Amazon Still Won't Talk About Government Requests For User Data

from the usually,-silence-speaks-volumes,-but-in-this-case,-just-more-silence dept

In the wake of the Snowden leaks, more and more tech companies are providing their users with transparency reports that detail (to the extent they’re allowed) government requests for user data. Amazon — home to vast amounts of cloud storage — isn’t one of them.

Amazon remains the only US internet giant in the Fortune 500 that has not yet released a report detailing how many demands for data it receives from the US government.

Although people are starting to notice, the retail and cloud giant has no public plans to address these concerns.

Word first spread last week when the ACLU’s Christopher Soghoian, who’s spent years publicly denouncing companies for poor privacy practices, told attendees at a Seattle town hall event that he’s “hit a wall with Amazon,” adding that it’s “just really difficult to reach people there.”

Zack Whittaker and ZDNet ran into the same wall. Nearly thirty Amazon representatives were contacted but only one provided a response: an anonymous statement that the company was under “confidentiality obligations” not to discuss requests for data.

There are several reasons why Amazon might be hesitant to share intel/law enforcement request data, perhaps none bigger than its $600 million/10-year contract with the US intelligence community. It might also be its multiple contracts with other federal agencies, including connecting the nation’s law enforcement agencies through its AWS-hosted Criminal Justice Information Service.

But that can’t be the whole explanation. It’s not as if other companies now providing transparency reports aren’t similarly engaged with the government at some level.

Microsoft has contracts with various governments to provide Windows and Office software. Google offers a range of open-source and cloud-based services to the government, and Apple provides iPhones and iPads to government and military users, thanks to earning various certifications.

Even telephone service providers, which have historically been very proactive in accommodating government demands for data — going so far as to give intelligence analysts guidance on how to skirt legal restrictions — are producing bi-annual transparency reports. But Amazon simply refuses to do so, and then refuses to explain its refusal.

This lack of transparency has gone past the point of being merely vexatious. Amazon isn’t satisfied with simply selling and storing. It’s gathering far more data than its more famous offerings would indicate.

With its smartphone and tablet line-up, the company is taking on even more data — including browsing history through its Silk browser, reading habits, and other data like IP addresses. The company is slated to be moving into the enterprise and work-based email provider space.

Silence and secrecy aren’t improving Amazon’s reputation, at least not with those with privacy concerns. Unfortunately for them, it’s been well-established that Amazon will do whatever it wants with little regard for public opinion. No one’s going to “guilt” Amazon into doing anything. But the concerns are legitimate. Who wants to be housed “next door” to the CIA, knowing it has shown little respect for data barriers put in place to safeguard other government entities? I’m sure the answer is “hardly anybody,” but Amazon’s opacity prevents ordinary people from knowing even the slightest about the government’s activities and demands.

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Companies: amazon

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Comments on “Amazon Still Won't Talk About Government Requests For User Data”

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25 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Amazon and Wikileaks

Amazon did at least provide an explanation –however piss-poor– while trying to backpedal out of widespread criticism for their decision to pull the plug on Wikileaks.

http://aws.amazon.com/message/65348/

I have not used Amazon since the company’s anti-Wikileaks crusade was revealed in 2010, a personal decision that did not require any kind of organized boycott.

Anonymous Coward says:

Amazon won't respond to abuse reports either

AWS is a massive source of spam, phishing, and SSH brute-force attacks. Amazon WILL NOT respond to abuse reports and WILL NOT take any action of any kind to make those attacks stop. Tech discussion lists are full of people who’ve tried and failed to reach someone, anyone, at Amazon who has the professionalism and competence to pay attention and deal with these issues…and I haven’t seen a single instance yet where they’ve succeeded.

paintballbob (profile) says:

Amazon just wants to be left alone

Amazon is basically hoping to be ignored. There’s a lot of conspiracy theory arguments in the comments, but they are all false. Amazon silently defends (how hard I don’t know), but its main goal is to not become a part of the controversy. It wants to maintain the customer-centric reputation without having to wade through all the accusations that inevitably come when talking about these things in the open. I think it’s a bad idea because it could actually further their reputation to publicly fight, but still that’s their line of thinking.

A couple extra things:

* The public and government networks are (very) separate.
* If the government wanted in, they would be in anyway (look at Google).
* As a public cloud provider, of course there are people using it for bad. Same goes for any other public technology advancement. Some bad, mostly good.

Source: I used to work in AWS

Anon says:

Re: Re:

“… and Amazon wants all your personal data.”

Minimizing exposed information is an approach I’ve found useful.

When browsing eBay or Amazon, I do it anonymously through my VPN, which I leave on for almost everything anyway. When I am ready to buy, I boot to a Live CD, log on briefly, and make the specific purchase I had already selected.

When the Live CD is shut down, there is no possibility of leaving a history on my computer. The computer I use for financial transactions has no hard disk that could be corrupted by viruses or trackers.

Amazon of course has a complete historical database of everything I ever actually purchased there. But it has no record of the far-more-revealing searches, comparisons, and time spent on each that could be used to (mis)interpret in-depth personal preferences and decision mechanisms. I also avoid use of any other Amazon service, which would only add more personal data to the purchase history database.

Kennon (profile) says:

hard to get ahold of anyone

I can vouch on the issue of getting a callback from Amazon. Heck I am not even sure how they do business on the cloud services side. I had a reason to purchase a bunch of cloud storage for my employer on short notice. So the first name that popped into my head was Amazon. I tried 3 different times to find a sales rep to help me and all I could get was some online interest form. So I went ahead and filled it out. It was fully 16 days later before an Amazon sales rep called and left me a voicemail about my inquiry. Which ended up being about 13 days too late…

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