A New York City Council member asked Amazon how a reporter saw his wish list, and it reveals a misconception many customers have

Business Insider/Jessica TylerAmazon execs faced tough questions from New York City Council members on Wednesday.
  • New York City Council member Ben Kallos tried to criticise Amazon’s privacy practices as part of a public hearing on its HQ2 project on Wednesday.
  • He asked how the New York Post was able to see his Amazon wish list for an article the newspaper wrote about politicians using the online-shopping site.
  • In fact, Amazon wish lists are public and searchable via a user’s email address or name by default.

A New York City Council hearing about Amazon’s HQ2 project hit an abrupt snag when member Ben Kallos tried to criticise the e-commerce giant’s privacy practices by asking how the New York Post was able to see his Amazon wish list.

Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, and Holly Sullivan, the company’s head of worldwide economic development, were peppered with questions throughout the session. Huseman told Kallos he didn’t know the specifics of the situation he was addressing.

Read more:

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Carl Campanile of the New York Post had published an article about local politicians, including Kallos, using Amazon to shop despite their criticism of the HQ2 deal. The Post used the fact that Kallos and other Amazon critics like Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez maintained wish lists on the site.

“You have me dead to rights,” Kallos told the newspaper. “I’m a dad. Tech companies make my life easier.”

During the hearing on Wednesday, Kallos asked the Amazon executives how the Post accessed his wish list, if the company is as good at privacy and security as has been said. It turns out his misunderstanding is many customers’ misunderstanding.

In fact, the default state for Amazon wish lists is public. It makes sense, as if you want people to buy you gifts, they have to be able to see what you want.

But it runs a tricky line for celebrities and public figures who may not realise what they’re doing. For example, if President Donald Trump’s inner circle knew that what they were adding to their wish lists was public, Wired probably wouldn’t have been able to publish a story describing their contents in 2017.

Either way, it’s likely a lesson a public official needs to learn only once.

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