Amazon investigates claims its employees are SELLING customers’ personal data worth more than $2,000 to help vendors boost their sales with insider information on popular keywords and buying habits
- Report claims Amazon staff are selling customers’ data to retailers on the site
- Sellers, many based in China, are buying data to gain an edge over competitors
- Amazon confirmed it has been investigating the allegations for several months
Amazon staff are purportedly selling confidential customer information to online vendors for payments of more than $2,000 (£1,500).
Sellers, predominantly based in China, are buying the data in a bid to gain an edge over competitors and boost sales on the online store, according to a new report.
Amazon confirmed it was investigating these new allegations, which also accused employees of offering to delete negative reviews and restore banned accounts for cash.
Fake customer reviews written by the merchants themselves were also among the probe’s chief concerns, the company said.
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Amazon, headed up by Jeff Bezos (file photo), the world’s richest man, is investigating allegations that its staff sold confidential customer information to online merchants for payments of more than $2,000 (£1,500)
On Amazon, customers can buy products sold and processed directly by the company as well as goods from a number of other third-party merchants.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, which did not give figures, employees of the e-retailer sell internal data and other confidential information – usually through intermediaries – to merchants who sell their goods on the US giant’s website.
The newspaper cited anonymous sellers, brokers and others familiar with the probe.
Data sold by employees includes the email addresses of customers who have left negative reviews.
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Sellers can then contact unhappy patrons and offer discounts or free products in exchange for deleting or editing bad reviews – a practice prohibited by Amazon.
Employees are also selling internal sales data, such as keywords customers typically use to search for specific items on Amazon, and other data around buying habits.
This enables sellers to build product descriptions that will be boosted in search results, enabling them to reach a greater number of people on the retail site.
The practice is a violation of company policy, as Amazon typically keeps this type of information under wraps.
Sellers, many based in China, are buying confidential customer data in a bid to boost their sales on the US giant’s website, according to a new report (stock image)
It is particularly present in China, the Wall Street Journal report said, citing the example of intermediaries in Shenzhen working for group employees and selling information on sales volumes for payments ranging from $80 (£60) to more than $2,000 (£1,500).
The going rate for having an Amazon employee delete negative reviews is about £230 ($300) per review, the report states.
Intermediaries in China typically message employees on Chinese messaging service WeChat and ask them whether they will provide the service in exchange for cash.
Amazon launched its investigation in May after the company was tipped-off to the practice taking place in China.
The firm employs approximately 560,000 people worldwide.
An Amazon spokesperson confirmed in a brief statement that the company is ‘conducting a thorough investigation of these claims.’
‘We have zero tolerance for abuse of our systems and if we find bad actors who have engaged in this behaviour, we will take swift action against them.’
Amazon will consider terminating accounts, deleting reviews, and withholding funds from sellers found in breach of its rules, the spokesperson said.
It would also ‘take legal action’ should it be required.
Fake reviews by purported customers are among the concerns of the internal probe, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Amazon has reportedly been investigating this topic for months.
WHY HAS AMAZON BEEN CRITICIZED FOR ITS TREATMENT OF EMPLOYEES?
Amazon has been accused of ‘dehumanizing’ its staff to deliver products to customers.
Workers at the internet shopping giant’s distribution centers face disciplinary action if they lose a punishing race against the clock to track down items ordered by online shoppers.
Staff paint a picture of a stressful environment ruled by the bleeps of handheld devices – nicknamed ‘the gun’ – instructing them which items to collect.
Bosses are said to push staff so far past breaking point that they ‘practically combust’, while regular sackings to keep workers on their toes were described by one HR manager as ‘purposeful Darwinism’.
According to an expose last year, the company’s best workers are known as ‘Amabots’ – because they are so ‘at one with the system’ they are almost cyborgs.
In November shocking claims were made about the online retailer’s newest warehouse – which the company refers to as a ‘fulfilment centre’ – in Tilbury, Essex.
The packing plant is the biggest in Europe, the size of 11 football pitches, and is due to ship 1.2million items this year.
In November shocking claims were made about the online retailer’s newest warehouse – which the company refers to as a ‘fulfilment centre’ – in Tilbury, Essex
The investigation, by an undercover reporter for the Sunday Mirror who spent five weeks there, suggested workers suffer mentally and physically as they try to meet demand.
He said that some of his colleagues were so tired from working 55-hour weeks that they would ‘sleep on their feet’.
‘Those who could not keep up with the punishing targets faced the sack – and some who buckled under the strain had to be attended by ambulance crews,’ he added.
Just the following month it emerged Amazon delivery drivers are asked to drop off up to 200 packages a day, are paid less than minimum wage and urinate in bottles because there’s no time to take a break
Legal firm Leigh Day, which led a case against taxi giant Uber, is representing seven drivers who say the agencies used by Amazon are mistreating them.
While Amazon does not employ the drivers directly, the drivers, who are recruited through agencies, work via an Amazon app and follow delivery routes made by the company.
But drivers who are given up to 200 packages a day to deliver, say that traffic jams, weather and speed limits make it near impossible to deliver all of the parcels in a timely fashion.
A spokesperson for Amazon said: ‘Amazon provides a safe and positive workplace. The safety and well-being of our permanent and temporary associates is our number one priority.’
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