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Peril or Fringe Benefit? Amazon Stalks Journos On Social Media, Blogs

9591225539_e33281e390_bThere are many fringe benefits to being a blogger, including free stuff, working in my bathrobe, admission to press conferences, etc. Lately I’ve come to notice one of the lesser known fringe benefits, namely extra special customer service from Amazon.

Where Amazon’s regular customers have to contact Amazon and ask for help, bloggers and other journalists merely have to mention on Facebook, Twitter, or a blog that they’re having a problem with an Amazon product or service, and Amazon will contact them.

For example, on Friday afternoon I published a post on the latest update to Amazon instant video app for Android. The update added support for Android tablets, but it also didn’t work for me (the Amazon website kept telling me to install the app, which I had already done).

I happened to mention my problem in the post, and yesterday evening – out of the blue – I got a call from Amazon tech support. Someone at Amazon had spotted my post, pulled my information from my Amazon account, and had tech support call me.

You’re welcome to view that as helpful, if you like. I find it creepy.

While I’m sure Amazon thought it would be helpful, in my mind this falls close to stalking. They watched me from the shadows, went digging for info I didn’t include in my Amazon account, and then made unwanted contact.

That sounds too much like cyber stalking for my tastes, and it’s not the first time it’s happened.

Amazon has a long history of watching journalists online. For example, they have numerous Twitter accounts which are used to follow journalists. Here’s one; note that there’s no mention of Amazon nor any actual account activity, so if you didn’t already know that this was an Amazon PR rep you wouldn’t know that Amazon was following you on Twitter.

Again, some may see it as innocuous, but I found it really creepy when I figured it out in 2013 (following a couple out of the blue emails).

So is this inappropriate?

You tell me.

All I know is that I’m not happy with the situation. When we combine this with the fact I have to write about Amazon on a regular basis, I feel this puts me in an uncomfortable position which I cannot object to nor can I escape. As I sit here writing this post, I’m afraid that Amazon might retaliate by cutting me off completely.

But in the end I realized that I am probably not the only one to feel this way, so bringing attention to this practice is worth the risk.

image by Ian Sane

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Maria (BearMountainBooks) April 4, 2015 um 11:27 am

Well, given that microsoft scammers are calling people and telling them that "your machine called us and we are here to fix the problem" in order to get access to machines and financial info, it’s not only creepy, it’s probably a bad business practice. It would be one thing to post to the blog with a "call this number and give case x your details or email us" but to look up your account? Less than comfortable. I don’t think I’d be very happy with such helpfulness, but it does shine the light on the fact that nothing on the internet is even remotely private and it’s a good reminder.

DaveZ April 4, 2015 um 11:56 am

I dunno. As with most things in life, you can’t control what others do, you can only decide how you respond. If you’re not interested in the outreach, turn it down. If you don’t want someone following your (public) Twitter feed, block whomever offends you or make it private. How did you handle the call yesterday?

As for being cut off, you can run your blog without interacting with Amazon the same way I divorced TiVo PR off over two years ago. Has worked out just fine and, in fact, I rarely engage with PR folks of any company — their motives and methods don’t always line up with mine (or yours).

Nate Hoffelder April 4, 2015 um 12:18 pm

He was just doing his job, so I was polite and went through the troubleshooting steps. I was also too surprised to object.

And as for Twitter, I did block the Amazon PR rep for a while (then I unblocked). But: one problem with blocking people on Twitter is that my personal account was also my professional account at that time. It’s not just my blog’s account but also a point of contact for a bunch of people in publishing. So I can’t exactly take it private.

Now I have two accounts, so the personal account is actually personal.

William Ockham April 4, 2015 um 2:07 pm

Here’s where I think Amazon missed the mark. If they are going to respond to complaints you make on your blog, they should do that on your blog. At the very least, they should have initiated the contact via your blog. Like a comment that said, "Hey, Nate, I’m with Amazon Tech Support, can I call you to help resolve this issue?"

Also, it is rude to have Twitter accounts directly or indirectly working on your behalf without disclosing that.

Anne April 4, 2015 um 5:14 pm

If you put something out on the internet or social media or whatever, it’s out there. I think you’re asking for engagement when you do that.

For me, a reply on your post or an email from Amazon would fall under "hope to help" and you can choose to act or not to their response. I’m not ok with a phone call, that puts you on the spot and that crosses my line.

I don’t like the idea of someone using a twitter account for business stuff and not disclosing the business connection.

Nate Hoffelder April 5, 2015 um 9:13 am

Actually, I think we need to give Amazon a pass on the Twitter thing (I was wrong to mention it). In this day and age we should assume that companies will use bots and search engines to track trends on social networks.

Maria (BearMountainBooks) April 5, 2015 um 9:46 am

I don’t think you were wrong at all. You can create a personal account all you want–it’s not personal. Companies and the government are trolling them 24/7. If you want to keep things personal, they have to be off the internet or at the very least in a private email (which is also trolled by the government and they don’t even make any apologies for doing it). As far as disclosure, it’s nice if a business link is disclosed and even lawful in some areas (review blogs for example are supposed to reveal if they get free products) but I’m not going to assume that every "personal" account I follow doesn’t sometimes benefit from friends retweeting something that is business oriented.

I still think it’s creepy for them to just call you and I would have automatically assumed it was a scammer (I finally got rid of "Microsoft Support" calling me by blistering their ears with my opinion of their scamming ways, wishing bad karma on them and their children and generally trying to start their phone line on fire with words.) Yes, I was inspired to write a short story about a scammer…who received his just rewards!

Anne April 6, 2015 um 11:54 am

Yes, we should assume companies are tracking trends but no, I don’t think an undisclosed business relationship on Twitter is ok. They don’t get a pass from me on this one.

Greg Stranberg April 6, 2015 um 12:10 am

Sometimes when I complain loudly enough someone will do something and the problem will be solved. This is unsettling, as I was just complaining and venting. Now that the issue is solved, that reason to complain has been taken away from me. I suppose I could complain about that, and sometimes I do, but it’s not the same as the problem I’d already worked myself up about. Most of all it’s just astounding to become a person instead of a number, if even for a short while. I’m not sure this is the route Amazon wants to take. After all, customer service reps are more expensive than drones.

Will Entrekin April 6, 2015 um 7:42 am

Question: did you contact them for help before posting?

Agreed with William up above — would have been much better had they commented here rather than contacting you directly.

Nate Hoffelder April 6, 2015 um 8:21 am

Did I ask before my earlier post? No. It wasn’t a big deal, more of just a footnote.

carmen webster buxton April 9, 2015 um 3:41 pm

Hmm. Well, it’s sort of a conundrum. I use Google Alerts to keep an eye out for reviews of mybooks. I never contact the reviewers who don’t like the book, but I have been known to mention that review on my blog. I also have contacted reviewers who did like the book, to ask if they want a free copy of another book (hopin for another review). I am always up front that I found them from the Google Alert, but I know it could sound stalker-ish, so I am careful about what I say. Generally, I use a comment on the blog to initiate contact, but if a blog has a Contact Me widget, I will use that. To some extent, I figure the review is on the web; they have to know anyone could see what they post, including the topic of the post.

And frankly, Nate, yours is a popular tech/digital publishing blog. I’m sure Amazon isn’t the only company paying attention to it.

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