Amazon is launching a new gifting feature today that will allow subscribers to its Prime service to send gifts to others using only an email address or phone number — no address required.
Gift-givers have to be Amazon Prime members, the program is limited to the continental US, and it can only be used on mobile devices for the time being. And even though Amazon has built in some safeguards— the gift-giver never gets access to the recipient’s mailing address— this sounds like a bad idea that is ripe for abuse by scammers, stalkers, and those who take pleasure in the online harassment of others.
Here’s how the new feature works: Gift-giver wants to surprise recipient with a present but doesn’t know recipient’s mailing address. Gift-giver does, however, have either recipient’s email address or phone number. Gift-giver chooses the gift on his Amazon mobile app, selects the “add gift receipt for easy returns” options during check-out, and will see an option to “let the recipient provide their address.” The giver then adds the recipient’s email address or mobile number.
At this point the gift-giver’s card isn’t charged, but a hold is put on their payment card for the amount of the purchase.
Recipient then gets a notice —via either a text message or email— that there’s a present from gift-giver waiting for her. Note that if recipient doesn’t have an Amazon account, they can create one at this point. The recipient has to have an Amazon account to accept the gift, but only the giver has to be a Prime member.
The recipient can click on the notice from Amazon to reveal what the gift-giver sent, then she can decide whether to decline the gift, accept the gift but convert it to an Amazon gift card—the gift giver won’t be notified— or, she can just accept the gift. If the recipient accepts the gift, the giver’s payment card is charged.
If the recipient ignores the gift notification entirely, it expires within a few days, and the gift-giver gets his money back.
I asked Amazon if there was a mechanism for its members to opt out of this new service; there is not. Amazon’s stance is that if the recipient doesn’t want the gift, they can just decline it, or ignore the notification. What’s to stop a troll/harasser/stalker from sending multiple gifts to a recipient just to spam them with notifications, when the giver knows the recipient won’t accept? Technically nothing, although the recipient could notify Amazon customer service, which will decide what action to take. Such behavior would appear to violate Amazon’s community guidelines.
Not everything Amazon sells is eligible for the new gifting feature, but “millions” of items are, the company said. The eligible items include products sold by Amazon and third-party sellers on its platform.
This is a clever feature from Amazon that will theoretically drum up more members; remember, you can’t accept a gift through this process without an Amazon account. It’s well-timed, too; the holiday shopping season is approaching and we’re already hearing warnings about shipping delays and supply shortages.
But the idea of getting a gift from someone who doesn’t have your address is problematic; there may be a very good reason the recipient’s address isn’t known to the gift-giver. If someone spams your phone or your inbox with multiple gift alerts, even if you don’t accept them or decline them, it will be up to the recipient to notify Amazon of the problem. Theoretically, since Prime members register their names, addresses and a payment method with Amazon, they wouldn’t risk having their account revoked by sending fake gifts. This is hardly a foolproof method for preventing harassment, however.
Amazon says it will roll out this feature over the coming weeks.