Closing accounts with Amazon (redux)

This is not a funny, it’s a rant. And not even a particularly amusing one, though there may be the odd nice turn of phrase along the way. If you were expecting chuckles then move along now, nothing to see here.

Still reading? Well you were warned. Onwards!

I received today the following email from Amazon:

Dear seller,

We have noticed that there is currently no valid Place of Establishment maintained in your Amazon Seller Account.

In line with our policies, we kindly ask you to make sure to update an address as soon as possible. This should be either your personal address if you are selling in your own name or the registration address of your business if you are representing a company. You can update the settings in Seller Central under Settings > Account Info > Place of Establishment Information.

We appreciate your efforts!

Best regards,

Amazon Services Europe

It’s an innocent little thing, isn’t it? Yet it has me genuinely furious—and not the mock-fury I force myself into in order to entertain you folks with intolerant rants about others’ intolerance. I am truly infuriated by this email.

The reason is simple: I asked for this account to be closed over three years ago. I was very clear: I wished to close it—not suspend it—and I was, back then, so irritated by the arcane and unnecessary hurdles put in the way of closing it by Amazon that I blogged about it, back on my old Posterous account. Posterous is now closed but, by the wonders of the WayBack Machine, you can still see that post here. Here’s the gist:

  1. Amazon do not have an option to close your account in their basic account management pages. You may “suspend” your account with ease, but there are no options to close the account. This is poor customer service.
  2. Amazon do not have a customer services email address. If you wish to contact them, you have to do so via a webform on their website. Clearly, if you wish to identify from whom the not-email is coming, you have to be logged into your account to send the request. They call this “email,” but it is not. It is a webform. I consequently have no separate record of my contact with them. This is poor customer service.
  3. I sent a succinct message from the webform, asking for my account to be closed. I received in reply a 19-paragraph email, the vast majority of which was given over to telling me how to suspend my account, and a single paragraph of which, near the end, told me how to get it closed. This is poor customer service.
  4. In order to close my account, they demanded that I contact them again, this time providing evidence of who I was by giving my post code and the last four digits of my debit card. Bear in mind, that in order to contact them—given point 2 above—I was already logged into my account, and therefore not only had I already cleared password security, but the information requested was available but two clicks away from the page which I was obliged to use contact them. This is not only poor customer service, it is positively obstructive of the customer’s requirements.

My first post, over three years ago, speculated that the intentional effect of this combined poor customer service was to make closing one’s account an irritating and long-winded process, with the effect that many people would not bother, leaving Amazon free to hold their data for their own purposes.

It would appear, however, that despite my having jumped through all those loops, Amazon still hold my data and are treating it as active to the extent that they actually demand more. In one sense, the account is closed, for I cannot log in to it. But it is also clear that they have retained my data, and presumably treat the account as in some senses active, given their email to me; three years after I asked for the closure.

A year ago, I would simply have considered this desperately feeble customer service, probably an infringement of my data protection rights, and truly lousy corporate policy. However, in the wake of the NSA revelations from Edward Snowden, this takes on a whole new, worrying sheen.

Corporations such as Facebook and Amazon are data-greedy. You are a fool if you do not realize this, if you do not accept that when you provide them with your data—be it who you’re in a complicated with, or what books you buy—this is a resource for them that they can, and do, monetarize. This is why they make it so difficult for you to close your accounts. But, until Snowden, I gave them the benefit of the doubt, in that I presumed that they abided by the general principles of data protection: that individual data was not sold on, that they sold trend information extracted from their databases, not the details of any given individual’s behaviour.

However, we now know that this is not the case. We know that these corporations are being obliged—unwillingly, so they claim—to make available to the staggeringly vast US surveillance operation huge amounts of personal data on request. I’m not particularly cynical about the motives of companies in hogging data—they wish to make money, but the easiest way for them to make money is to operate within the law and I presumed I was safe from my personal details being sold on. But I am deeply suspicious of the motives of the US military-industrial regime, and its sycophants here in the UK. I am very doubtful whether they operate within the law. It is very clear that they secretly coerce large corporations into handing over personal data, regardless of the individual’s rights or the corporations’ policies. And I want to know, therefore, that when I request my data to be removed from a company who may be, in secret, being obliged to pass it on, that it is so.

Amazon, this is a massive fail on your part. I cannot now have any confidence that my data is in any way safe in your hands. I must confess that, since my rant three years ago, I had been tempted back to Amazon, because of the cheapness of Kindle editions. I have been contemplating upgrading my Kindle recently, and this (coupled with the disastrous failure of the platform to handle Arabic script) has now confirmed for me that I shall be switching to a Kobo when I do so.

I would respond, Amazon, to your email letting you know this. I would point out to you that you are demanding I update data on an account that I requested to be closed over three years ago. I would tell you that this is a gross infringement of my data rights, and that I am once again going to be leaving you for other shores. But I cannot, because I cannot access this account (for “closing” it you seem to have understood “shut off customer access to”), and because you don’t even give your customers the courtesy of a fucking email address.

The rant is over. Next time, I promise, I’ll be hi-fucking-larious.