Amazon began beta testing a new application this week that claims to be a simple gift suggestion engine for your family and friends. It all begins on the Amazon recommendation page. From there, you give Amazon permission to talk to Facebook and from there you get a page full of people matched with products.
At the top of the page is a list of everyone on your friends list who has a birthday coming up. Good thing I decided to try this because I totally forgot that my sister has a birthday in 4 days. It even tells me “4 days” because simply saying August 1 isn’t urgent sounding enough.
Below that is a list of products that my friends like, so I should own them, too. Under each item is a tiny Facebook icon for the people who like that item. The first item on my list, a Sundance Film Festival DVD was linked to three friends of mine who are indie filmmakers, so the system does seem to work.
The choices appear to be based on the items you list in your favorites section of Facebook. My sister doesn’t have any favorites listed, yet Amazon was bold enough to choose a selection of books she might like for her birthday based on. . . I have no idea what.
My sister-in-law has a variety of items on her Facebook profile and it resulted in an interesting recommendation list that included both Terminator and Disney’s Cinderella. I actually own both of those movies, so all I can say is that she has odd, but good taste. Or maybe it’s Amazon’s taste that I’m sampling.
Overall, I found this new application to be both voyeuristic and creepy. I got a certain perverse joy out of peeking into the book, music and video tastes of people on my Facebook whom I hardly know. On the other hand, I didn’t want to see what would show up for my best friend’s teenaged daughter, lest it be too much information.
The saving grace here is that despite what it looks like at first glance, Amazon isn’t revealing purchase history, just a propensity to “like” something based on information left behind on Facebook. It’s no secret that I like the singer Steve Carlson, so it doesn’t matter that my Facebook friends will see my picture under his CDs, but where does it end?
The only thing I find more disturbing than Amazon’s belief that I’ll automatically want what my friends want, is their instance that I should buy presents for every one of my Facebook friends. Go ahead, make me feel bad with those birthday countdowns and “most wished for” suggestions. I’m still not going to spend my money buying a gift for the guy I met once on a movie but haven’t seen in ten years, Facebook friend or not.
I’m going to disconnect from the service because I feel it’s a terrible invasion of privacy. I am. . .but I have no idea what to get my sister for her birthday and it’s only 4 days from now. Those books they’re suggesting do look interesting. . . .but after that, I’m disconnecting. I am.