Our February 2011 Junkie award recipient isn’t a small up and coming operation like some of our previous winners have been. In fact, you know the name very well—Amazon.com has been a rock in the e-commerce industry for about as long as online shopping has been around.
But neither Amazon’s pedigree nor its reputation is the reason why we’re recognizing the company with the latest installment of the Junkie awards.
Our regular readers know how important the internet taxation issue is to us: the proliferation of new legislation in an increasing number of states seeking to tax online purchases to help narrow their budget deficits has been staggering over the course of the last 12-18 months. And at times it has seemed like the e-commerce community has been helpless to defend itself against what can be viewed as burdensome and maybe even unfair over-regulation.
That’s where Amazon comes in.
The company’s size and reach has often made it a scapegoat for online tax matters but it has consistently responded to being in the crosshairs of many state-level legislators with an effective counter-argument and overall strategy. And during the month of February, Amazon scored one very big internet tax victory that will have ramifications for every other retailer out there as the online tax battle continues to evolve.
The development played out in North Carolina, where the online tax battle between the state’s Department of Revenue and Amazon was white-hot throughout most of 2010. A major turning point came in early February though when a settlement, which the American Civil Liberties Union helped facilitate, was reached to scale back the state’s demands for personal customer information as part of its online tax collection efforts.
North Carolina had initially demanded that Amazon (and by extension, other retailers) include sensitive customer information about the specifics of online purchases to help it collect back taxes. Amazon hedged, arguing that passing along the details of customer purchases, particularly of potentially controversial books and/or movies, was an invasion of their Constitutional right to privacy. A lawsuit against North Carolina ensued and the U.S. District Court in Seattle sided with Amazon in a ruling on the lawsuit last October.
But make no mistake: it was the February settlement that means more. It ensures that not just Amazon, but ANY retailer that North Carolina chooses to go after in the future for online taxes can promise their customers that their privacy will continue to be protected no matter what.
And that’s important. Certain states’ online tax proposals have often had an Orwellian feel to them, one that would make even the most hardened online shopper think twice before purchasing what some may consider “controversial” materials for fear of having it come to light later. At least in North Carolina now, the rules are much more clearly defined. It’s our hope that the same protections will be afforded to online shoppers in other states as well.
Amazon, in our opinion, hasn’t gotten enough credit as this issue has grown. They’re out front taking most of the flack and fighting back not just for their own preservation but for that of every other retailer who sells online as well. For leading the e-commerce community’s charge against unfair and probing regulation and keeping its’ customers’ rights a priority, we’re proud to name Amazon our February 2011 Junkie Winner.
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