Amazon Recommends

by john on February 10, 2003

I’ve been a big Amazon user for many years now. I buy many of my books through Amazon, and am buying other things there now as well. I carry an Amazon Visa card. My wish-lists get heavily picked over by my technology-savvy family. Amazon has sent me gifts out of the blue just for being me. Really. No doubt I spend too much with them.

If there is one area of Amazon that I’ve heard people criticize the most it is in how they use their recommendation engine to suggest possible purchases. You know what I mean – buy a John Sandford book like Mind Prey and next month, when he comes out with another in the series, you’ll get an email from Amazon starting with “As someone who has previously purchased a book by John Sandford…”


From what I can tell their recommendation engine technology is pretty basic, or at least their use of it is. But it’s getting better. And I one for one appreciate getting those emails, and certainly don’t view them as spam or an invasion of privacy. Robert K. Brown agrees, as he writes in Why Amazon Continues to Get My Money:

Of course I don’t need these things, but if Amazon is proactive enough to recognize a relationship between some of my past purchases and some upcoming new releases, then send me a couple of e-mails, well, all I can say is that a fan and his fifty dollars are soon parted.

I’ve fallen for that one myself.

The complaints about this seem to fall into two categories: privacy issues and the impact of buying gifts through Amazon on future recommendations.

The latter has an easy answer. If you don’t want a suggestion from Amazon to buy the next Phyllis Schlafly book that you bought for your sister, simply go to their “Improve Your Recommendations” section and un-check the checkbox next to that book which says “Used to make recommendations” Problem solved.

The point of privacy is a personal one with each person needing to decide how much the are willing to give up in order to receive some rewards. For myself, I really don’t care so much about privacy and am happy to provide information if it results in a better experience for me or helps me down the road. Others get nervous to think about Amazon having a history of their buying and browsing habits and what they might do with it.

So imagine this, privacy zealots. Amazon buys Tivo today. Tomorrow morning you get an email from them: “As someone who watched the Twilight Zone last night you might be interested in The Twilight Zone Companion…”

Now I think that would rock.

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