Are e-commerce websites making it harder and harder for users to log off? That's certainly a trend one reader has seen evidence of, including confirmation from Amazon that the best way to sign out from your account is to lie to them about who you are.
"Over the last few months it has become very difficult to sign out of a session from sites like Amazon and PayPal," the reader wrote. "The 'Sign Out' or equivalent link that for years was at the top of nearly every page is now missing from nearly all pages of those sites. Even the most obvious page where a sign out link should be -- the page acknowledging completion of an order -- offers no way to log out. Amazon and PayPal have turned things upside down and instead of closing a session, they now want us to remain logged in after leaving their site. Why would they do that? What good does it do Amazon and PayPal when their customers minimize the browser or surf to another site while signed in?"
The reader was particularly bothered by what appears to be the only procedure now for logging out of an Amazon account. "Amazon offers a moronic - i.e., counterintuitive -- solution to signing out. You have to find a page on the site that has 'If you're not (your name), click here' and click on it, thereby saying you're not you. This convoluted procedure is too bizarre to be unplanned or mere Webmaster gaffe, so something's going on."
The reader wrote to Amazon to ask about this odd system, pointing out that staying logged in all the time increases the security risk for customers. To its credit, Amazon responded to his message. (The reader also wrote PayPal about the sign out links he believe are missing from some pages, but PayPal has not responded.) The Amazon representative confirmed that the proper process for logging out is to:
"1. Click the link near the top of the home page that says "If you're not ____, click here.
2. On the next page, leave the e-mail and password spaces blank and click the Amazon.com tab at the top of the page."
The e-mail also included some of the reasons why Amazon thinks a customer might want to stay logged in:
"HOW DOES LOGGING OUT AFFECT MY SHOPPING EXPERIENCE?When you log out of Amazon.com, access to your Shopping Cart, 1-Click shopping, and recommendations disappears along with your name. To regain access to the items saved in your cart, to place orders, or to view recommended items, you'll need to log in again. Just click the 'personalized recommendations' link that appears near the top of the page, and enter your e-mail address and password. "
But in a subsequent e-mail, an Amazon representative also acknowledged that there are indeed some security risks in staying logged in:
"If the particular system which you are using is being shared with any another user, and if you leave your system with out logging out from your account of Amazon.com, they will be able to view your account information and also will able to place an order from your account. So, I request you to log out from your account before leaving the system."
In other words, while Amazon admits staying logged in to your account is probably not a good idea, they nonetheless want to make it as hard as possible for you to sign out. And it's pretty obvious why Amazon and other e-commerce sites would prefer you stay logged in all the time. If a search engine or online ad leads you to an Amazon page selling what you think you might want to buy, they want to make it as easy as possible for you to indulge the impulse. If you don't have to log in to your accounts, it's far more likely you'll buy from them. So it's a pretty simple equation: the fewer clicks it takes to buy, and the more clicks it takes to log out, the more money for Amazon.
But of course, the other factor in that equation is that the harder it is for you to log out from a site where you can spend money, the greater the security risk to you. That certainly is what the reader concludes. "We cannot expect a business today to do anything but what benefits them, and that often harms customers," he wrote. "There's only one possible reason to change an easy sign out to an obscure, counterintuitive one requiring lying: Amazon wants users to leave the site while signed in because that results in more charges to their account than if they signed out. Since some of those charges could involve theft encouraged by Amazon, I think that's despicable."
Are e-commerce sites making it harder and harder for you to hold on to your money? Tell us what you think by posting your comments on my website or writing me at Foster@gripe2ed.com.
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