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  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. (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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. (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
  8. 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)
  9. 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)
  10. 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
  11. Amazon mistakenly told some sellers that it's now blocking ads with 'religious content' Key Points Amazon told some sellers that it is now blocking ads containing language about religion, after updating its ad policy. An Amazon spokesperson said its policies haven't changed and the blocking was in error, and its employees are now receiving "corrective training." Sellers of religious products, however, say the change is resultin in a direct sales loss. Amazon employees have been mistakenly taking down ads with religious content, causing some small sellers to take a direct hit on their sales. Multiple sellers have seen their product ads get suspended in recent months for having language about religion, CNBC has learned. These sellers were told by email that their ads were getting blocked due to a "new policy update" at Amazon which bans any ad that contains "religious content." "Products related to a specific religion are not allowed to be advertised," an Amazon representative told one of the sellers in an email viewed by CNBC. Now, Amazon says it was just a snafu. Amazon's spokesperson told CNBC in an email that there haven't been any policy updates and that its employees are being re-trained. "The email that CNBC viewed contains inaccurate information and our long standing policies have not changed. Corrective training is being provided to the relevant teams," Amazon's spokesperson said. The incident is the latest example of Amazon marketplace sellers getting caught in the crossfire as the company has struggled to manage the sprawling growth of the third-party marketplace, which now accounts for more than half of the company's e-commerce volume. For example, as Amazon cracked down on a growing problem with counterfeit products, bad actors have used fake counterfeit complaints to get legitimate sellers taken offline. In this case, marketplace sellers were using Amazon ads to try and stand out from their competitors. Although Amazon makes the bulk of its money from e-commerce and selling computing infrastructure to businesses (Amazon Web Services), the company is also generating billions in ad revenue from companies who pay to have their products appear prominently in search results and other areas on the site. The company's "Other" business segment, which consists mostly of advertising revenue, booked $2.72 billion in the first quarter, showing growth of 36% from the previous year (although that's slower growth than it saw in most of 2018), and Amazon is now the number-three digital ad player in the U.S. after Google and Facebook, according to eMarketer. Sales loss One Amazon seller told CNBC that the sudden ad suspension has caused a serious loss in revenue. This seller requested anonymity because they feared Amazon would retaliate. This person has been selling apparel with Christian and bible messages on them for the last two years. The ads for these products described them as "Christian Fashion Gifts," and included photos of the items with biblical quotes and religious language on them. When the seller asked Amazon about the ad suspension, the company said the content of the ads violated its new policy. It also said that ads by other sellers that include similar language about religion would soon get taken down as well. "The other sellers who are currently advertising religious related Products are doing incorrect practice, which may lead to their account suspension," Amazon's rep told the seller in an email last week. This seller is concerned about losing sales because of the change. Ads are key to driving sales on Amazon because they give increased visibility on the site, but the new policy effectively bans all sellers of religious products from promoting their brands. This person's ads remain suspended as of Friday afternoon. "Our revenue on Amazon is directly connected with advertising we do, so this would be very detrimental to our business," this seller said in an email. Although this seller's ads were banned, there are still visible ads for some other religious products, such as bibles. Amazon told this seller, "Please know that our team is reviewing ads on a phase basis as there are millions of ads and removing all the ineligible ads would not be possible." This seller's incident was not unique. A number of different posts on Amazon's seller forum describe nearly identical interactions. One post from February, for example, said the seller was told that Amazon was "working to stop all advertising of religious items." Another post from last month said rosaries were prohibited from advertising because they are "religious in nature." When CNBC reached out to Amazon about these incidents this week, the company said its policies had not changed and implied that the ads should not have been taken down. In its ad policy page, Amazon states that it "prohibits content that advocates or demeans a religion. Ads may contain references to a specific religion or faith in a historical or fictional context if the primary purpose is to entertain." Also prohibited, among others, are political ads that campaign for or against certain politicians or political issues, and products related to cryptocurrencies or initial coin offerings, according to Amazon's ad policy page. The mistaken crackdown comes as tech giants are facing increased scrutiny over how they run their advertising platforms. Avoiding ads on controversial subjects could help Amazon avoid the criticism Facebook and Google have faced in recent years for their lax ad oversight policies. Facebook, for example, has updated its ad policy in 2017 following reports about the company allowing advertisers to target anti-Semitic keywords. Google also had to respond to a BuzzFeed report showing how it allowed the sale of ads targeting racist search terms. Both companies, have been criticized for their data collection policy and how user data is shared with other advertisers. "At Amazon Advertising, we believe maintaining a high customer experience bar for the ads we serve helps us drive better results for you, our advertisers," Amazon wrote in its ad policy page. Source
  12. SEATTLE – Things you bought for your kids on Amazon - like school supplies or jewelry - may have had toxic levels of lead. The retail giant is now making some changes, following an investigation by State Attorney General Bob Ferguson. Amazon has notified customers across the country, who made a little over 15,000 purchases with illegal levels of lead -- at least 600 of them came from Washington state. Ferguson's office tested dozens of products, including backpacks, pencil pouches, lunchboxes, box covers, necklaces and bracelets. The investigation found school supplies with more than 80 times the legal limit of lead. “As a parent, when I buy products for my kids, I expect them to be safe,” Ferguson said. “All retailers must ensure that their products do not pose a threat to Washington children. If they don’t, they will hear from my office.” Amazon has agreed to remove the items, refund customers more than $200,000, and pay the state a $700,000 fine. From now on, Amazon must also require all their marketplace sellers, which offer nearly one million kids' products, to prove that their items have been tested and are safe. “While so many of us benefit from the convenience of online retailers, the products they sell shouldn’t harm our families or the environment where we live,” Department of Ecology Director Maia Bellon said. “This is especially true with products marketed for kids.” Source
  13. Scammers deceive PayPal, Amazon and eBay clients through fake customer support numbers The scammers are leveraging Google search results to push fake ads that pretend to be customer support numbers of popular sites. The scam ads pretending to be tech support hotlines work only on the mobile version of the Google search result page. Scammers have found a new way to trick PayPal, Amazon and eBay customer. They are leveraging Google Search results to push fake ads that pretend to be customer support numbers of popular sites. How does the scam operate? BleepingComputer reports that if victims attempted to call one of these fake numbers, they will be greeted with a scammer who claims to be from one of these three companies. In the case of PayPal, the call is answered by someone stating ‘Thank you for calling PayPal support’. The scammer then tells the victims that their PayPal account has a problem and can only be fixed if a code of a Google Play card is sent. The scammer assures that the money paid for the Google Play card will be reimbursed by PayPal. What is the limitation? The scam ad pretending to be tech support hotlines works only on mobile devices. The mobile version of the Google search result page looks convincing and can easily confuse a person. However, the desktop version of the search result page looks fake. Most of the desktop ads utilize symbols such as parenthesis, pipes and Unicode symbols to separate different parts of the numbers. The symbols have been used to bypass Google’s automated ad quality screening tools. How did Google respond? BleepingComputer contacted Google about these ads. In response, Google told, “We have strict policies that govern the kinds of ads we allow on our platform, and ads that conceal or misstate information about their business are prohibited on our platform. When we find ads that violate our policies, we remove them.” Meanwhile, the fake ads have been removed from the search result page and are no longer visible. Source
  14. I had been using CamelCamelCamel for years until their server crashed a month or two past which compelled me to seek an alternative. I came across this new Amazon price tracker https://keepa.com that's really impressed me. CamelCamelCamel never tracked or alerted based on "lightning deal" data which is a killer feature of Keepa. I think it's awesome because their graphs show the lightning deal pricing and frequency and they've also been emailing me "lightning deal alerts" up to 24 hours ahead of time. The lightning deal alerts have saved me money on a half dozen computer items already . They even have Chrome and FF extensions that show the data inline on the Amazon product page. Hopefully this lightning deal feature remains free as long as possible (they charge a subscription fee for other Amazon sales data). Cheers all!
  15. Internal documents obtained by Motherboard detail the planning of an anti-package theft operation that used fake Amazon boxes rigged with GPS location trackers. In response to Amazon packages being stolen from people's doorsteps, police departments around the country have set up sting operations that use fake packages bugged with GPS trackers to find and arrest people who steal packages. Internal emails and documents obtained by Motherboard via a public records request show how Amazon and one police department partnered to set up one of these operations. The documents obtained by Motherboard—which include an operations plan and internal emails between Amazon and the Hayward, California Police Department—show that Amazon’s “national package theft team” made several calls to the Hayward Police Department and sent the department packages, tape, and stickers that allowed the department to set up a “porch pirate” operation in November and December of 2018. The documents also reveal that the bait Amazon packages included real-time location-tracking devices in order to surveil and track anyone who stole a package. According to an “Operation Plan” obtained by Motherboard, the Hayward Police Department referred to the porch pirate operation as “Operation ‘Safe Porch,’” and it lasted from November 12 to December 17, 2018. The document describes package theft in Hayward as a “significant problem” during the holiday season, and it characterizes Operation Safe Porch as a way to “arrest/prosecute those individuals committing this criminal activity.” “The operation will emphasize a pro-active approach in the suppression of this criminal activity and with the use of ‘bait’ packages affixed with GPS tracking devices, Surveillance and Covert Operations, Probation/Parole Searches and potentially Search Warrants,” the document reads. The document claims that the Hayward Police Department Criminal Investigations Bureau, units form the Hayward Special Investigations Bureau, and Hayward Crime Analysis all assisted with Operation Safe Porch. It also notes that the program was run four days a week, for 10 hours per day, and outlined the GPS, radio, and vehicles that were used in the program (including “an assigned undercover vehicle for surveillance and covert operations.”) We don’t know if Operation Safe Porch resulted in the prosecution or arrest of any individuals. An email obtained by Motherboard from Hayward Police Department Sergeant Brian Maloney dated November 25, 2018 says, “So far, there have been no bites on our decoy package.” “We have been targeting high traffic areas, good visibility of porches, and prior theft neighborhoods,” he continued. “I’ll let you know how it goes.” However, Special Investigations Bureau logs obtained by Motherboard indicate that the operation continued for almost a month after that email was sent. The Hayward Police Department declined to comment for this story. The documents indicate the role that Amazon played in helping to organize the sting operation in Hayward, and the amount of planning that went into patrolling and potentially prosecuting package theft—a petty crime. “We appreciate the effort by local law enforcement to tackle package theft in their communities, and we remain committed to assisting them in their efforts however we can,” an Amazon spokesperson told Motherboard. The documents obtained by Motherboard also detail conversations between Amazon Logistics Loss representative Rob Gibson and Hayward Police Department Sergeant Maloney. The emails arrange the delivery of Amazon-branded boxes, Amazon tape, and lithium ion stickers. One email from Maloney requests 5 boxes, as well as tape and stickers. A later email from Gibson says that he will provide 10 Amazon-branded boxes, a roll of Amazon-branded tape, and more lithium ion stickers. The emails reference several conversations between Amazon and the Hayward Police Department that occurred offline. In his first email to the Hayward Police Department, Gibson provides his cellphone number. “I manage our national package theft team and heard that you might be looking for some assistance,” Gibson wrote in his first email to Maloney on November 7. The Amazon representative who communicated with the Hayward Police Department was a “Logistics Loss Prevention” associate. According to the Amazon jobs website, Loss Prevention employees are tasked with protecting the “people, products, and information at each site and in the supply chain.” “Specialists build data-driven investigations, conduct interviews, and monitor security risks,” the website reads. “Our managers implement programmes to prevent loss, manage Amazon assets, and lead teams of strong people.” Several other cities around the country—including Aurora, CO; Albuquerque, NM; Jersey City, NJ; and Hayward, CA—have also conducted porch pirate sting operations aided by Amazon. Jersey City, NJ—like Hayward, CA—put GPS-tracking devices inside the dummy packages. Aurora and Albuquerque, meanwhile, used doorbell cameras from Ring—which is owned by Amazon—to capture video footage and surveil for theft. A Motherboard investigation found that package theft is a focus for most posts on Neighbors, the “neighborhood watch” app owned by Ring. Users consistently claim that they hope for disproportionately severe punishment for people who steal packages from their doorstep. Source
  16. Alexa, play free music." Amazon has entered into discussions to launch a free, ad-supported music service, sources familiar with the plan tell Billboard -- intensifying its competitive threat to global streaming leader Spotify. The world’s biggest e-retailer would market the free music service through its voice-activated Echo speakers, sources say, and would offer a limited catalog. It could become available as early as next week. To obtain licenses for the free music, Amazon has offered to initially pay some record labels per stream, regardless of how much advertising Amazon sells. Amazon declined to comment. The move underscores Amazon’s growing power in the music market, as a distributor that can afford to discount music as a loss-leader to support its core retail business. That’s a luxury Spotify doesn’t have, as its shareholders pressure the music-focused public company to turn a profit. Until now, Amazon has offered its limited Prime Music service as a way to drive Prime subscriptions, which cost $119 a year for perks like free delivery. It also sells Amazon Music Unlimited subscriptions separately for $9.99 a month, reducing the fee to $7.99 for Prime members and $3.99 a month for people who only listen on an Echo device. Currently, Spotify is the only major subscription-dependent music streaming service with a free tier -- a generous offering that’s been key to it hooking and funneling in new paying subscribers. (While YouTube has also long been free around the world, the ad-driven Alphabet video platform is less interested in converting its free users into paid customers.) The free service offered by Spotify, which currently counts 96 million paying subscribers and 116 million free users, is attractive because it lets listeners hear particular albums or artists on demand, though free users can’t control the order of the songs. Apple Music, by comparison, has 56 million paying subscribers without a similar free funnel. (Apple’s Beats 1 radio is free, but doesn’t include on-demand listening). Amazon hasn’t disclosed how many paying music subscribers it has, but some reports last year estimated it counts over 20 million subscribers across its offerings and expect it to gain steadily thanks to integration with its market-leading smart speakers. Source
  17. Microsoft, Amazon are the last bidders standing for the $10 billion DoD JEDI cloud contract The Pentagon is expected to award its $10 billion JEDI cloud contract to either Amazon or Microsoft sometime later this summer, at the earliest. U.S. Department of Defense officials have decided this week that the only two cloud vendors able to meet their requirements for a huge, winner-take-all project are Amazon and Microsoft. That decision takes Oracle and IBM out of the running for the $10 billion JEDI contract. The DoD's JEDI (Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure) contract is designed to upgrade legacy systems with newer cloud services. According to the original proposal, "JEDI Cloud will provide enterprise-level, commercial IaaS (infrastructure as a service) and PaaS (platform as a service) to the Department and any mission partners for all Department business and mission operations." Google dropped out of the JEDI bidding last year, acknowledging it couldn't meet the requirements (and citing its AI principles, as well). Oracle officials had protested the bidding process, claiming bias against a former military employee who also worked at Amazon AWS. Oracle filed a lawsuit over this late last year. In February his year, it looked like the DoD was going to have to postpone the award of the contract as a result of a required review. The DoD was expected to name a winner in April, but now the soonest the JEDI winner will get the nod is mid-July, according to Bloomberg. Over the past year-plus Microsoft has been working to get all its required certifications lined up so that it can meet the JEDI requirements. Source
  18. Amazon employees listen in to your conversations with Alexa A report suggests you may have eavesdroppers in your living room. Amazon is using a team of human staff to eavesdrop on queries made to Amazon Alexa-enabled smart speakers in a bid to improve the voice assistant's accuracy, a new report suggests. If you check out your Amazon Echo smart speaker's history via the Alexa app (Alexa account - > History), depending on where and when you use the device, you may see little more than general, genuine queries. My history is full of cooking timer requests, light control commands, and news briefings. There are also a few nonsense recordings generated by the nearby television on record -- including a man talking about his dog and politics mentioned once or twice -- and while they may be seen as acceptable recording errors, the idea of an unknown human listening in may be enough to make you uneasy. According to Bloomberg, this may be the case, as Amazon staff in areas including Boston, Costa Rica, India, and Romania are listening in to as many as 1,000 audio clips per day during nine-hour shifts. While much of the work is described as "mundane," such as listening in for phrases including "Taylor Swift" to give the voice assistant context to commands, other clips captured are more private -- including the example of a woman singing in the shower and a child "screaming for help." Recordings sent to the human teams do not provide full names, but they do connect to an account name, device serial number, and the user's first name to clips. Some members of the team are tasked with transcribing commands and analyzing whether or not Alexa responded properly. Others are asked to jot down background noises and conversations picked up improperly by the device. "The teams use internal chat rooms to share files when they need help parsing a muddled word -- or come across an amusing recording," Bloomberg says. In some cases, however, the soundbites were not so amusing. Two unnamed sources told the publication that in several cases they picked up potentially criminal and upsetting activities, accidentally recorded by Alexa. An Amazon spokesperson said in an email that only "an extremely small sample of Alexa voice recordings" is annotated in order to improve the customer experience. "We take the security and privacy of our customers' personal information seriously," the spokesperson added. "We have strict technical and operational safeguards, and have a zero tolerance policy for the abuse of our system.” It is possible to withdraw from these kinds of programs for the benefit of your personal privacy. In order to do so, jump into the Alexa app and go to Alexa Account - > Alexa Privacy - > "Manage how your data improves Alexa." In this tab, you can toggle various options including whether or not you permit your Alexa usage to be used to "develop new features," and whether messages you send with Alexa can be used by Amazon to "improve transcription accuracy." In related news, the Intercept reported in January that the Amazon-owned company provided its Ukraine-based research and development team close to "unfettered" access to an unencrypted folder full of all the video footage recorded by every Ring camera worldwide. Some employees had access to a form of 'god' mode which permitted 24/7 access to customer camera feeds. Source
  19. US regulators dash Amazon hopes to stop investor vote on gov't facial recognition tech sales Amazon wanted to stop shareholders from having a say on the sale of tech to the US government. SEC said no. The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has blocked Amazon's attempt to prevent shareholders from voting on the sale of Rekognition facial recognition technologies to the US government. Earlier this year, shareholders issued a public statement via Open MIC which said "shareholders request that the Board of Directors prohibit sales of facial recognition technology to government agencies unless the Board concludes, after an evaluation using independent evidence, that the technology does not cause or contribute to actual or potential violations of civil and human rights." The statement noted that Rekognition is already being trialed in Florida and Oregon by law enforcement. Rekognition is Amazon's image, face, and object recognition system. Based on deep learning and computer vision algorithms, the software is able to automatically process millions of photos per day and is touted as a solution for a range of applications in social and security contexts. "You can compare a face on a webcam to a badge photo before allowing an employee to enter a secure zone," Amazon says. "You can perform visual surveillance, inspecting photos for objects or people of interest or concern. You can build "smart" marketing billboards that collect demographic data about viewers." Now, US regulators have entered the mix. The request of Amazon shareholders for an independent review into the applications of Rekognition and the prohibition of sales until concerns have been allayed were put forward by Amazon with a request to exempt them from an annual meeting, a hope that SEC has now dashed. "We are unable to concur in your view that the company may exclude the proposals [...] because we are unable to conclude that the proposals are not otherwise significantly related to the company's business," SEC says. Amazon attempted to dismiss the requests under SEC rules which can exclude proposals (.PDF) if they "relate to operations which account for less than five percent of the company's total assets at the end of its most recent fiscal year, and for less than five percent of its net earnings and gross sales for its most recent fiscal year" and "are not otherwise significantly related to the company's business." The first request's subsequent refusal is dated 28 March (.PDF). An appeal, dated April 3 (.PDF), reinforced the decision and was rejected. "Shareholders -- especially large institutional shareholders -- need to press Amazon on this critical issue by raising their concerns with management and voting their shares," says Michael Connor, Executive Director of Open MIC. "There's a lot at stake." It is not only shareholders, however, which have raised concerns over the applications of the facial recognition technology. An anonymous, public post reportedly published by an Amazon employee says that a letter was delivered to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to the same effect and was signed by 450 employees. The letter also requested that Amazon's board remove Palantir from Amazon Web Services, the software used by ICE's tracking and deportation activities. Over 40 civil rights organizations have also sent a letter to Bezos asking for Rekognition to be "taken off the table for governments." Another open letter describes the concerns that over 70 academics hold relating to Amazon's technology. Research has suggested that the technology is biased towards women and people of color. In February, in the face of such heat, Amazon proposed a set of guidelines to regulate the use of facial recognition technology at government and law enforcement levels. The guidelines suggest that facial recognition technology should be used in accordance with the law, including those which protect civil rights; its use should be subject to human review; law enforcement should be transparent about its facial recognition tech usage and practices; notices should be posted for the public when it is in use; and 99 percent confidence thresholds should be maintained if used in legal cases. ZDNet has reached out to Amazon and will update if we hear back. Source
  20. Amazon says it'll launch 3,236 low Earth satellites for fast, low-latency service. Enlarge Getty Images | Olena_T Amazon has confirmed it plans to launch thousands of low Earth orbit satellites in order to provide high-speed, low-latency broadband service around the globe. Details on Amazon's Project Kuiper emerged in filings with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and in an article published today by GeekWire. Amazon confirmed Project Kuiper in a statement to GeekWire. When contacted by Ars, Amazon provided us the same statement but said it would be "premature" to answer any of our specific questions about speeds, prices, and when service will be available. "Project Kuiper is a new initiative to launch a constellation of Low Earth Orbit satellites that will provide low-latency, high-speed broadband connectivity to unserved and underserved communities around the world," Amazon said in its statement. "This is a long-term project that envisions serving tens of millions of people who lack basic access to broadband Internet. We look forward to partnering on this initiative with companies that share this common vision." As GeekWire wrote, the filings with the ITU "lay out a plan to put 3,236 satellites in low-Earth orbit—including 784 satellites at an altitude of 367 miles (590 kilometers), 1,296 satellites at a height of 379 miles (610 kilometers), and 1,156 satellites in 391-mile (630-kilometer) orbits." The filings were made last month by the Federal Communications Commission on behalf of Amazon's Kuiper Systems LLC. This is one of the initial steps for Amazon, as it still needs to seek approval from the FCC and regulators in other countries. According to GeekWire, Amazon confirmed that the satellites "would provide data coverage for spots on Earth ranging from 56 degrees north to 56 degrees south," an area that covers about 95 percent of the world's population. Unlike current satellite broadband services that suffer from extremely high latency, low Earth orbit satellites are expected to deliver service with latencies as low as 25ms, similar to cable or fibre systems. Years-long process ahead It would be hard to predict an availability date for Amazon's broadband service, given how early it is in the regulatory process. SpaceX filed for FCC approval of its satellite broadband constellation in November 2016. SpaceX has made significant progress with regulators, getting FCC approval to deploy up to 11,943 broadband satellites. Two months ago, SpaceX asked the FCC for approval of up to 1 million Earth stations that would be used by end users to access the network. SpaceX is hoping to offer Internet service starting sometime in 2020 but hasn't confirmed a more specific availability date. OneWeb, another company planning a big satellite network, launched its first six low Earth orbit satellites in February as test units and says it will provide worldwide broadband access by 2021. SpaceX last year launched two test satellites. The FCC has also approved applications from Space Norway and Telesat to offer broadband in the US from low Earth orbit satellites. Facebook is another company planning to launch broadband satellites. Like other satellite operators, Amazon will have to file detailed plans to convince regulators that its satellites won't interfere with other satellite services and that it can prevent space debris and injuries to humans when they eventually return to Earth. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is also the founder of private spaceflight company Blue Origin. Bezos's space company could theoretically launch Kuiper satellites into space, but Amazon said it will "look at all options" when the time comes, according to GeekWire. Source: Amazon plans satellite broadband for “tens of millions” of people (Ars Technica)
  21. Amazon's big internet plan: 3,236 satellites to beam faster, cheaper web to millions Soon you could be buying your goods online from Amazon using the company's own satellite broadband system. Amazon has plans to establish a constellation of 3,236 satellites in low Earth orbit to patch up areas with poor or no internet connectivity. Amazon's planned push into satellite-delivered broadband is taking shape under Project Kuiper, details of which appear in three documents filed with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) last month. The documents were filed by Kuiper Systems LLC. First spotted by Geekwire, the documents reveal Amazon plans to put 3,236 satellites at three different altitudes. There would be 784 satellites orbiting at an altitude of 367 miles (590km); 1,296 satellites at 379 miles (610km); and 1,156 satellites at 391-mile (630km). An Amazon spokesperson confirmed the existence of Amazon's satellite broadband ambitions, noting that it was a "long-term project that envisions serving tens of millions of people who lack basic access to broadband internet". The company is also planning to partner with other companies to bring the project to reality. That could make companies in the space-broadband race, like SpaceX and OneWeb, potential rivals or partners. The FCC in November authorized SpaceX to deploy and operate 7,000 satellites in very low Earth orbit to deliver broadband. OneWeb, which has $2bn in backing from the likes of Airbus, Coca Cola, Softbank, and Virgin, in February launched six satellites with the same ambition. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin space venture already has a contract to launch satellites for OneWeb and TeleSat. Meanwhile, Facebook, Boeing and LeoSat have revealed plans to beam internet from space. Alongside SpaceX's FCC authorization, the regulator also authorized spectrum in the US for both TeleSat's and LeoSat's space broadband systems. Should Amazon's plans come to fruition, its satellites would provide about 95 percent of the world's population with coverage between latitudes 56 degrees north to 56 degrees south. The two parallels circle the Earth at about the latitude of Sweden and below Australia. Amazon will still need to get approval from the FCC and other regulators around the world to move forward with Project Kuiper. Satellite internet today is typically very expensive. However, there is hope that satellites in low Earth orbit will be cheaper and offer lower latency. Amazon said it would "of course look at all options" when asked whether Bezos' Blue Origin would have an edge over others for launching the Kuiper constellation. Source
  22. Amazon pilots seed, angel investment program for high-risk startups The program could result in more early-stage firms and investors joining the AWS ecosystem. Amazon is piloting a new program designed to bring private venture capitalists and early-stage companies seeking seed and angel investments together. The Amazon Web Services (AWS) Pro-Rata Program is in its early stages and focuses on connecting investors and venture capitalists with startups and those who need early-stage funding and, therefore, may represent a higher degree of risk. As reported by CNBC, parties connected to the program are already making use of AWS cloud technology in some form. According to an email sent to investors in January and viewed by the publication, the AWS Pro-Rata Program "is a new pilot intended to connect family offices and venture capitalists for specific investment opportunities from the AWS ecosystem." Amazon is a prominent investor in early-stage programs and has made a number of acquisitions in the past, but this program will not involve the tech giant investing any funds directly into projects. Instead, Amazon will act as an introductory service, and investors are expected to perform their own due diligence checks. Investments and allocation are not guaranteed. The Amazon Web Services Pro-Rata Program is reportedly being operated by Brad Holden, who has acted as a partner and as investment counsel at TomorrowVentures, a Palo Alto, California-based early stage venture capital firm founded by Google executive chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt. In the email, AWS listed a number of specific companies seeking capital, including a supersonic jet manufacturer called Boom; Roman, a men's health product manufacturer, and a data analytics firm called FreightWaves. Investors were asked to commit a minimum amount ranging from $20,000 to $500,000. While the email describing the project does not mention any revenue generation by Amazon directly, indirectly, the company could certainly benefit. If more investors become interested in startups that rely on AWS, and these projects prove fruitful, Amazon stands to make a long-term gain with the introduction of more clients to the AWS ecosystem. Amazon also operates AWS Activate, a program designed for startups which need a low-cost means of running their infrastructure. AWS Activate offers credits, training, and support for startups. Airbnb, Slack, and Lyft have all made use of the program in the past. In related news, in-flight Wi-Fi provider Gogo transitioned to AWS earlier this month. The company said the majority of its internal and business-critical infrastructure has now moved from Oracle databases to Amazon Aurora. ZDNet has reached out to Amazon and will update if we hear back. Source
  23. Amazon silently ends controversial pricing agreements with sellers As lawmakers begin to question Big Tech’s power Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge Amazon will no longer require third-party sellers to price their products on Amazon lower than they price them anywhere else. It quietly eliminated a clause in its contracts today that critics have called anti-competitive. Price parity agreements, or most-favored nations clauses (MFNs), were formerly used by Amazon in contracts with third-party sellers to ensure that people selling products on the platform did not sell the same products for cheaper on any other platform like eBay or Alibaba. Amazon declined to comment. A few years ago, regulators in Germany and Great Britain investigated this practice and it was dropped in Europe. The threat of regulation or impending investigations might be at fault for causing Amazon to drop MFNs in the United States as well. Last December, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) penned letters to the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission demanding an investigation into these anti-competitive provisions in Amazon’s contracts. “Amazon’s wise and welcome decision comes only after aggressive advocacy and attention that compelled Amazon to abandon its abusive contract clause,” Blumenthal said Monday. “I remain deeply troubled that federal regulators responsible for cracking down on anti-competitive practices seem asleep at the wheel, at great cost to American innovation and consumers.” Last week, presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) announced a sweeping antitrust proposal and said that if she’s elected in 2020, she will work to break up big tech companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook. Warren’s proposal is only part and parcel of a larger movement among lawmakers questioning the market power of these large tech firms. “The DOJ and FTC must begin aggressively investigating Big Tech’s potential antitrust violations and take necessary enforcement actions to deter more harmful behavior,” Blumenthal said. Source
  24. Security researchers have found that data streams from Amazon-Owned Ring doorbell’s app can be easily compromised. In a blog post on hardware security company Dojo’s website, cybersecurity expert Or Cyngiser outlined the issue: using a specialized security assessment tool called VideoSnarf, he and a team of researchers were able to extract and inject video and audio information as it transferred from the Ring doorbell to its app. That’s a big problem: criminals could target Ring doorbells to gather sensitive information about potential targets. “The attack scenarios possible are far too numerous to list, but for example imagine capturing an Amazon delivery and then streaming this feed,” Cyngiser wrote. “It would make for a particularly easy burglary. Spying on the doorbell allows for gathering of sensitive information — household habits, names and details about family members including children, all of which make the target an easy prey for future exploitation.” Injecting Footage The researchers even demonstrated that they could inject their own video and audio feed, Oceans 11 style, on stage at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. “We developed a [proof of concept], whereby we first captured real footage in a so-called ‘recon mode,'” reads the blog post. “Then, in ‘active mode’ we can drop genuine traffic and inject the acquired footage.” The hack was completely untraceable, the team said. Patch Adams It’s not the first time Amazon’s Ring doorbell has landed in hot water over security issues. In May 2018, The Conversation reported that Ring customers remained logged in even after changing the password to access the device. Ring scrambled and released an over-the-air update yesterday. But users who haven’t downloaded the update, according to Cyngiser, are still vulnerable. “Letting the babysitter in while kids are at home could be a potentially life threatening mistake,” Cyngiser wrote. source
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