Amazon data breach leaks customers details
Retail giant Amazon delivered a nasty surprise on one of its busiest days of the year today after discovering it had "inadvertently" leaked customers' personal information.
Just one day after allowing Australian shoppers back into its US store, the multibillion-dollar tech giant revealed it had exposed customers' names and email addresses in a problem it blamed on a "technical error" rather than a hack.
Amazon alerted users to the leak in an email, where it assured them that "this is not a result of anything you have done and there is no need for you to change your password or take any other action".
The company has so far refused to disclose how many customers were affected by the leak, including whether Australian customers were swept up in the issue, however, when it was discovered, or how the information was exposed.
The timing of the disclosure comes at a challenging time for Amazon, which is holding its first Black Friday sale since launching in Australia, and on the eve of its second biggest trading day in the US.
More than half the products in Amazon's biggest online store will remain off-limits to Australian Christmas shoppers this year despite the multi-billion dollar tech giant announcing a backflip on a year-long ban introduced to avoid collecting the GST.
Amazon Australia revealed it would allow local buyers back into its US website on the eve of Black Friday this week, reversing what it called a "difficult decision" to prevent them from buying most goods from the site last year.
But retail experts said the reversal would still prevent Aussie online shoppers from accessing hundreds of millions of items for sale on Amazon.com, and was likely to cause confusion and frustration from keen buyers.
Amazon blocked Australian consumers from buying goods on its US site in July 1 last year, claiming the company could not find a way to collect GST on purchases, and would instead "redirect Australian customers from our international sites" to its local website with a fraction of the products.
While an Amazon spokesman said the company would reverse this decision for "eligible items," Australian shoppers would still not be able to purchase any items sold by Amazon third-party sellers, which make up 53 per cent of all products sold on the site, according to Statista.
Gartner global retail principal research analyst Thomas O'Connor said many Australian consumers were likely to be frustrated and confused about Amazon's new rules.
"There will be some disappointment," Mr O'Connor said.
"For the consumer, if you're buying from Amazon, you're buying from Amazon. It sounds a bit trite to say 'we can't ship this item to Australia because it comes from a third party'."
Mr O'Connor said the restricted access to Amazon's US site was also likely to frustrate Australian shoppers who arrived at an Amazon product page from an internet search, and because it was often unclear whether products were handed by Amazon or another firm.
A spokesman for Amazon Australia said the company would not reveal the number of items available to Australian shoppers after its policy change.
"We won't be disclosing this number," he said.
"However, we are pleased to be able to offer Australian customers selection from amazon.com, complementing the over 80 million products available on amazon.com.au."
The spokesman said the company was "currently building the infrastructure" to allow GST to be collected on third-party Amazon sales.
Despite the ongoing ban, Mr O'Connor said Amazon's decision to open more sales to Australians was a positive step and could help keep prices low.
"Ultimately, this is good for the Australian consumer, this will put price pressure back on Australian retailers and, at the end of the day, this means Australians will have more choice," he said.
Australians are expected to spend $51.5 billion during the Christmas sales period, according to Royal Morgan's latest estimate, which represents an increase of 2.9 per cent on last year.