Over the last week, Amazon has closed hundreds to thousands of customers’ accounts with no warning. The outcry was immediate, with furious customers organizing online and threatening class-action lawsuits against the company.
The backlash may seem out of proportion to some. What’s the big deal about not being able to use one website in a massive retail market?
However, as many customers quickly realized, packages are just the smallest piece of what Amazon controls as the company’s tentacles extend throughout modern life.
Fall-outs of a deactivated account could include:
- Losing access to services such as Audible, Prime Video, and Kindle
- Loss of all purchased ebooks, music, and videos
- Disappearance of uploaded photos to Amazon Photos or documents to Amazon Cloud
- Losing access to wedding and baby registries
- Canceled subscriptions
- Losing access to account history (a blow to anyone who needs to access past orders for taxes or reimbursements)
Holly Palmer, an Amazon Prime member from Kingsport, Tennessee, realized the extent of her Amazon usage when her account was closed last week.
Palmer told Business Insider that Amazon said her account was deactivated due to review fraud. Palmer said that while she had used gift cards earned from completing surveys online and used codes found on coupon sites, she had never been paid for a review. Since 2016, Amazon has not allowed users to be compensated for writing reviews.
“As a Prime member with multiple sclerosis, Amazon was where I did all of my shopping,” Palmer said.
Palmer said that her account appeared to be reopened on Friday, but she says she would have lost a pre-paid year of FaceTime on Fire tablets she purchased for her grandchildren, as well as access to her primary source of “groceries, gadgets, supplies, toys, clothes, and media.”
“My two Kindles have hundreds of books, and my grandchildren have uploaded gigs of photos to Amazon Cloud,” she said.
‘We’ve invested in a company with totalitarian power over us’
In at least some of the thousands of recent account closures, shoppers seem to have knowingly or unknowingly violating the company’s terms of service.
“Customer trust is one of Amazon’s top priorities,” an Amazon spokesperson told Business Insider in reference to recent account closures. “To protect that trust, we take a number of actions, including closing accounts that have violated our policies.”
However, whether or not closures are justified, they give us a window into just how much influence Amazon has in our modern lives. With the increasing consolidation of different industries under the Amazon umbrella, losing your account is like being locked out of a subset of society.
“It is frightening to realize how much power we’ve given Amazon and how much we’ve invested in a company with totalitarian power over us,” Robb Barrett, a longtime Amazon Prime member whose account was recently closed, said to Business Insider.
One of Amazon’s greatest strengths is that it hasn’t been willing to settle with the status quo. From its early days, founder Jeff Bezos didn’t just want to sell books — he wanted Amazon to sell everything. Now, Amazon doesn’t simply want to sell everything. It also wants to create entertainment and become people’s go-to for web services.
Amazon has indicated plans to take on industries from healthcare to banking. In the future, an Amazon account closure — which could be over something as seemingly inconsequential as writing reviews for phone cases — could result in losing access to services that are crucial to survival.
The company has a full list of conditions and services on the website, which many users do not read. Amazon states it can “terminate your Prime membership at our discretion without notice” — though, of course, in most cases it is in the company’s best interest not to terminate memberships and alienate customers.
As Amazon becomes increasingly omnipresent, it becomes harder to opt out of the using the company, whether you’re shopping for groceries or planning a baby shower. And, when users are forced out, the consequences have a huge impact — and are only going to carry greater weight in the future.