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  1. BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Luxembourg’s privacy regulator has asked Amazon (AMZN.O) for information regarding its Alexa voice assistant, an indication of rising regulatory unease over companies’ use of personal data. The increasing popularity of Alexa, Apple’s (AAPL.O) Siri and Google (GOOGL.O) Assistant has triggered concerns from politicians and privacy enforcers over how some companies handle recordings from users interacting with their voice assistants. Apple and Google last week halted reviews of recordings. The Guardian said Apple’s contractors tasked with the job regularly heard confidential information and private conversations. Luxembourg, which is the lead privacy watchdog for Amazon where it has its European headquarters, said on Thursday that it is in touch with the U.S. online retailer regarding Alexa. “At this stage, we cannot comment further about this case as we are bound by the obligation of professional secrecy,” a spokesman said. Amazon said it has taken steps to resolve any concerns. “For Alexa, we already offer customers the ability to opt out of having their voice recordings used to help develop new Alexa features,” a spokeswoman said. “The voice recordings from customers who use this opt-out are also excluded from our supervised learning workflows that involve manual review of an extremely small sample of Alexa requests.” Source
  2. FedEx says it will not renew its ground-delivery contract with Amazon at the end of the month. FedEx ended its express contract, which covered air shipping, in June. Amazon recently announced its Delivery Service Program to help third-party businesses create their own ground delivery networks. FedEx said Wednesday it will end its ground-delivery contract with Amazon and won't renew it at the end of the month. "This change is consistent with our strategy to focus on the broader e-commerce market, which the recent announcements related to our FedEx Ground network have us positioned extraordinarily well to do," a FedEx spokesperson said. Shares of FedEx and Amazon were down at least 1% in premarket trading. Bloomberg first reported FedEx's decision. "We are constantly innovating to improve the carrier experience and sometimes that means reevaluating our carrier relationships," an Amazon spokesperson said. "FedEx has been a great partner over the years and we appreciate all their work delivering packages to our customers." FedEx announced in June that it is ending its express U.S. shipping contract, which only affected air services. At the time, FedEx said it was a "strategic decision" that would not affect its other contracts with Amazon. At the time, FedEx said less than 1.3% of total revenue was attributable to Amazon during the 12-month period ended Dec. 31. Amazon has continued to increase its own delivery network. In late June, Amazon announced a Delivery Service Partners program in an effort to attract entrepreneurs who can create their own local delivery networks with up to 40 vans each. earlier that month, it debuted a delivery drone it hopes will eventually speed up delivery for Prime members in North America. Amazon also has a $1.5 billion hub opening in northern Kentucky in 2021 where it's expanding its Amazon Air fleet to include 50 planes. Amazon said its air network can make "two-day shipping possible almost anywhere in the U.S." Still, FedEx has helped to provide the "last mile" of delivery services, bringing packages to customer doors. FedEx said in May it would expand its ground-delivery service to run seven days a week starting in January. Source
  3. But how will we buy stuff — Amazon to kill Dash button functions on August 31—you have a month to hack yours Amazon stopped selling the $5 plastic buttons in February. Don't let yours die. Enlarge / RIP, Amazon Dash. Amazon / Sam Machkovech Amazon's four-year dalliance with plastic "BUY! BUY! BUY!" buttons appears to finally be coming to a close. The Amazon Dash line of physical, Internet-connected buttons, which allowed customers to purchase (usually for around $5 a pop) one-tap restocking of home staples like snacks, toiletries, and laundry supplies, will stop functioning altogether on August 31. This follows Amazon's decision to stop selling the buttons in February of this year, despite being so bullish about the concept that it was selling over 100 brands' worth of Dash buttons by 2016. In a statement to Cnet, Amazon justified its plans by saying that consumer use of the devices "has significantly slowed" since the retailer stopped offering them as a buyable option. In addition, Amazon points to ways that consumers can exert even less energy to buy stuff, particularly via Internet-connected appliances that leverage Amazon's Dash Replenishment API to reup on supplies when a device suspects something is running low. (We're kind of sad that Amazon didn't just sell consumers a robot that would automatically trot up to your existing Dash buttons and tap them on your behalf, but, alas.) Meanwhile, if you really crave tapping a single, colourful button to get more boxes of macaroni and cheese, Amazon still offers a digital facsimile in the form of a virtual Dash Buttons interface from either Amazon's home page or shopping app. What, then, should consumers do with any physical buttons they have stuck next to their appliances or kitchen counters, or collecting dust in drawers? Why, hack them! Existing Dash buttons come packed with everything you need to send a basic command via a Wi-Fi protocol (though little else). As enterprising users discovered shortly after the line's 2015 launch, that command can be customized. The catch is that the whole process begins with Amazon's general shopping app, available for iOS and Android devices, to set the Dash button up for its intended use as a shopping device—and there's no guarantee that Amazon's app will continue supporting this first step beyond the end of August 2019. As this 2015 Medium guide explains, once you've finished that first step of the setup process, and thus fed your local router information to the button, you can stop and delete the Amazon app and get to work. From that point, the rest of the guide walks you through the steps necessary to turn your ancient Dash button into a general-use IFTTT (If This Then That) device, which revolves in part around discovering the button's MAC address. (The guide at one point points users to a dead URL for IFTTT's Maker Webhooks service, which you can now find here, but it's otherwise current enough.) What will you use leftover Dash buttons for? Beats us. But anything has to be better than pressing the thing and not getting a massive carton of Doritos as expected. Source: Amazon to kill Dash button functions on August 31—you have a month to hack yours (Ars Technica)
  4. Amazon has tweaked the settings for its Alexa voice AI to allow users to opt out of their voice recordings being manually reviewed by the company’s human workers. The policy shift took effect Friday, according to Bloomberg, which reports that Alexa users will now find an option in the settings menu of the Alexa smartphone app to disable human review of their clips. The Alexa T&C did not previously inform users of the possibility that audio recordings captured by the service might be manually reviewed by actual humans. (Amazon still doesn’t appear to provide this disclosure on its main website either.) But the Alexa app now includes a disclaimer in the settings menu that flags the fact human ears may in fact be listening, per the report. This disclosure appears only to surface if users go digging into the settings menu. Bloomberg says users must tap ‘Settings’ > ‘Alexa Privacy’ > ‘Manage How Your Data Improves Alexa’ before they see the following text: “With this setting on, your voice recordings may be used to develop new features and manually reviewed to help improve our services. Only an extremely small fraction of voice recordings are manually reviewed.” The policy tweak comes as regulators are dialling up attention on the privacy risks posed by voice AI technologies. This week it emerged that Google was ordered by a German data protection watchdog to halt manual reviews of audio snippets generated by its voice AI, after thousands of recordings were leaked to the Belgian media last month which was able to identify some of the people in the clips. Google has suspended reviews across the whole of Europe while it liaises with EU privacy regulators. In a statement on its website the Hamburg privacy watchdog raised concerns about other operators of voice AIs, urging EU regulators to make checks on providers such as Amazon and Apple — and “implement appropriate measures”. Coincidentally (or not) Apple also suspended human reviews of Siri snippets this week — globally, in its case — following privacy concerns raised by a recent UK media report. The Guardian newspaper quoted a whistleblower claiming contractors regularly hearing confidential personal data captured by Siri. While Google and Apple have entirely suspended human reviews of audio snippets (at least temporarily), Amazon has not gone so far. Nor does it automatically opt users out. The policy change just lets users disable reviews — which requires consumers to both understand the risk and act to safeguard their privacy. Amazon’s disclosure of the existence of human reviews is also currently buried deep in the settings, rather than being actively conveyed to users. It’s not clear whether any of this will wash with regulators in Europe. Bloomberg reports that Amazon declined to comment on whether it had been contacted by regulators about the Alexa recordings review program, saying only: “We take customer privacy seriously and continuously review our practices and procedures We’ll also be updating information we provide to customers to make our practices more clear.” We reached out to Amazon with questions but at the time of writing a spokesperson was not available. Source
  5. Experts say the deal raises serious antitrust concerns Last year, Amazon cut a deal with Apple to bring direct iPhone sales to its platform for the first time. Now, that deal is coming under scrutiny from the Federal Trade Commission, The Verge has learned. The deal was first announced last fall, ostensibly as a way for Apple to sell on Amazon in an official capacity and cut down on counterfeit or misleadingly marketed products. However, it had the effect of kicking off hundreds of legitimate sellers that were offering low-cost and refurbished Apple products that were no longer for sale by the company itself. One seller, a Minnesota man named John Bumstead who specializes in refurbished MacBooks, was contacted earlier this month by a group of FTC officials. Bumstead told The Verge that he was interviewed by FTC lawyers and an economist about the impact of the Amazon-Apple deal on his business. The group did not disclose the broader purpose of the interview, but at least one member of the group is listed as belonging to the FTC’s newly formed Tech Task Force, a division launched in February to police anti-competitive behavior on tech platforms. The FTC officials were curious about the role Amazon’s Marketplace played in Bumstead’s business and how much his business suffered from being kicked off. When Apple secured the deal in November, Bumstead was given a couple months’ notice before he was forced off the Marketplace platform, which is the leading US e-commerce website for third-party sellers. “They wanted to know how Amazon works, how eBay works. I went into describing how a listing works on Amazon. Amazon is interesting in that you don’t necessarily create a listing. You just sort of tag on to an existing listing,” Bumstead tells The Verge. “If that listing gets deleted, chances are you’re not allowed to sell that product. That’s how Amazon did this. They created a bunch of renewed listings from the people who were certified, and they let those people sell on those listings, and they abandoned everyone else.” Earlier this week, regulatory news organization MLex reported that the FTC had subpoenaed Amazon Marketplace seller data on products not sold by the company itself, although it’s unclear whether the two efforts are related. The FTC did not respond to a request for comment. Still, experts say the Apple-Amazon deal could easily be grounds for an antitrust complaint. According to Sally Hubbard, an antitrust expert and the director of enforcement strategy at the OpenMarkets Institute, the practice of cutting a deal with a brand to shut out third-party sellers who may be peddling counterfeit products or simply just lower-cost versions is called “brand gating.” It’s rampant on Amazon, and it may be illegal, she argues. “You put a gate around the brand and say all the third-party sellers of whatever that brand is get a notice saying you can no longer sell this product on our platform unless you get authorization from the brand,” Hubbard tells The Verge. “But of course the brand is not going to let you sell if you’re under the [minimum advertised price]. Problem is that it’s illegal under antitrust law.” Specifically, Hubbard believes the Amazon-Apple deal could be a violation of antitrust laws that deal with anti-competitive conduct like price-fixing and illegal market allocation. “You’re not allowed to agree with another firm to set a floor on your pricing,” she says. “When you have these brands and a dominant retailer like Amazon, and Amazon says, ‘We’re going to make sure anyone who sells below your prices can’t be authorized to sell on your platform anymore,’ it’s basically a price-fixing agreement between a dominant retailer and a brand. And that’s illegal under Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act.” Amazon’s deal didn’t push third-party sellers off of Marketplace entirely, but it set conditions that made it impossible for smaller refurbishers to remain on the platform. Amazon still offers refurbished Apple products sold through the company’s “Amazon Renewed” program, but according to Bumstead, the program is limited to purchasers of roughly $10 million in inventory a year. He was never able to qualify for the program, and like many other refurbishers, he has left Amazon Marketplace as a result. Now, Bumstead says a significant amount of low-cost Apple products have disappeared from Amazon. “When they deleted those listings, they deleted consumer access to the majority of old MacBooks,” Bumstead says. “[Amazon] only created those renewed listings for newer machines.” In other words, the lowest price of a used or refurbished Apple computer on Amazon suddenly jumped by hundreds of dollars. The investigation comes amid unprecedented antitrust scrutiny of Amazon for prioritizing its own products and by using proprietary sales data to target competitors. European regulators opened an investigation into those issues earlier this month. In Germany, the company has already changed its terms of service for sellers like Bumstead, possibly as a concession to local regulators. The FTC is also stepping up its regulatory investigations of tech giants, as led by the Tech Task Force. Earlier this month, Facebook settled with the FTC over privacy violations for a $5 billion fine, and the commission is also officially investigating the social network for antitrust violations. According to The Washington Post, the FTC has been granted informal jurisdiction into any investigation into Amazon in addition to Facebook. Amazon declined to comment. Apple did not respond to a request for comment. Source
  6. Ring’s partnerships with law enforcement could be far more more widespread than previously reported. At least 200 law enforcement agencies around the country have entered into partnerships with Amazon’s home surveillance company Ring, according to an email obtained by Motherboard via public record request. Ring has never disclosed the exact number of partnerships that it maintains with law enforcement. However, the company has partnered with at least 200 law enforcement agencies, according to notes taken by a police officer during a Ring webinar, which he emailed to himself in April. It’s possible that the number of partnerships has changed since the day the email was sent. The officer who sent the email told Motherboard that the email was a transcribed version of handwritten notes that he took during a team webinar with a Ring representative on April 9. Additional emails obtained by Motherboard indicate that this webinar trained officers on how to use the "Law Enforcement Neighborhood Portal." This portal allows local police to see a map with the approximate locations of all Ring cameras in a neighborhood, and request footage directly from camera owners. Owners need to consent, but police do not need a warrant to ask for footage. The email obtained by Motherboard was sent from the Waynesboro, Virginia Chief of Police to himself in an email with the subject line “Neighbors by RING notes.” The email ends with the name and phone number of a Ring Neighborhood’s Training Manager, responsible for communicating with police and training them on the use of Ring products. The email is dated April 16. Image: Email obtained by Motherboard. Phone number and name redacted by Motherboard. Ring did not respond to Motherboard’s requests for comment. Partnerships between Ring and law enforcement agencies, like local and county police departments, typically involve the company donating free doorbell cameras to police and providing them with a Law Enforcement Neighborhood Portal. Motherboard has reported that some of these partnerships require police to promote Ring to their local communities, with police earning credit toward free Ring cameras for each resident who downloads Ring's app as a result of the partnership. Motherboard has also reported that Neighbors, Ring’s free “neighborhood watch” app, has an issue with racial profiling. The app allows people to post about “Suspicious” people or “Strangers” in their community. When Motherboard documented every post on the app for three months in a 5-mile radius from our Williamsburg office, Motherboard found that the targets of these posts are usually people of color. Unlike the Law Enforcement Neighborhood Portal, which is available only to police, Neighbors is available to the general public. Motherboard also obtained a memorandum of understanding between Ring and the Waynesboro Police Department dated February 25 of this year. The document requires Ring to make the already-free Neighbors app available to residents for free, and make the Law Enforcement Neighborhood Portal available to police for free. A confidential memorandum of understanding published by Motherboard last week requires the Lakeland Florida police department to, “Engage the Lakeland community with outreach efforts on the platform to encourage adoption of the platform/app.” It also stipulates that police “keep the terms of this program confidential.” The Waynesboro Police Department received 15 free doorbell cameras from Ring. Ring also gave police an incentive program: For every resident that downloaded the Ring “neighborhood watch” app . Neighbors due to the partnership, the police department would get credit toward getting more free cameras for residents: “Each qualifying download will count as $10 towards these free Ring cameras.” A Ring doorbell camera currently costs $130 on Amazon. Previous reporting by Motherboard has suggested that there are several dozen partnerships around the country between Ring and law enforcement agencies. A map published last week by digital rights advocacy group Fight for the Future identified 31 law enforcement agencies that have partnered with Ring. “This doesn't surprise me at all, and it's the perfect example of how corporate surveillance and government surveillance are inextricably linked,” Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, told Motherboard. “Amazon is building a for-profit surveillance dragnet and partnering with local law enforcement agencies in ways that avoid any form of oversight or accountability that police departments might normally be required to adhere to.” Ring has also collaborated with law enforcement on a series of package theft “sting operations” around the country. These operations—which have occurred in Hayward, CA; Aurora, CO; Albuquerque, NM; Green Bay, WI; and Jersey City, NJ—are designed with the explicit goal of catching someone stealing a package on a Ring doorbell camera and apprehending them. In Albuquerque, NM, Amazon even provided package loss heat maps to police in order to plan the operation. “It's time to come to grips with the fact that the 1984 dystopian future we all fear isn't something a future authoritarian government might impose,” Greer told Motherboard, “it's something that's being built right now, in plain sight, through partnerships between private companies and government agencies.” The documents that informed this article are now public and viewable on Document Cloud. Source
  7. WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday his administration was looking closely at Amazon.com’s bid on a $10 billion cloud contract with the Defense Department after getting complaints from other tech companies. Amazon.com Inc and Microsoft Corp were selected in April to continue competing for the Pentagon cloud computing services that is part of a broad modernization of Pentagon information technology systems. The selection left Oracle Corp and IBM Corp out of the competition for the contract for the Defense Department’s Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure Cloud, or JEDI. Trump has taken several swipes at Amazon since becoming president, complaining of unfair business practices and that the online retailer does not pay the U.S. Postal Service a fair rate for package delivery. Amazon did not have an immediate comment. Trump’s criticism stems in part from his oft-expressed dislike of the Washington Post’s critical coverage of his administration. Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos privately owns the Washington Post. Oracle has complained about the contract award process, including expressing concern about the role of a former Amazon employee who worked on the JEDI project until recusing himself, then later left the Defense Department and returned to Amazon Web Services. Oracle earlier this month lost a lawsuit challenging the contract award. A judge ruled Oracle did not have standing to claim it was wronged by the decision because it did not meet the contract requirements. Its chief executive, Safra Catz, who was a member of the executive committee of Trump’s transition team after he was elected, told reporters in April that she has met with Trump to discuss the contract, telling him commercial customers often use more than one cloud. Source
  8. (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
  9. Amazon will change its rules for third-party sellers following backlash ollo via Getty Images Amazon doesn't have a shining reputation when it comes to the way it handles its third-party sellers. Merchants have reported restrictions on where they can sell, being kicked off the site for no obvious reasons and issues with counterfeiting. But Germany has forced Amazon to change its attitude, and the retailer will now be overhauling its terms of service for third-party sellers worldwide. Germany's anti-trust authority has agreed to drop a seven-month investigation into Amazon's merchant terms after Amazon said it would amend its Business Services Agreement. The new terms, which will take effect within 30 days, will mean Amazon now complies with European rules governing liability towards its business partners on its European platforms. It will have to give merchants 30 days' notice -- and an explanation -- before removing a seller from the platform, and merchants in Europe will be able to take Amazon to court in their own country. Previously this was only possible in Luxembourg. According to the Federal Cartel Office, other changes will cover product descriptions, ease of understanding Amazon's terms of services and fairer presentation of customer reviews. Merchants will also be able to appeal against Amazon's decisions on who bears the costs of returns and refunds. The changes will take effect in Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Spain, as well as other worldwide sites in America and Asia. In a statement, Amazon said it will "continue working hard, investing heavily, and inventing new tools and services to help [its] selling partners around the world reach new customers and grow their business." The announcement comes on the same day that the European Commission opened a formal antitrust investigation against Amazon, designed to assess whether Amazon's use of sensitive data from independent retailers who sell on its marketplace is in breach of EU competition rules. It's perhaps unsurprising, then, that Amazon has conceded to new terms for merchants. As Reuters reports, according to a person familiar with the matter, the European Commission has already been consulting third party merchants for months. So its new terms could well be an attempt to show willing in the face of what could eventually be a hefty penalty. Source: Amazon will change its rules for third-party sellers following backlash
  10. Europe is now formally investigating Amazon’s use of merchant data European regulators have announced a formal antitrust investigation of Amazon’s use of data from third parties selling on its ecommerce platform. Commenting in a statement, competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager said: “European consumers are increasingly shopping online. Ecommerce has boosted retail competition and brought more choice and better prices. We need to ensure that large online platforms don’t eliminate these benefits through anti-competitive behaviour. I have therefore decided to take a very close look at Amazon’s business practices and its dual role as marketplace and retailer, to assess its compliance with EU competition rules.” The move is not a surprise as Amazon was already on the radar of Vestager’s department. Last fall it emerged the regulator was making preliminary enquiries about Amazon’s use of third party sellers’ data — to try to determine whether or not merchants selling on its platform are being placed at a competitive disadvantage vs the products Amazon also sells as a consequence of its access to their data. Dual sided platforms — that both host sellers on a marketplace and sell stuff themselves — raise competition-related questions about what is done with third parties’ data, she said then. Based on its preliminary fact-finding the Commission said today that Amazon “appears to use competitively sensitive information — about marketplace sellers, their products and transactions on the marketplace”. Although it’s worth emphasizing that this is a preliminary finding and does not prejudice the outcome of the formal probe. The Commission said its in-depth investigation of Amazon’s practices will focus on: the standard agreements between Amazon and marketplace sellers which allow its retail business to analyse and use third party seller data — saying that, in particular, it will focus on “whether and how the use of accumulated marketplace seller data by Amazon as a retailer affects competition” the role of data in the selection of the winners of the ‘Buy Box’ and “the impact of Amazon’s potential use of competitively sensitive marketplace seller information on that selection”. The Commission notes that the ‘Buy Box’ is “displayed prominently” on Amazon and “seems key for marketplace sellers as a vast majority of transactions are done through it” The Buy Box — an example of which can be seen in the below screengrab — refers to a coveted section of the Amazon website where consumers who are viewing a product can click to add it to their shopping cart. Seller/s who win placement in the box likely gain an advantage over competing sellers of the product. Responding to the Commission’s announcement of a formal probe, an Amazon spokesperson sent us this statement: “We will cooperate fully with the European Commission and continue working hard to support businesses of all sizes and help them grow.” Yesterday the ecommerce behemoth was among a number of tech giants being questioned by US lawmakers about antitrust concerns. On both sides of the Atlantic regulators are fast dialling up their scrutiny of the tech sector. Although Europe has led the charge — with Vestager spearheading a number of investigations into tech giants during her tenure as competition chief, including probes of Google and Apple, as well as Amazon. Earlier this year EU institutions also reached agreement over new regulations designed to boost transparency around online platform businesses and curb unfair practices to support traders and other businesses that rely on digital intermediaries for discovery and sales. The new fairness and transparency rules online platforms are likely to come into force in the EU next year. Image Credits: Stefano Guidi / Getty Images Source: Europe is now formally investigating Amazon’s use of merchant data
  11. 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
  12. 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
  13. 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
  14. 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
  15. (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
  16. 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
  17. 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)
  18. 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)
  19. 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)
  20. 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
  21. 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
  22. 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
  23. 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
  24. 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
  25. 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
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