and why no https://? Strange pic.twitter.com/mwty3GmCN1
— briankrebs (@briankrebs) November 21, 2018
That type of response may be comforting to a relatively small subset of Amazon loyalists. But to the 21st Century consumer, this really should serve as an example of how retailers—even the all-mighty Amazon—are not immune when it comes to potential leaks of data.
To be clear, this wasn’t a hack. Despite some of the fantastical headlines that have been published, no one actually infiltrated Amazon’s platform and exposed this data. According to Amazon, it was an internal error that resulted in the leak of personal information—not that that makes the incident any better.
What’s most frustrating here, though, beyond the actual leak, is the total lack of transparency from the company that’s supposed to be all about its customers. Their ultra brief statement to the media—“We have fixed the issue and informed customers who may have been impacted”—says all that it needs to in order for Amazon feel good and move on internally. But so many questions remain unanswered, which ought to be really concerning for consumers.
Amazon owns nearly half of all the online retail space. Their Prime membership numbers sit somewhere north of 100 million. And during this super critical holiday shopping season they’ll see the number of transactions over the next month total in the billions. Consumers rely heavily on this ecommerce giant to get their holiday shopping done at a lower cost, in a more efficient way, and trusting that it's being done securely. So to say that the timing for such a technical error couldn’t be worse is more than spot on. But to compound things and make matters worse, Amazon really isn’t doing much to reassure its customers.
Despite its stature and dominance in the retail space, I’ve long held that the one thing that could topple the juggernaut that is Amazon is a breach in confidence with its customers. That could be the result of a major hack that exposes more than just some names and emails. But it could also come about from poor public responses to series matters involving customer data and privacy issues. Just look at the path that a company like Facebook is on. Even with its user base of more than 2 billion people, the social network seems to be teetering on the edge of collapsing after a series of poor PR decisions and alleged misuse of the network to influence the past two U.S. elections.
Would an Amazon hack ever reach the level of having geo-political implications? Probably not. But it could potentially disenfranchise hundreds of millions of shoppers. And the second that customers lose confidence in the online retailing platform, Amazon loses its label as a disruptor and the king of ecommerce. We’re not there yet. But the response to a simple technical error certainly feels like the first step down the wrong path.