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Amazon unveils new and improved Alexa 5.0

By Damon Marturion
New Business News Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO - In April of 1999, when Amazon.com acquired the Alexa Internet service for $250 million, eyebrows were immediately raised across the World Wide Web in terms of privacy issues.

In January 2000, Joel D. Newby filed a class-action lawsuit Amazon.com and Alexa Internet claiming that Alexa sent confidential information to Amazon without his consent.

One year from the date that security expert Richard M. Smith filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission alleging that Alexa's software violated privacy laws, Alexa and Amazon show their hand with the debut of Alexa 5.0.

Amazon unveils the new Alexa service like Bullwinkle saying, "Nothin' up my sleeves," then pulls the snarling, man-eating lion (Alexa 5.0) out of his hat with a mighty roar.

Amazon has carefully re-written Alexa's 5.0 Terms of Use and Privacy Policy to thwart anyone who might have the gall to take them on in court. Basically, if you continue to use the service, they may use your data.

And how might they use your data? That's like trying to predict how a hungry lion might act in an over-populated daycare facility.

Since its inception, Alexa has been a powerful Web tool that gathers information as you surf the Web. It collects the Data and makes it available to clients and other users of the World Wide Web. The tool provides traffic, contact information and links to related sites, based on information gathered, as its users surf the Internet. Internet Explorer followed Netscape by making the data available at the click of a button integrated into their respective Web browsers.

What does the new version of Alexa offer its faithful users? A handy little bar that provides instant data links as you peruse the Internet. At first glance the upgrade appears to be as valuable a tool as previous editions provided. After little use, one can see how Amazon intends to take over the service and all online purchases made by online shoppers.

In jeopardy are online niche retailers who have tried hard to weather the dot-com shakeout. Let's say, for instance, that you have a Beatles store that specializes in Beatles merchandise. You have started a Web site that features some of your products for sale to other collectors of Beatles memorabilia...

Alexa has monitored online shoppers as they visit your site and has determined the type of products that they are likely to purchase from your Web site. The Alexa 5.0-powered browsers are immediately greeted with a link as they land on your site titled something like, "Click here for Beatles products." Clicking on the link takes your potential client to Amazon.com's Beatles Web catalog.

Hmmm... Sounds fishy? You bet it does. It is appalling that an already power-hungry Internet giant like Amazon would corrupt such a powerful, well-respected Web tool as Alexa.

Alexa is "putting their customers under surveillance," Evan Hendricks, editor of Privacy Times said that version 5.0 users "will be at the mercy of Amazon."

Since its launch in 1996, the Alexa index of data has grown to more than 25 terabytes of Web content making it the largest collection of online data in the world.

Now that the cat's out of the bag, you can decide what you'll do about Amazon's new and improved Alexa service. While you decide, I'll be un-installing it.

. . . watch for more stories coming soon  

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