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  1. (Reuters) - Amazon.com Inc has a promotion for U.S. shoppers on Prime Day, the 48-hour marketing blitz that started Monday: Earn $10 of credit if you let Amazon track the websites you visit. The deal is for new installations of the Amazon Assistant, a comparison-shopping tool that customers can add to their web browsers. It fetches Amazon’s price for products that users see on Walmart.com, Target.com and elsewhere. In order to work, the assistant needs access to users’ web activity, including the links and some page content they view. The catch, as Amazon explains in the fine print, is the company can use this data to improve its general marketing, products and services, unrelated to the shopping assistant. The terms underscore the power consumers routinely give to Amazon and other big technology companies when using their free services. In this case, Amazon gains potential insight into how it should tailor marketing and how it could stamp out the retail competition. “This data is often used for training machine learning models to do better ad targeting,” said Bennett Cyphers, a technologist at the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation. “But in the U.S., there aren’t really restrictions on what you can do with this kind of data.” Amazon already has more than 7 million customers using its assistant via Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, according to data published by those web browsers. Other companies offer similar shopping tools. While another technology known as tracking pixels shows Amazon information from visitors to roughly 15 percent of the top 10,000 websites, the assistant lets Amazon follow a smaller set of users from page to page, Cyphers said. Amazon’s combination of tools still pales in comparison to data collection by Alphabet Inc’s Google, which has tracking pixels on most web pages. Amazon did not discuss how it uses the data it gathers via the assistant for any unrelated purposes, but a job listing for an affiliated team known as Browser Integration Technologies says the group’s influence “spans across advertising and marketing, pricing and selection.” “Customer trust is paramount to Amazon, and we take customer privacy very seriously,” a company spokeswoman said, noting compliance with the assistant’s privacy policy, which says data collection is for websites that users visit “where we may have relevant product or service recommendations.” The policy also notes that customers can disable certain features of the assistant, and that Amazon only links browsing data to an individual’s account when the assistant is in active use. U.S. lawmakers have recently increased their scrutiny of Silicon Valley’s data collection practices. A bill introduced in the Senate last month proposed requiring that big platforms disclose what information they gather from users and how much that is worth. Source
  2. BERLIN (Reuters) - More than 2,000 workers at seven Amazon (AMZN.O) sites across Germany have gone on strike over pay for at least two days, labor union Verdi said on Monday. The walkouts, under the motto ‘No more discount on our incomes”, started overnight and coincide with Amazon’s Prime Day when the U.S. online retail giant offers its ‘Prime’ customers discount deals. Germany is its second-biggest market after the United States. Amazon has faced a long-running battle with unions in Germany over better pay and conditions for logistics workers, who have staged frequent strikes since 2013. “While Amazon fuels bargain hunting on Prime Day with hefty discounts, employees are being deprived of a living wage,” Verdi retail specialist Orhan Akman said in a statement. Verdi said the strikes had hit Amazon’s sites in Werne, Rheinberg, Leipzig, Graben, Koblenz, as well as at Amazon’s two sites in Bad Hersfeld. Amazon did not provide exact numbers for how many employees were striking but said participation was limited and had no impact on customer deliveries. “The company must finally recognize the collective wage agreements for the retail and mail order sectors,” Akman said. “Wages and salaries at Amazon must no longer be determined in the style of a lord of the manor.” Verdi also demanded that collective bargaining agreements be made binding across Germany’s retail sector. “A universally binding collective agreement would then apply for Amazon too,” said Akman. An Amazon spokesman said the company was a fair and responsible employer even without having a collective agreement in place, adding: “In our fulfillment centers, our wages are at the upper end of what is paid in comparable jobs.” Amazon runs 12 warehouses - which it calls fulfillment centers - in Germany. Earlier on Sunday, Amazon said it plans to open a new warehouse in Germany this year and create more than 2,800 jobs with permanent contracts. Source
  3. Key Points EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager is preparing to launch a full probe into Amazon in the coming days, Bloomberg reported. Vestager previously launched a preliminary probe into how Amazon uses data on third-party merchants to fuel its Marketplace. Europe has placed heavy scrutiny on Big Tech during Vestager's time in office, fining Google more than $9 billion since 2017 for alleged violations. Photo: European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager The European Union's antitrust chief is planning to open a formal investigation into Amazon in the coming days, Bloomberg reported Tuesday, citing sources familiar with the case. The investigation itself does not come as a surprise, as EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager had already launched a preliminary probe into Amazon in September and was expected to announce whether a full probe would take place. The preliminary investigation focused on how Amazon uses data on its third-party merchants that sell through Amazon. Vestager explained the key questions she had about Amazon's business model in a September interview with CNBC. "They host a lot of little guys, and at the same time, they're a big guy in the same market," Vestager said. "So how do they treat the data that they get from the little guy? Does that give them an advantage that cannot be matched?" The probe follows a crackdown on Big Tech under Vestager's time in office. During her term, the European Commission has slapped Google with a combined $9.5 billion in antitrust fines since 2017 and authorities across the region have also scrutinized Apple and Facebook for their completion and data practices. The reported Amazon investigation follows news that Vestager's office plans to fine Qualcomm over a billion dollars for allegedly trying to prevent other chip makers from gaining business from Apple, according to Bloomberg. A spokesperson for the European Commission declined to comment. Amazon and did not immediately return a request for comment. Source
  4. What you need to know Amazon Music Unlimited has become the fastest growing music streaming service ahead of Apple Music and Spotify. It grew 70% in the last year alone. It now boasts 32 million subscribers, gaining ground on Spotify's 100 million and Apple Music's 60 million subscribers. Amazon Music Unlimited has overtaken Apple Music and Spotify as the fastest growing music streaming service. According to a report by the Financial Times, Amazon's music streaming service grew 70% in the last year alone outpacing its two main competitors. The number of people subscribing to Amazon Music Unlimited has grown by about 70 per cent in the past year, according to people briefed on its performance. In April Amazon had more than 32m subscribers to all its music services including Unlimited and Prime Music. By contrast, Spotify, the world's largest streaming service with 100m subscribers, is growing at about 25 per cent a year. "Amazon is the dark horse [in music]," said Mark Mulligan, an analyst at Midia Research. "People don't pay as much attention to it [as to Apple and Spotify], but it's been hugely effective." The fast pace still leaves Amazon far behind its competitors with just 32 million subscribers. Additionally, that figure also includes Amazon Prime Music, which is free for Amazon Prime subscribers. Amazon Music Unlimited, a library that contains more music that the regular Prime Music (50 million songs vs. 2 million songs), is available for $9.99 per month or $7.99 per month for Prime subscribers. Spotify on the other hand has over 100 million subscribers while Apple just broke 60 million subscribers last month. Amazon's meteoric rise in the streaming market is aided by its Echo line of speakers that often times are priced much more competitively than the competition. However, Amazon has gained momentum in recent months, propelled by its ubiquity with consumers and Alexa, its popular intelligent assistant, which can play music through voice commands issued to its wireless Echo speaker. "[Amazon] have gone all in on [music]," said a senior music executive at one of the major record labels. "We see high engagement on their service." Amazon is still squarely in third place for now, but as it continues to grow, it could become a real challenge for Apple and Spotify in the near future. Source
  5. Amazon to spend $700 million retraining a third of its US workforce by 2025 Retraining as the specter of automation looms Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge Amazon has announced that it will spend $700 million to retrain 100,000 of its US employees by 2025, a move meant to help them pursue new paths at the company. The figure amounts to spending around $7,000 per employee on roughly a third of its workforce in the US. Amazon says the training schemes will be offered to employees across its corporate offices, tech hubs, fulfillment centers, retail stores, and the transportation network. For example, workers in fulfillment centers could be retrained as IT support technicians, and nontechnical corporate workers could receive training in software engineering, according to The Wall Street Journal. The announcement comes as Amazon faces sustained criticism over its working conditions, particularly in its warehouses where employees are automatically tracked and fired to hit productivity targets. In less than a week’s time, Amazon workers in the company’s Shakopee, Minnesota, warehouse are planning a strike to coincide with the company’s annual Prime Day sale. Last year, Amazon warehouse workers conducted similar strikes across Europe. The training schemes are Amazon’s latest attempt to prove that it’s taking care of its workers. Last year, the company increased the minimum wage in the US to $15 an hour and challenged its rivals to do the same. However, as the specter of automation loomsover the industry, many of these jobs could one day disappear, even if fully automated warehouses are unlikely to be viable within the next decade. As The Wall Street Journal notes, it can be very hard for companies to know which skills will be in demand in the future. Amazon’s response is that it’s built its retraining programs around insights into its own workforce, which suggest that the fastest-growing jobs areas include data mapping specialists, data scientists, solutions architects, and security engineers. The WSJ notes that Amazon is struggling to find employees for its more technical roles, with 20,000 job opportunities currently open across the country. Interestingly, Amazon’s retraining programs will not just include skills that are useful within the company, but they will also cover areas such as nursing and aircraft mechanics, according to The Wall Street Journal. None of the training programs will require employees to commit to staying at Amazon, but research suggests that training schemes can boost morale and may mean that employees are less likely to leave a company anyway. Source: Amazon to spend $700 million retraining a third of its US workforce by 2025
  6. (Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled against Amazon.com Inc in a case that could expose the online retailer to lawsuits from customers who buy defective products from third-party vendors through its website. Numerous other courts, including two federal appeals courts, have held that Amazon cannot be held liable as a seller of products from third-party vendors. The new ruling from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, which reversed a lower court decision, appeared to be the first to buck that trend. Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In addition to selling its own inventory, Amazon allows third-party vendors to list products for sale on its website. Such vendors may store their products in Amazon’s warehouses or ship them directly to customers. Amazon earned about $11 billion in revenue from services it provided to third-party sellers for the quarter ended in March. About half of the items sold on Amazon are from third-party companies, database firm Statista reported. Liability for defective products is generally governed by state law, and Wednesday’s decision is based on the laws of Pennsylvania, where the customer, Heather Oberdorf, lives. “It’s gratifying that the 3rd Circuit agreed with our argument and recognized that the existing interpretation of product liability law in Pennsylvania was not addressing the reality, the dominance that Amazon has in the marketplace,” said David Wilk, Oberdorf’s lawyer. Oberdorf sued Amazon in 2016 in a federal court in Pennsylvania, saying she was blinded in one eye when a retractable dog leash she bought through the company’s website from a third-party vendor snapped and recoiled, hitting her in the face. The Furry Gang shipped the leash directly to Oberdorf from Nevada. Neither Oberdorf nor Amazon has been able to locate any representative of the Furry Gang, which has not been active on Amazon’s site since 2016, according to court papers. In Wednesday’s opinion, Circuit Judge Jane Richards Roth, writing for a 2-1 majority of a three-judge panel, said Amazon may be liable in part because its business model “enables third-party vendors to conceal themselves from the customer, leaving customers injured by defective products with no direct recourse to the third-party vendor.” The panel sent the case back to the lower court, which will have to decide whether the leash was actually defective. Source
  7. Google/Amazon deal sends YouTube to FireTV and Prime Video to Chromecast (finally) After a stand-off that’s lasted years, Google and Amazon have made peace and finally agreed to put their streaming apps on each other’s platforms. Yes, that means Prime is coming to Chromecasts, while YouTube will finally be available on Fire TVs. The two companies announced today they’d come to a detente. Google will bring the YouTube app to Amazon’s Fire TV devices and smart TVs, along with YouTube TV and Kids later this year. Amazon, meanwhile, will add Chromecast streaming support to the Prime Video app. It’s a welcome, if surprising handshake, given the feud between the two has lasted for years. Indeed, they seem to be so chummy now they’re almost finishing each other’s sentences. Here’s what Heather Rivera, YouTube‘s Head of Product Partnerships said of the partnership: “We are excited to work with Amazon to launch the official YouTube apps on Fire TV devices worldwide. Bringing our flagship YouTube experience to Amazon Fire TV gives our users even more ways to watch the videos and creators they love.” And this is what Andrew Bennett, Prime Video’s Head of Worldwide Business Development, said: “We’re excited to bring the Prime Video app to Chromecast and Android TV devices, and to give our customers convenient access to the shows and movies they love.” The two companies have historically been rivals in several fields, including voice assistants, cloud technology, and, of course, video. It’s the reason you couldn’t buy a Chromecast on Amazon until a few months ago — and even that concession appears to have been a difficult one, given there was a year between when it was promised and when it actually happened. Google pulled YouTube from Fire TVs years ago in protest of this snub. There’s still no word on whether the two will find more common ground. An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment on whether the new partnership would lead Amazon to start selling more of its new buddy’s products. The app crossover will begin “in the coming months.” Source
  8. Court rules Amazon can be held responsible for defective third-party goods Who can you call when the actual seller vanishes off the face of the Earth? Enlarge / Completed customer orders are seen in their boxes, awaiting delivery, at the Amazon Fulfillment Centre on November 14, 2018, in Hemel Hempstead, England. Leon Neal | Getty Images Shoppers who end up stuck with a defective dud product sold by some fly-by-night third-party Amazon seller may finally have an avenue of recourse: a federal court has become the first to rule that Amazon can be held liable for what its "marketplace" vendors sell. The US 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, in Philadelphia, issued an opinion (PDF) that said Amazon qualified as a "seller" under Pennsylvania state law, at least for the purposes of the suit. While Amazon argued that every item sold on its site could be traced to a specific vendor, the court said that Amazon "fails to account for the fact that... third-party vendors can communicate with the customer only through Amazon," which "enables third-party vendors to conceal themselves from the customer, leaving customers injured by defective products with no direct recourse." Amazon in its most recent quarterly report said its sprawling third-party marketplace accounted for more than 18% of the entire company's sales, bringing in $11.14 billion in three months. Analysts expect third-party marketplace revenue to eclipse Amazon's own first-party sales this year. While that largely laissez-faire digital agora brings in bank for the company that hosts it, consumers for years have faced mounting challenges with recalled products, toxic goods, counterfeits, and complete crap. The marketplace sets up consumers to buy directly from wholesalers, individual resellers, international businesses, or entities that may be complete scam artists. All of that can make it difficult for a shopper to figure out where, exactly, to complain if something goes wrong. The case brought to the 3rd Circuit involves a woman who bought a dog collar from a third-party Amazon vendor in December 2014. A few weeks later, the woman was walking her dog and the collar snapped, causing the retractable leash to recoil and injure her left eye, blinding her permanently on that side. The third-party vendor, The Furry Gang, basically disappeared. Neither the woman nor Amazon was able to find a representative for the seller, which has not had an active Amazon account since May 2016, the court filing says. The injured customer sued, saying Amazon should be held liable for a defective and dangerous product being sold without even including warnings that could make it safer. The District Court issued a summary judgement for Amazon, finding that it did not qualify as a "seller" under Pennsylvania liability law. The customer appealed. The appeals court reversed the ruling, noting that "Amazon generally takes no precautions to ensure that third-party vendors are in good standing" under the law in the places they operate and that Amazon does not have a vetting process to ensure that vendors will cooperate with legal processes. The appeals court remanded the case back to the lower court to determine if the product was defective and what should be done about it. Safe harbor The lawsuit and the ruling made two separate legal arguments against Amazon. The first had to do with the direct question: is Amazon liable as a merchant? But the other directly relates to the digital nature of the company: section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Section 230 has a clause that generally protects online platforms from liability from the content their users generate. The law specifies that a platform shall not be treated "as the publisher or speaker of any information" provided by someone else. This clause is why, for example, it's hard to sue Twitter over someone else's Tweets. The original court ruling in Amazon's favor found the consumer's lawsuit against Amazon didn't fly under section 230, because she sought to hold Amazon liable "as the online publisher of third-party content." The majority in the appeal found that section 230 barred some, but not all, of the plaintiff's claims. "Amazon's involvement in transactions extends beyond a mere editorial function," the court held. So to the extent that the negligence and strict liability claims "rely on Amazon's rule as an actor in the sales process, they are not barred" under section 230. However, the plaintiff's claims that Amazon "failed to provide or edit adequate warnings" regarding the product do constitute an editorial function and, therefore, are barred, the court determined. Will it stick? The Third Circuit ruling is a first for Amazon, which has faced similar suits before. Federal appeals courts ruled twice in just the past two months that Amazon was not liable for defective products sold by a third-party vendor. In one instance, batteries in a headlamp malfunctioned and started a fire, which caused more than $300,000 in damages to a consumer's house. The homeowners' insurer sued Amazon to try to recoup the funds it paid out to the homeowner. The appeals court for the 4th Circuit ruled in May that, while Amazon was not immune from lawsuits under section 230, it did not qualify under the law as the "seller" of the defective product and therefore was not liable under Maryland state law for selling defective products. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in June ruled similarly in a Tennessee case featuring an exploding hoverboard. Appeals courts often look at cases decided in other circuits to determine precedent and make their own rulings. In all of these cases, the suits at hand deal with state consumer protection, torts, or liability law in different states, and so there is not an issue of circuit split for the consideration of strict liability. In other words, if you buy something defective from an Amazon third-party seller and it burns your house down, whether Amazon has responsibility for the inferno depends on what state you live in and what that particular set of courts decides. Source: Court rules Amazon can be held responsible for defective third-party goods (Ars Technica)
  9. Amazon plans nationwide broadband—with both home and mobile service Amazon seeks FCC approval to launch 3,236 low-Earth broadband satellites. Enlarge Getty Images | Olena_T Amazon is seeking government permission to launch 3,236 broadband satellites that would cover nearly all of the United States and much of the rest of the world. Amazon subsidiary Kuiper Systems filed its application with the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday last week, saying it intends to cover all of the US except most of Alaska. "The Kuiper System covers the area between 56°N and 56°S latitudes," the Amazon subsidiary told the FCC. "Accordingly, customers throughout [the] continental US, Hawaii, and all US territories will have access to Kuiper System services. So too will customers in many other countries within the coverage area. The Kuiper System will not provide FSS [fixed-satellite service] in the majority of Alaska, however, because the state's high latitude is outside of the coverage area." Amazon's plan for a nearly global broadband system was previously revealed in filings with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), as we reported in April. It's not clear when Amazon will launch this service, but FCC rules require the launch of 50% of satellites within six years of authorization and all of them within nine years unless a waiver is granted. Even if the network covers the whole Continental US, it could be most popular in areas that lack cable or fibre access. Amazon said in April that Kuiper's focus is on unserved and underserved parts of the world. "This is a long-term project that envisions serving tens of millions of people who lack basic access to broadband Internet," Amazon said at the time, adding that it intends to offer broadband service through partnerships with other companies. Amazon's satellite plan isn't solely for residential and business Internet—it's also for mobile access. In its new filings, Amazon said its network will be available to mobile operators, raising the possibility that small rural carriers could buy bandwidth from Amazon to boost coverage in areas with poor cellular access. "The Kuiper System will help bridge gaps in coverage by complementing the efforts of terrestrial fixed and mobile carriers and reaching some of the most remote and hard-to-reach areas—where it is often geographically difficult or cost-prohibitive for terrestrial service providers to operate today," Amazon said. The online behemoth added that it will sell backhaul services to Internet providers. Amazon's plans are detailed in a legal narrative and technical appendix filed with the FCC. It's not clear whether Amazon will sell broadband directly to consumers. But whether it's a mix of direct-to-consumer and wholesale (or wholesale only), Amazon said it will build customer terminals that provide Ethernet connectivity in residences and businesses. Former SpaceX exec leads Amazon project Kuiper is wholly owned by Amazon, and its president is Rajeev Badyal, a former SpaceX vice president who was reportedly fired because SpaceX CEO Elon Musk was unsatisfied with his company's satellite-broadband progress. Amazon says it intends to operate the satellites at altitudes of 590km, 610km, and 630km, putting the system in the low-Earth orbit category. SpaceX already has FCC permission to deploy nearly 12,000 low-Earth satellites. The FCC also previously approved requests from OneWeb, Space Norway, and Telesat to offer broadband in the US from smaller numbers of low-Earth orbit satellites. Low-Earth satellites should offer much better latency than current satellite systems, potentially making them a viable substitute for wired broadband networks. While fast wired networks aren't available in many rural parts of America, Amazon told the FCC that it "will help close this digital divide by offering fixed broadband communications services to rural and hard-to-reach areas." Amazon said its Kuiper system "will also enable mobile network operators to expand wireless services to unserved and underserved mobile customers and provide high-throughput mobile broadband connectivity services for aircraft, maritime vessels, and land vehicles." Amazon's application didn't specify prices or exact speeds in megabits or gigabits per second. But the document promised "high-speed, low-latency" broadband. Amazon wrote: The Kuiper System's orbital architecture is designed to maximize capacity and coverage for customers at full constellation deployment. By using overlapping altitude shells at different inclinations the constellation design minimizes total number of satellites required to spread coverage evenly across geographic latitudes and provide link diversity even when one satellite experiences an inline interference event with other systems. First launch will get service up and running Amazon said it will launch the 3,236 satellites in five phases and start commercial operations after a first-phase launch of 578 satellites. "During deployment, full-time commercial service will initially be available between 39°N-56°N and 39°S-56°S latitudes," Amazon said. "Additional deployments will expand full-time commercial service towards the equator until the Kuiper System has full-service coverage throughout the 56°N-56°S latitude range." Amazon said it will file separate FCC applications to operate ground stations and the customer terminals that will deliver service to homes and businesses. "Gateway earth stations will be connected with high-speed fibre links to global Internet exchange points and point-of-presence sites to interchange traffic and reduce network hops and latency," Amazon said. The number of gateway earth stations "will be approximately equal to the number of active satellites serving US territory," Amazon said. Amazon said it will install more Earth stations "in regions where higher rain fade is present" to account for signal loss, as well as along coasts "to support offshore customers." Each Kuiper satellite will be able to access two gateway earth stations as part of Amazon's plan to minimize downtime. "Customers will always see a persistent connection" over a standard Ethernet interface in their homes and will be "unaware of the switching of satellites, gateways, or routes through the Kuiper System network," Amazon said. Amazon will have to convince the FCC that it has a sufficient plan to avoid orbital debris after satellites go out of service. Amazon said it will take less than a year to "actively decommission and deorbit" each retired satellite, allowing them to burn up in the atmosphere. Satellites will also "be deactivated automatically if all communications to ground stations cease for a pre-determined wait period." In those cases, a "passive deorbit" that relies on atmospheric drag will take five to seven years, Amazon said. Source: Amazon plans nationwide broadband—with both home and mobile service (Ars Technica)
  10. Amazon confirms it keeps your Alexa recordings basically forever The recordings, and their transcripts, never expire automatically. Enlarge / "Alexa, does my voice really sound like that?" Amazon If you (like so many of us) hate listening to recordings of your own voice, you may be in for an unpleasant future, as Amazon has confirmed it hangs on to every conversation you've ever had with an Alexa-enabled device until or unless you specifically delete them. That confirmation comes as a response to a list of questions Sen. Chris Coons (D-Delaware) sent to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in May expressing "concerns" about how Amazon uses and retains customers' Alexa voice assistant data. Amazon's response to Coons, as first reported by CNET, confirms that the company keeps your data as long as it wants unless you deliberately specify otherwise. "We retain customers' voice recordings and transcripts until the customer chooses to delete them," Amazon said—but even then there are exceptions. Amazon, as well as third parties that deploy "skills" on the Alexa platform, keep records of interactions customers have with Alexa, the company said. If, for example, you order a pizza, purchase digital content, summon a car from a ride-hailing service, or place an Amazon order, "Amazon and/or the applicable skill developer obviously need to keep a record of the transaction," Amazon said, without clarifying the specific kind of data that's in that record. Other types of Alexa requests, such as setting an alarm, reminder, or calendar event, also leave data, Amazon said. "Customers would not want or expect deletion of the voice recording to delete the underlying data or prevent Alexa from performing the requested task." If you would like to review and delete any Alexa voice or transcript data in your Amazon account, you can do so under the Alexa Privacy section, found under "Change your digital and device settings" in the "Your Devices and Content" section of your account. Coons said in a statement that he appreciated Amazon's response, but the senator found it left unclear "the extent to which this data is shared with third parties, and how those third parties use and control that information." Amazon has found itself in regulators' and lawmakers sights frequently this year, along with several of its other "Big Tech" counterparts. The company admitted in April that human employees listened to a "small sample" of Alexa audio recordings to transcribe and annotate to help improve the software, one of several reports that led Coons to issue his request for information to Amazon. The Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice, which between them handle competition and antitrust matters, reportedly decided on a divide-and-conquer approach to an investigation in June. According to reports at the time, the FTC would take the lead on investigations into Amazon and Facebook, and the DOJ would look into Apple and Google. A day later, the House Judiciary Committee announced a bipartisan investigation into competition regulation and business behavior in digital markets, including Amazon. Source: Amazon confirms it keeps your Alexa recordings basically forever (Ars Technica)
  11. Protesters target Amazon in France calling for action on climate change PARIS (Reuters) - Several hundred environmental activists protested outside Amazon’s headquarters in Paris and at two of its regional distribution centers in France on Tuesday as part of stepped-up climate change demonstrations. FILE PHOTO: The logo of Amazon is seen at the company logistics centre in Boves, France, May 13, 2019. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol/File Photo The protest drew support from groups including Friends of the Earth and the “Gilets Jaunes”, who have mounted months of demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron. Some 240 people blocked access to Amazon’s main office in Paris, organizers said. Around 70 people blockaded a distribution center in the southern city of Toulouse and another 80 were gathered at a center near the city of Lille, with workers forced to go home and operations at both warehouses halted, organizers said. Amazon representatives did not respond to a request for immediate comment. The retailer earlier announced the creation of 1,800 new jobs in France as it looks to raise its number of permanent staff to 9,300 by the end of the year. Those taking part in the demonstrations said they were angered by a report issued last week that showed France was falling behind on its commitments to reduce CO2 emissions and combat climate change. “We have to be radical with our demands,” said Alma Dufour, a campaigner with Friends of the Earth. “There are no little steps left to take when it comes to climate change. We want a transformation of the system.” Organizers said the aim was not to have Amazon shut down in France but to cancel its plans for expansion in 2020. The U.S. online retail giant has expanded rapidly in the French market, prompting domestic rivals to up their game. But environmental activists say Amazon needs to do more to limit its environmental impact, including changing a policy of destroying unsold non-food items such as clothes, cosmetics and luxury goods. French Prime Minister Edouard Phillipe called for a ban on the destruction of non-food items last month, saying he hoped it could be brought into effect within four years. Protests against climate change have expanded across northern and western Europe in recent months, with Swedish teenaged activist Greta Thunberg leading a high-profile campaign in which students have walked out of school on Fridays. Last Friday, French police used pepper spray to forcibly remove scores of members of the Extinction Rebellion group who were occupying a bridge over the River Seine. The French government on Monday ordered an inquiry into tactics used against a peaceful protest. Source: Protesters target Amazon in France calling for action on climate change
  12. PARIS (Reuters) - U.S. online retail giant Amazon said on Tuesday it will create 1,800 permanent contract positions this year in France, its largest European market after Britain and Germany, although furniture retailer Conforama went the other way in cutting jobs. The increase will bring Amazon’s total number of permanent staff to 9,300 by end 2019 and reflects the group’s commitment to the French market where it has invested over 2 billion euros ($2.26 billion) since 2010, the statement said. Amazon’s plan comes as Conforama, the French unit of South African retailer Steinhoff (SNHJ.J) which is in the midst of a financial restructuring, plans to cut 1,900 jobs in France. Deputy finance minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher told Sud Radio that “traditional retail faces a very deep transformation. It is true that the coincidence of these two figures - 1,800 hires at Amazon and 1,900 job cuts at Conforama - reflects this transformation.” She said the French government will be “extremely vigilant” regarding Conforama and would look to limit its impact. Amazon has been expanding steadily in France where it has 20 sites, including six logistics centers, the most recent slated to open over summer in Bretigny-Sur-Orge near Paris. Amazon is the e-commerce leader in France with a market share of 17.3 percent, but its grocery market share stands at just 2 percent, according to Kantar data. The U.S. group, which has run its Amazon Prime express delivery service in Paris since 2016, has made no secret of its desire to launch a grocery delivery service in France as part of its ambitions to expand in food retail. In April, it expanded its partnership with French food retailer Casino with Amazon installing pick-up lockers in Casino stores and making more of the French company’s products available on Amazon. Source
  13. Amazon, after big hire, experimenting with sports media strategy: interview NEW YORK (Reuters) - When Amazon.com Chief Executive Jeff Bezos was spotted schmoozing in NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s booth during the Super Bowl in February, the media world exploded with anticipation about Amazon’s imminent domination of sports media. FILE PHOTO: The logo of Amazon is seen at the company logistics centre in Boves, France, May 13, 2019. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol/File Photo But two years after first dabbling in live sports streaming, Amazon has yet to settle on a strategy as it continues to experiment and analyze consumer behavior, Marie Donoghue, Vice President of Global Sports Video, told Reuters. “We’re literally at day one in sports, so we’re learning and experimenting,” Donoghue said in New York this week in her first interview after she took over the sports media division of the world’s largest online retailer last fall. The arrival of Donoghue, a nearly twenty-year veteran of Walt Disney Co’s ESPN cable network and who was responsible for shows including the ‘30 for 30’ series and ‘OJ: Made in America,’ signaled a new level of seriousness to Amazon’s pursuit of live sports. While the real impact of her arrival remains to be seen, that hasn’t stopped chatter of a big tech takeover of live sports as Amazon, Facebook Inc (FB.O), Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) and Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) YouTube’s threaten to loosen TV’s grip on one of the last remaining reasons to pay for live television. Tech companies and startup digital platforms - like DAZN, which in October agreed to pay boxing champion Canelo Alvarez a minimum of $365 million for five years, the richest contract in sports history - are also seen driving up the cost of media rights when major contracts start coming up for renewal in 2021. Will Amazon lead the pack in pursuing streaming rights for live sports? “We don’t talk about specific rights ... as a matter of course, but also because we’re just not sure yet,” Donoghue said. Since 2017, Amazon has snapped up digital rights to some of England’s Premier League soccer matches, U.S. Open Tennis Championships in the UK and three seasons of Thursday Night Football, among others. Donoghue said the current focus is on how to enable Amazon Prime subscribers to control nearly every component of their viewing experience, including how, when and where they watch. As a streaming service, “we don’t have to serve the same content in the same way to everybody,” she said. To figure out which sports products are successful and what to offer next, Amazon is analyzing market research and its own viewership data, as well as consumers’ use of its X-Ray tool for digging into details about shows. It also co-streams Thursday Night Football on its Twitch video game streaming platform, which has an interactive extension that lets viewers predict game developments, including who they think will win. “We’re watching all of that,” Donoghue said. “We want to use live sports to drive value for Prime customers.” Source: Amazon, after big hire, experimenting with sports media strategy: interview
  14. Amazon patent reveals drone surveillance as a service Could ‘SaaS’ take on a new meaning? A new patent granted to Amazon suggests the retail giant is exploring ways in which drone surveillance could be packaged up as a new business solution. As spotted by The Verge, the patent was originally filed in 2015 and was granted on June 4, 2019. The USPTO "Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Based Surveillance as a Service" patent, number 10,313,638, describes how an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) -- otherwise known as a drone -- can "perform a surveillance action at a property of an authorized party." The surveillance functions of the drone can be restricted through geo-fencing, a form of technology used in drones today to define areas which are acceptable to fly over and those that are restricted, such as military bases or airports. Furthermore, the patent describes how the UAV could be used to generate images of a location both in -- and outside -- of a geo-fence. "While gathering surveillance images, or after the surveillance images have been gathered, the geo-fence information may be used to obscure or remove image data referring to objects outside the geo-fence," the patent reads. The images themselves could be stored or sent to another device, and in addition, "surveillance alerts" can be issued for events of interest such as a break-in or fire. This month, Amazon announced a drone which has been designed for commercial package delivery. Launched as part of the Prime Air program, the UAV aims to deliver packages to customers in under 30 minutes. While Amazon's drone delivery dreams have not yet come into fruition, it may be that the patent indicates other potential business opportunities drones offer. Surveillance as a service could, for example, be an option for consumers willing to 'hire' a UAV to keep an eye on their property, or a solution for businesses that need overnight facility monitoring and are looking for a modern take on the traditional security guard. However, as with all other patents, there is no guarantee that Amazon will make use of the granted patent now or in the future. It seems more likely that the company will focus on delivery diversification through drones first, and perhaps if the upcoming service proves both popular and profitable, surveillance as a service will become a way to capitalize on UAVs further. Source
  15. Following news from earlier this month that FedEx was dumping Amazon from its air cargo service, Amazon this morning announced the expansion of its own air delivery network, Amazon Air. The retailer says it’s leasing an additional 15 Boeing 737-800 cargo aircraft from partner GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS). These will join the five Boeing 737-800’s already leased from GECAS, announced earlier this year. The aircraft will fly out of more than 20 U.S. air gateways in the Amazon Air network. In addition, Amazon says it will open more air facilities in 2019, including at Fort Worth Alliance Airport, Wilmington Air Park and Chicago Rockford International Airport. Meanwhile, the main Air Hub at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport will open in 2021. “We’re delighted to support Amazon Air’s dedicated air network,” said Richard Greener, GECAS Cargo’s senior vice president, in a statement. “The capability of the 737-800 freighter will further Amazon’s ability to provide reliable and regional delivery to its customers for years to come.” The Amazon Air network, then called Prime Air, was first launched in 2016, with the goal of speeding up Amazon’s e-commerce deliveries, particularly for its Prime members. But over the years, the competition with partners-slash-rivals like FedEx have heated up — and not only on air cargo, but also in newer areas like ground delivery robots and drones. At the end of last year, Amazon announced more aircraft additions for Amazon Air, bumping the network from 40 planes to 50. Today, it says it’s on track to reach 70 planes by 2021, thanks to this new expansion. The company also claims to have created thousands of U.S. jobs thanks to Amazon’s investment of millions into its air network. “These new aircraft create additional capacity for Amazon Air, building on the investment in our Prime Free One-Day program,” said Dave Clark, senior vice president of Worldwide Operations at Amazon, in an announcement. “By 2021, Amazon Air will have a portfolio of 70 aircraft flying in our dedicated air network.” These investments around delivery logistics come at a time when Amazon says it’s trying to speed up Prime from two days to just one. The news prompted Walmart to announce a next-day shipping service of its own. Target, meanwhile, recently launched an integrated same-day shipping service on its website, powered by its same-day service, Shipt. Amazon responded by noting it already has more than 10 million items available for one-day shipping today — reminding rivals that it’s still leading the market on this front. Amazon also took the time today to highlight other areas where it’s investing in supply chain initiatives, including its Delivery Service Partner program, which helps people (including Amazon employees) start their own Amazon delivery business; plus Amazon’s crowdsourced package delivery workforce, Flex; and its dedicated network of more than 10,000 trailers to increase Amazon’s own trucking capacity. Though not mentioned, Amazon also just rolled out a new Amazon Flex app for iOS. Launched on the App Store on June 12, the app lets individuals sign-up and be vetted to become an Amazon Flex contractor right from their iPhone. Source
  16. Amazon will shutter its Amazon Restaurants food delivery service in the U.S. later this month, GeekWire has learned. Amazon Restaurants first launched in Seattle back in 2015. Amazon expanded the program across more than 20 U.S. cities and later in London. The service gave Prime members a way to get meals delivered to their door, using the Amazon Restaurants website or through the Prime Now shopping app. But Amazon ended the program in London this past November and will say goodbye to its U.S. service later this month. “As of June 24th, we will discontinue the Amazon Restaurants business in the US,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement shared with GeekWire. “Many of the small number of employees affected by this decision have already found new roles at Amazon, and others will be provided personalized support to find a new role within, or outside of, the company.” Amazon will also shut down Daily Dish, a workplace lunch delivery service that launched in 2016, on June 14. This move comes less than a month after Amazon led a $575 million funding round for Deliveroo, a U.K.-based food delivery company. Amazon previously cut Amazon Restaurants jobs in January 2018. But it was expanding the delivery service to new cities earlier this year. The company had been updating its Amazon Restaurants blog up until last month, and its Twitter feed is still active. There were job postings within the Amazon Restaurants team as recently as February. Amazon has dabbled in food delivery ever since launching grocery delivery service AmazonFresh in Seattle more than a decade ago. The company launched a takeout service in 2014 that let customers use the now-defunct Amazon Local app to order food for pick-up. Amazon then began allowing customers to order food via Amazon Local directly from restaurants, who delivered the meals. It’s unclear what, if any, moves are left in Amazon’s restaurant delivery arsenal. The company still delivers groceries from Whole Foods via Prime Now in nearly 100 U.S. markets. The closure of Amazon Restaurants after investing serious time and money in the service is a rare retreat from the e-commerce behemoth. The competition is fierce in the food delivery market, with companies such as Uber, Grubhub, and DoorDash seeing big growth in recent years. Those three companies combined hold more than 75 percent of the U.S. food delivery market share. Uber Eats, which launched more than three years ago and is live in 500 cities globally, generated $1.46 billion in revenue last year, up from $587 million in 2017, and brought in $536 million during the first quarter of 2019. Forbes called Uber Eats the company’s “secret gold mine” and on the company’s earnings call last month, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi called food delivery “a huge category” and said it could eventually be larger than the ride-hailing business. Uber listed Amazon as an Uber Eats competitor in its IPO documents earlier this year. Grubhub, meanwhile, saw revenues reach $324 million for the first quarter, up 39 percent year-over-year, though its operating margin dipped by more than 10 percent, The Motley Fool noted. Update: Shares of Grubhub were up more than 6 percent Tuesday morning. Investors continue to place big bets on food delivery companies. DoorDash raised $600 million last month, valuing it at $12.6 billion. Source
  17. from the so-long-and-thanks-for-all-the-frisks dept Amazon wants you to be part of its dish network. Yes, it's a play on words (and not a good one!). This network springs from Amazon's Ring doorbell -- the doorbell with a camera inside and a cozy relationship with law enforcement! What are your neighbors and strangers up to? Give the dirt to law enforcement and trust their better judgment! Good times await those who find themselves looking dark or suspicious (but also suspicious because they're dark) in front of a Ring doorbell. Have you ever wanted to be an internet celebrity, with or without your permission? Ring has you covered. Amazon's home surveillance company Ring is using video captured by its doorbell cameras in Facebook advertisements that ask users to identify and call the cops on a woman whom local police say is a suspected thief. In the video, the woman’s face is clearly visible and there is no obvious criminal activity taking place. The Facebook post shows her passing between two cars. She pulls the door handle of one of the cars, but it is locked. The video freezes on a still of the woman’s face from two different angles: “If you recognize this woman, please contact the Mountain View Police Department … please share with your neighbors,” text superimposed on the video says. In a post alongside the video, Ring urges residents of Mountain View, California to contact the police department if they recognize her... Hmmm. I guess that's not so much "inadvertent influencer" as it is "protagonist in a Philip K. Dick novel." A private company, "shooting" footage using consumer products, is pitching Ring to your friends and neighbors with (possibly) one of your friends and neighbors. FIRST ONE TO CALL THE COPS WINS. "Our township is now entirely covered by cameras," said Captain Vincent Kerney, detective bureau commander of the Bloomfield Police Department. "Every area of town we have, there are some Ring cameras." Or not. YOU DON'T EVEN NEED TO CALL THE COPS. Amazon is way ahead of you. Cameras on doorbells + suspicious persons = cops just showing up and asking/demanding the footage you've collected. Some police departments do more than just ask. Police in Indiana, New Jersey, California and other states have offered discounts for Ring cameras, sometimes up to $125. In some cases, those discounts come from taxpayer money. [...] In April, the city of Hammond, Indiana, announced it had $37,500 in funds to subsidize Ring devices -- half of which came from Ring. The other $18,750 came from the city, said Steve Kellogg, Hammond police's public information officer. The city had 500 cameras, and in about a week, they were all sold. The city government ran more discounted programs, Kellogg said, putting out more than 600 Ring cameras in the city. "There will be more cameras on the streets," Kellogg said. "It's really a no-brainer." Bribes subsidies are cool. But have you tried making people feel bad because they're helping bad guys get away? It works. And it's free. When people in the Neighbors app aren't being responsive, police will take to the streets and start knocking on doors asking for footage in person. People are a lot more cooperative when an officer is at their doorsteps asking for Ring footage, he said. Civil advocates argue that people don't really have a choice. "You change how you drive when you see a cop driving next to you. What if a cop shows up at your door and asks you for something?" [ACLU staff attorney Mohammad] Tajsar said. "Even if you're the biggest civil libertarian, you will feel compelled to turn that footage over." Law enforcement requests are easy to reject in theory. In person, they're a bit more difficult. But this is the ecosystem Amazon is building. Most of us still associate Amazon with free shipping and VOD, but the company really wants a piece of the government action. Whatever it hasn't tied up in hosting and storage, it's looking to collect via surveillance tech. Amazon is selling as much facial recognition software as it can to law enforcement agencies -- despite recent controversies -- and now it's hoping its home products will attract more subsidized deployments. Local law enforcement provides the public with cheap or free doorbell cameras and swings by for the footage whenever needed. Who isn't going to feel obligated to hand this over to the cops when they come asking? As the EFF's Dave Maass points out, if cops wanted to outfit a ton of homes with surveillance cameras they could access at any time, there would be some pushback. But frame it as a giveaway with an eye on home security, and people will gladly sign up to turn Everytown, USA into London. Both Amazon and law enforcement make it clear no one is obligated to turn their front doors into tools of the surveillance state. Amazon's end user agreement does not require users hand over footage to officers. But put a few officers on a customer's doorstep and the calculus of consent changes. How many Americans are going to choose their own doorstep to die on in a civil liberties battle with cops over footage of suspicious people/vehicles possibly collected by the private company's camera they have aimed at the street? Source
  18. One Amazon Copyright Complaint Costs Torrent Site its Domain A torrent site losing its domain over a single copyright complaint from Amazon seems an unlikely scenario. However, when one views the complaint as a trigger, one that's able to set off a chain reaction at the domain's registry, everything begins to fall into place. There are thousands of torrent and streaming sites on the Internet today. They come in all shapes and sizes but most have one thing in common – they need a domain name for people to access them. It’s not unheard of for such sites to lose their domains after dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of copyright complaints. But to lose control over a domain after just one is pretty bad luck but, as it turns out, not exactly straightforward. The site in question is TheRedBear.cc, a lesser-known but perfectly functional torrent indexer. In conversations with the site’s operator last month it became clear to us that he was having issues with his domain registrar, EuroDNS. Those issues were the result of a copyright complaint filed by Amazon. According to information provided by the site owner, he’s always eager to process DMCA takedown notices when they arrive. He uses scripts to automate takedowns and he says he has a good relationship with anti-piracy companies. However, the complaint from Amazon apparently ended up in a spam folder and wasn’t processed as quickly as it should’ve been. This led Amazon to file a complaint with EuroDNS, which references a single URL and reads as follows (edited for clarity): “Amazon has learned that the website located at theredbear.cc…for which you are the hosting provider, is distributing unauthorized copies of Amazon Properties via the distribution of Amazon Properties video files. This constitutes copyright infringement in violation of federal copyright law section 17 U.S.C. 501, as well as similar laws around the world,” the complaint reads. “Amazon has already notified the Website of infringement through its vendor Digimarc. However, the Website has failed to comply expeditiously with this takedown request and continues to cause, enable, induce, facilitate and materially contribute to the infringement by continuing to provide its users with the means to unlawfully distribute, reproduce and otherwise exploit the property.” While the complaint sounds serious, this wasn’t enough on its own for TheRedBear to lose its domain. What it did trigger, however, was a detailed review by EuroDNS of the account through which it was registered. According to the site operator, EuroDNS then began demanding copies of his passport and a personal telephone call from his country of origin (rather than the virtual line he usually uses) to confirm various details. The operator told us he provided information when he signed up in 2018 and that in his opinion, a review wasn’t necessary. Nevertheless, EuroDNS appears to have determined otherwise and suspended his account. TorrentFreak spoke with EuroDNS about the issues. The company’s legal department spoke generally but confirmed that as long as they don’t host a website to which a domain points, they don’t suspend domains following a copyright complaint, as they do with domains that are clearly involved in illegal activity such as “phishing, social hatred etc.” However, without the registry prejudging anything that has been alleged, copyright complaints do get forwarded to domain owners. In this case, two key complications then arose, both seemingly related to having verifiably accurate registration details. “EuroDNS shall be entitled to charge the Customer for any action performed on the Customer’s behalf in connection with a third party claim, insofar as the Customer fails to acknowledge receipt of the EuroDNS notification in regard to such a claim, or if EuroDNS finds it necessary to take action in regard to such a claim such as sending a registered letter and making phone calls on behalf of the Customer and the complaining third party,” the company said. “Nevertheless, such notification will automatically trigger a swift review of the concerned account to make sure that our customer complies with our Terms and Conditions. In case of a clear breach of our Terms and Conditions, unrelated to the original complaint, we might suspend our services to the concerned customer if the latter failed to take proper action.” So, given the above, what appears to have happened in this case is that the copyright complaint triggered a review, the review criteria weren’t met, and EuroDNS suspended the account, which prevented changes to the domain. While the domain is currently up it will shortly expire, meaning one domain gone, triggered by a copyright complaint but actioned on the basis of the registry’s own terms and conditions. It’s unclear whether TheRedBear will continue with a similar domain registered elsewhere (news will reportedly be delivered via the site’s blog), but it seems unlikely that EuroDNS will be involved. Source
  19. (Reuters) - FedEx Corp said on Friday it has decided to not renew its contract with Amazon.com Inc for U.S. cargo delivery through FedEx Express, the unit that delivers packages on planes. The move comes as Amazon builds out its own delivery network of planes, trucks and vans, a move seen as a long-term challenge to FedEx and delivery rival United Parcel Service (UPS). FedEx described the decision as a strategic move that would allow it to focus on the broader e-commerce market, a group that would include rivals of Amazon that are scaling up one-day and two-day delivery. FedEx forecast that the market would double to 100 million packages a day in the United States by 2026. The decision does not impact any existing contracts between Amazon and other FedEx business units or relating to international services, the package delivery company said. Amazon accounted for less than 1.3% of FedEx’s revenue last year, the company said in its statement. In recent years, Amazon has steadily grown its fleet of delivery aircraft, which Air Transport Services Group Inc (ATSG) and Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings have operated. The company is investing $1.5 billion to build an air cargo hub in northern Kentucky, setting it up to rely less and less on others for air shipping. Amazon has 40 leased cargo planes and has signed an agreement to induct 10 more planes to join the fleet in the next two years. D.A. Davidson analyst Tom Forte said that even though Amazon has ramped its delivery infrastructure, it is still heavily dependent on UPS and FedEx. Forte also said that FedEx and UPS operate a duopoly in shipping and Amazon is trying to break that by trying to be more self sufficient to lower shipping costs. “We respect FedEx’s decision and thank them for their role serving Amazon customers over the years,” Amazon said in an emailed statement. A task force set up by President Donald Trump recommended in December that the United States Postal Service should have more flexibility to raise rates for packages, a move that could hurt profits of Amazon and other large online retailers. Shares of FedEx pared gains and were up nearly 1% at $158.28 in afternoon trading. Amazon shares were up 2.8% at $1,802.78. Source
  20. LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Amazon.com Inc Chief Executive Jeff Bezos said on Thursday he expects there will be commercial robots in the next 10 years that can grasp items as reliably as humans, a development that could lead to the automation of warehouse jobs around the world. The remark, made on stage at Amazon’s “re:MARS” conference in Las Vegas, underscored how companies and university researchers are rapidly developing technology to perform human tasks, whether for elder care in the home or for the picking and stowing of goods in retail warehouses. “I think grasping is going to be a solved problem in the next 10 years,” he said. “It’s turned out to be an incredibly difficult problem, probably in part because we’re starting to solve it with machine vision, so (that means) machine vision did have to come first.” Bezos did not discuss any Amazon deployments of the technology, which it has tested from the Boston-area startup Soft Robotics, for instance, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters previously here The company has said it views automation as a way to help workers. Still, Amazon is known for its drive to mechanize as many parts of its business as possible, whether pricing goods or transporting items in its warehouses. It employs hundreds of thousands of people, many of whose primary task is grasping, scanning and placing customer orders. A variety of companies other than Amazon have also rolled out robotic hands for limited warehouse pilots. In the on-stage interview, Bezos also discussed Project Kuiper, Amazon’s recent bet to launch thousands of satellites to expand broadband internet access, which he said was “close to being a fundamental human need.” “It’s also very good business for Amazon because it’s (a) very high capex undertaking; it’s multiple billions of dollars of capex,” he said. “Amazon is a large enough company now that we need to do things that if they work can actually move the needle.” Asked whether people ever say “no” to Bezos, the world’s richest person and a famously scrupulous boss, he joked, “No! Certainly not twice. No, seriously, I do get told ‘no’ all the time. I seek it out.” “People who are right a lot, they listen a lot. They also change their mind a lot,” he said earlier in the interview. “They wake up, and they re-analyze things all the time.” Source
  21. The first is opening Manchester today Beginning today, Amazon will open 10 brick and mortar stores in locations throughout the UK as part of a scheme which it claims will help small businesses combine online and in-person sales. The new "Clicks and Mortar" stores will sell goods like homeware, health and beauty products, food and drink, and electronics. They will also act as a location for customers to see and try out products from online-only brands like Swifty Scooters. The first store will open in Manchester today, with openings across the rest of the UK to follow. Amazon says the pilot scheme will run for one year to test the viability of the concept. Amazon has had a mixed history with brick and mortar stores. Its automated supermarket chain, Amazon Go, has 12 branches in US cities and has been winning fans despite criticism that the cashless system is discriminatory and that it is harmful to local employment prospects. Then there are Amazon Books stores, 17 of which have opened near universities. The company has previously announced plans to expand the bookstores to more locations. Not all its physical retail schemes have been so successful, however. The pop-up kiosks it trialed at 87 locations in the U.S. were shut down earlier this year, signaling the trial wasn't as lucrative as it hoped for. Now, Amazon is trying the pop-up approach again, but this time it will try a new approach of highlighting previously online-only products and companies which stand to benefit from in-person sales. Amazon claims the new scheme will help small businesses by training apprentice workers and offering digital training events. For this purpose, it has set aside one million pounds for training schemes for 150 full-time apprentices to specialize in productivity and online sales. For small businesses which currently sell well online but would benefit from customers interacting with their products in person, this could indeed be a help. But ultimately the beneficiary of the plans will be Amazon itself, which will have a small but significant physical presence in the UK. For the long-term growth of the company, having brick and mortar stores will allow customers to browse for products they wouldn't necessarily search online, not to mention the benefits of impulse buys. And perhaps most valuable of all, it could raise Amazon's reputation as it seeks to to give back to the high street rather than destroy it. Source
  22. (Reuters) - U.S. antitrust regulators have divided oversight of Amazon.com Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google, putting Amazon under the watch of the Federal Trade Commission and Google under the Justice Department, the Washington Post said on Saturday. Amazon could face heightened antitrust scrutiny under a new agreement between U.S. regulators which puts the e-commerce giant under the watch of the trade commission, the newspaper reported, citing people familiar with the matter. The development is the result of the FTC and Justice department quietly dividing up competition oversight on both of the American tech giants, Amazon and Google, the newspaper said adding that the FTC’s plans for Amazon and the Justice Department’s interest in Google were not immediately clear. The news comes after Reuters and other media reported on Friday that the Justice Department is preparing an investigation into Google in order to ascertain whether the company broke antitrust law in operating its online businesses. Google said it had no comment on the report while Amazon, the FTC and Justice Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the report. Source
  23. Review: Amazon’s Good Omens is every bit as entertaining as the original novel The late Terry Pratchett is likely smiling in some version of an afterlife. Enlarge / Michael Sheen and David Tennant star in Amazon Prime's TV adaptation of the 1990 novel Good Omens. Amazon Prime Heaven and Hell prepare to face off in the long-planned battle of Armageddon, but an angel, a demon, and a rebellious Antichrist aren't enthusiastic about the prospect in Good Omens. The six-part limited series is based on the original 1990 novel by Neil Gaiman and the late Terry Pratchett, and it's every bit as entertaining as the source material. (Some spoilers for the book and series below.) Confession: I am an uber-fan, having read the book multiple times over the last 19 years. I'll likely read it several more times before I kick off this mortal coil, so I'm very much in the target audience for the series. Good Omens is the story of an angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and a demon Crowley (David Tennant) who gradually become friends over the millennia and team up to avert Armageddon. They've come to be rather fond of the Earth and all its humans with their many foibles, you see—not to mention the perks that come with our big blue orb, like sleek electronics and quaint little restaurants where they know you. The supernatural pair doesn't really want the Antichrist—an 11-year-old boy named Adam (Sam Taylor Buck) who has grown up unaware of his pivotal role in the coming apocalypse—to bring an end to all of that. I suspect Gaiman loves the book as much, if not more, than its most ardent fans, and that love shines through every scene of the adaptation. There's a moment in Good Omens when Anathema Device (descended from a famous witch) tells Newton Pulsifer (descended from a famous witchfinder) about the town of lower Tadfield, where the Antichrist is prophesied to rise: "There isn't any evil here. There's just love. Something or someone loves this place. Loves every inch of it so powerfully that it shields and protects it. A deep-down huge, fierce love. How can anything bad start here?" The same goes for Gaiman's adaptation: it's his deep-down huge, fierce love driving everything, and that is ultimately what makes the series a sheer joy to watch (even though season two of American Gods may have suffered a bit from Gaiman's absence). The series almost slavishly follows the novel in many respects—right down to the soundtrack packed with the music of Queen, because a running gag is that any cassette tape (it was 1990, folks) left in the car for longer than a fortnight automatically turns into the band's Greatest Hits compilation. And that's just fine with me. Apart from a few minor quibbles, this is pretty much everything fans could hope for in a TV adaptation of Good Omens. Among other strengths, the miniseries boasts terrific performances from a truly stellar cast. Tennant and Sheen were inspired choices for the two lead roles; they have incredible onscreen chemistry and bring those characters to vivid life. Gaiman admitted during a recent panel at SXSW that he was thinking of Tennant as Crowley while writing the script: "I thought, there's no other human who could play Crowley." Similarly, it's hard to imagine a more perfect foil to Tennant's brashly irreverent demon than Sheen's sweetly anxious angel fretting over his divided loyalties. As for the supporting cast, Jon Hamm is deliciously smarmy as the Archangel Gabriel, the ultimate not-too-bright bureaucrat, who scoffs when Aziraphale tells him there doesn't necessarily have to be a war: "Of course there does. How else would we win it?" Michael McKean plays Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell to perfection opposite an equally well-matched Miranda Richardson, who become mentors of sorts to unlikely lovers Newton (Jack Whitehall) and Anathema (Adria Arjona), keeper of the only accurate book of prophecies ever written. Gaiman successfully fought to keep Agnes Nutter—author of The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch—in the series, despite the high cost of recreating a medieval English village in which to burn her at the stake. But true book fans will lament the absence of the four British bikers who run into the Four Horsemen (er, Bikers) of the Apocalypse—the original Hell's Angels—in a pub and decide to ride with them. In the book, War, Famine, Pollution (who took over when Pestilence retired, "muttering something about penicillin"), and Death are joined by Pigbog (aka Really Cool People), Greaser (aka Cruelty to Animals), Big Ted (aka Grievous Bodily Harm), and Skuzz (aka Embarrassing Personal Problems, before changing to Things Not Working Properly Even After You've Given Them a Good Thumping But Secretly No Alcohol Lager). It's already a sprawling cast of characters, so I get why Gaiman et al. chose to leave them out of the TV adaptation. But they are missed. There are also a couple of notable additions. For instance, Gaiman's script fleshes out Aziraphale and Crowley's long history, as they meet up at various points through brief flashbacks: the Garden of Eden, of course, but also Noah's ark, ancient Rome, the 1970s, and Elizabethan England, where they watch a rehearsal of Hamlet at the Globe by a struggling William Shakespeare. (Tennant's various period-appropriate hairstyles are practically a special effect.) Most notably, there's an extra plot twist in the later episodes that's not in the book. It makes the pacing lag a bit toward the end. Ultimately, I think the twist works, but it might annoy hardcore purists. The friendship between Aziraphale and Crowley is very much the heart of the tale, and it mirrors that of Gaiman and Pratchett in many respects: marrying the dark vision of the former and light comic sensibility of the latter produced the best of both worlds in the novel. The two writers had long planned to adapt Good Omens into a film, yet the project never came together. By 2011, there were rumors of a TV series in the works, but then the author of the Discworld novels was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and tragically died. Gaiman didn't want to even consider moving forward without his friend of 30 years, but Pratchett himself urged him to reconsider in a letter shortly before his death. "Terry, who never asked anything of me in all our years of friendship, wrote to me and said, 'You have to do this. You're the only person out there who has the passion and understanding for Good Omens that I have. You have to make it into television because I want to see it before the lights go out,'" Gaiman said during a Q&A at the May 28 World Premiere event in London. "I thought I had six or seven years of Terry left, but then he died, which suddenly turned [Good Omens] into his last request." There is even a small tribute to Pratchett in a scene set in Aziraphale’s bookshop, per Gaiman's Instagram: "There's a little area of Books by one of his favorite authors and a hat that one of the customers left behind and will be back for one day." I'd like to think Pratchett is smiling in some version of an afterlife at what his great friend and writing partner has wrought. Good Omens is now streaming on Amazon Prime. Source: Review: Amazon’s Good Omens is every bit as entertaining as the original novel (Ars Technica) (To view the article's image gallery, please visit the above link)
  24. Another effort to reduce shipping times, especially for Prime subscribers. Enlarge / Completed customer orders are seen in their boxes, awaiting delivery, at the Amazon Fulfillment Centre on November 14, 2018, in Hemel Hempstead, England. Leon Neal/Getty Images In efforts to fulfill orders faster, Amazon will help some employees transition to entrepreneurial life. An expansion of its Delivery Service Partner program, the new initiative will give Amazon employees funding to start their own businesses delivering packages for the online retail giant. Amazon employees who take the plunge will receive funding for "startup costs, up to $10,000, as well as the equivalent of three months of the former employee’s last gross salary." According to the announcement, Amazon developed the new arm of the program to help employees who are interested in the Delivery Service Partner program but need assistance during the transition process. The program is reportedly open to a variety of Amazon employees including warehouse workers. However, Whole Foods employees are not eligible to participate in the program. If a worker decides to participate, they will leave their current role at Amazon and receive help from the company to start their small business. Participants will get "consistent delivery volume" from Amazon, ensuring that there will be packages for them to sustain their business. Participants are also allowed access to Amazon's deliver technology, hands-on training, and discounts on helpful products and services including Amazon-branded delivery trucks. Amazon created the Delivery Service Partner program last year, and it has reportedly resulted in the creation of more than 200 small businesses since its inception. Some employees will likely gravitate to the program if they were already interested in starting their own business or if they feel stuck in the daily grind of working in Amazon warehouses. However, if the program proves popular, it's unclear just how many employees Amazon will let leave their positions and participate in this program. While Amazon must front some startup costs, the program works toward one of Amazon's new goals: reduce default Prime shipping times from two days to one day nationwide. The company wants to fulfill orders as quickly as possible so customers are encouraged to buy more from Amazon, knowing the items will arrive in a timely fashion. Two-day shipping as been the default for Prime members for quite some time, but it's clear that Amazon wants to change that in the coming months and years—if it can find the workforce to sustain the operation. Source: Amazon to employees: Quit your job, we’ll help you start a delivery business (Ars Technica)
  25. Retailers are starting to realize that employing humans to trawl the aisles filling online orders isn’t efficient and are investing in software that essentially turns stores into warehouses. Amazon.com Inc.’s pledge last month to pump $800 million into making next-day delivery the new standard upped the pressure on its brick-and-mortar rivals to spend more trying to catch up all over again. That’s good news for logistics startups helping Walmart Inc., Best Buy Co., Macy’s Inc. and other retailers compete online. These upstarts, often led by Amazon alumni, say their phones are ringing with new inquiries and that venture capitalists are keen to pony up. Seattle startup Flexe, which operates a marketplace for warehouse space and online order fulfillment, on Tuesday announced a $43 million investment led by New York firm Tiger Global. Dolly, another Seattle startup, recently announced $7.5 million in fresh funding to expand to new cities and start delivering televisions, sofas, appliances and other big items for the likes of Lowe’s Cos. and Costco Wholesale Corp. Dolly was originally a marketplace for movers. Retailers that struggled to match Amazon on two-day deliveries have to spend big yet again to further cut delivery times. Amazon will capture almost half of the $600 billion U.S. shoppers will spend online this year, according to EMarketer Inc., and retailers have to match its delivery speed to keep that dominance from growing. “Interest in logistics investments has picked up, and we’ll see even more of that this year,” says Julian Counihan, a partner at Schematic Ventures in New York. “Retailers traditionally invested in physical stores to increase sales. Amazon flipped that on its head and made logistics the driver of customer experience.” Flexe, which counts Walmart among its customers, aims to double in size to more than 160 people this year to keep up with demand. It hired former Amazon transportation vice president David Glick as chief technology officer to expand its e-commerce fulfillment business, which now accounts for three-fourths of all sales. Flexe rents out space and services in more than 1,000 warehouses, providing an alternative to Amazon’s logistics services. Flexe helps warehouse owners and operators utilize empty space and idle workers by connecting them with retailers requiring flexibility to manage seasonal demand. Ace Hardware, for instance, used an organic tomato farm’s warehouse in the winter to stockpile imports since weather delayed the usual start of the spring home improvement season. “Having big customers like Walmart known for high standards brings legitimacy to our business,” Flexe CEO Karl Siebrecht says. Dolly’s focus on delivering big, bulky items is something Amazon is still trying to figure out. Amazon retail CEO Jeff Wilke, whose job includes challenging Wayfair Inc. in online furniture sales, boosted his own personal investment in Dolly in the latest round, which was led by Unlock Venture Partners. Dolly offers furniture moving and delivery services in 11 U.S. cities, including San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago. The company connects retailers and customers with 10,000 independent contractors who move and deliver the items. Dolly plans to use the funding round to expand to some 30 markets within the next 12 months to meet demand. Deliveries of sofas, televisions and appliances can be done is as little as 90 minutes, the company says. “We give retailers the ability to tell their customers that they offer way better terms than Amazon for big and bulky items,” says CEO Mike Howell. “Amazon wants to sell more furniture, but it’s having a very difficult time meeting its customers’ expectations because delivering furniture is so much different than delivering small parcels.” Logistics software firm Milezero, which has Staples Inc. as a customer, has also experienced an uptick in business since Amazon’s next-day delivery pledge, says co-founder Charles Griffith. Retailers are starting to realize that employing humans to trawl the aisles filling online orders isn’t efficient and are investing in software that essentially turns stores into warehouses. “Retailers realize these personal shopper solutions are just a band-aid,” says Griffith, a former Amazon vice president. The interest will only keep heating up as the busy holiday season approaches and retailers look for ways to keep Amazon from gobbling up more sales. Last-minute shoppers are one of the last places retailers have an edge over Amazon, and next-day delivery blunts that advantage. “Jeff Bezos is absolutely our best salesman,” says Daphne Carmeli, CEO of Deliv, which provides delivery services for retailers like Macy’s in 35 metro markets and announced a $40 million investment last summer. “He comes out with something and our phones light up.” Source
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