COULD the Patriot Act threaten the growth of e-commerce? That is the question being raised by some online booksellers and e-tailing analysts, who suggest that the Patriot Act, passed in October 2001 to give the government new counterterrorism capabilities, has already changed the way some companies and consumers do business online. For some consumers, it has meant fewer online purchases of politically incorrect books. For the Web sites, it has meant changes to privacy policies and marketing strategies, among other things. Some moderate voices among online businesspeople see no true threat, and the Justice Department dismisses the risks of the Patriot Act altogether. But Phillip Bevis sees it otherwise. Mr. Bevis, the founder and chief executive of Arundel Books, which sells used and rare books online and off line, says that his customers’ concerns about the Patriot Act have forced him to severely curb the amount of customer data he retains, and to alter his marketing as a result. Because he no longer keeps information about customer purchases – so as to avoid the possibility of having to disclose it to the government – he can no longer discern the buying habits of his patrons and then offer them advertisements for books they may like. Full Story
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