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.