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  1. By selling more of its own products, Amazon is becoming a competitor to the outside manufacturers it hosts on its platform — and that's worrying regulators around the world. Why it matters: Governments have rarely tried to rein in Amazon's ambitions, allowing it to avoid most of the recent scrutiny directed at other large tech platforms. But the increased focus on Amazon's house-brand offerings suggests it may now be Amazon's turn. Driving the news: Amazon built a robust business as a participant in its own marketplace when it saw growth stall in stateside e-commerce, which is why holiday shoppers might have seen Amazon-owned brands like Happy Belly for food or Solimo for household goods when they browsed the site last year. It created more private-label products, from its AmazonBasics line to brands for fashion and furniture, that are in-house versions of things others sell on the site. It struck deals with outside manufacturers to sell their products exclusively. Critics say Amazon uses its sales data to find fruitful areas where it can produce generic versions of already-popular products. Then, its critics argue, Amazon favors its own brands when customers search for a certain item. They admit that brick-and-mortar businesses have done the same thing for decades, but argue that Amazon's dominance over online retail makes it more of a problem when the company moves so aggressively into house brands. By the numbers: Amazon currently has 135 private-label brands, and it has deals to sell another 332 brands exclusively around the world, according to a database maintained by TJI Research. The big picture: Regulators in major overseas markets for Amazon have already taken aim at its efforts. E-commerce rules going into effect next month in India appear to forbid a marketplace like Amazon — or Walmart-owned Flipkart — from selling products it has a stake in and to ban exclusivity deals. Analysts have questioned whether there may be a way around the prohibition. European competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager launched a preliminary look at Amazon's practice of using its data to build its private-label business last year, although a spokesperson said in an email that the EU has not yet begun a formal probe. Germany's antitrust regulator is probing how Amazon treats third-party merchants who use its marketplace. It says its investigation differs from the EU inquiry, but that the two "proceedings supplement one another." In Washington, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren — who's running for the White House — has expressed concerns about Amazon’s growing role as a seller on its own platform. “You got to pick one business or the other, baby,” Warren said in September. “You want to be a competitor, be a competitor, that’s great. You want to be the platform provider, that is a different function.” Yes, but: It could be hard for regulators to crack down on Amazon’s in-house product efforts in the United States, where most anticompetitive practices are ruled illegal only when consumers are hurt — often by a price increase. Progressive lawmakers could use legislation to make antitrust law more applicable to major tech platforms, including Amazon. "Would you speak to how the commission determines whether conduct has anti-competitive effects in non-price competition and how you make those determinations?" Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the new chair of the House Judiciary Committee's antitrust subcommittee, asked Federal Trade Commission chairman Joe Simons at a recent hearing. The other side: Amazon told Axios that selling private-label products is a standard practice in retail that broadens selection for customers. It said third-party sellers continue to do well on its platform. "Retail is fiercely competitive and it’s common for companies to offer customers private label products — consumers see it every day when they walk into a store," said an Amazon spokesperson in a statement, which noted the company represented only a small percentage of global retail, although its share of online retail is large. “Amazon’s private label products are less than 1% of our total sales. This is far less than other retailers, many of whom have private label products that represent 25% or more of their sales," the spokesperson said in an additional statement after this story was published. The company added that private-label products accounted for a greater percentage of sales at retailers like Costco, Walmart and Kroger, as well as major European brands, than they do at Amazon. (The "less than 1%" figure does not include sales at the Amazon-owned Whole Foods grocery chain.) What’s next? Amazon watchers say the company has accelerated its efforts to sell its own products or products it markets exclusively. SunTrust Robinson Humphrey analysts Youssef Squali and Naved Khan estimated in June that private-label product sales would generate $7.5 billion for Amazon in 2018, a significant increase from their estimate for 2017. “The company remains very early in building a sizable private-label business, and as such, we expect growth in this segment to continue to outstrip overall e-commerce’s growth at Amazon,” they said. Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional comment from Amazon. Source
  2. Over the course of the last month, some troubling information has surfaced about Ring, the Amazon-owned company that has millions of cameras inside and outside homes across the globe. The Information in December suggested Ring employees in both the U.S. and the UK had unfettered, unnecessary access to customer camera feeds, and today, The Intercept has shared additional details. Starting in 2016, Ring allowed its Ukraine-based research team to access "every video created by every Ring camera around the world." Video content was unencrypted and "easily browsed and viewed," plus videos were linked to specific customers. Ring employees highlighted objects in video feeds to improve object and facial recognition> Ring's Ukraine team was provided with access to further development on facial and object recognition software, with executives and engineers in the U.S. also able to access the same data even if they didn't specifically need it for their jobs. Employees with access to customer feeds could view an individual's camera with just an email address. Ring employees weren't just watching outdoor video, either, with a source who spoke to The Intercept suggesting indoor video was viewed as well for the same object recognition training. Ring employees were instructed to draw boxes around objects with labeling, allowing the system to learn to recognize various things. Employees allegedly showed each other the videos they were annotating and discussed some of the incidents they witnessed, such as people kissing, stealing, and guns being fired. According to The Intercept, Ring is still using similar tactics for improving video tagging and object recognition. Ring Labs, the team Ring has in the Ukraine, is continuing to employ people who watch and tag details in Ring video content. Ring spokesperson Yassi Shahmiri declined to answer The Intercept's questions about past and current data policies, but he confirmed that Ring views and annotates "certain Ring videos" that are either public or obtained with "explicit written consent." Team members are held to "high ethical standards" and there are systems in place to "restrict and audit access to information." Bad actors are subject to a "zero tolerance" response if abuse is detected. As The Intercept points out, given the information from the sources it spoke to, it is not known if Ring has always used the standards described in its current statement, and past reporting from The Information has suggested that access used to be less restrictive until Amazon purchased the service. As Ring says, Ring users who are opting into the Neighbors system, which allows for sharing of videos to "create safer videos" are unknowingly opting in to potentially having those videos viewed by Ring employees and there is no mention of that when customers sign up for the feature. Ring's terms of service and privacy policy do not mention manual or visual annotation by employees, even though that practice is still being used to this day, nor are customers notified that some employees had or could still have access to their camera feeds. Current and prospective Ring customers should be aware of Ring's practices and wary of who has access to their videos. Source
  3. (Reuters) - Amazon could build a stake of almost a third in warehouse robotics firm Balyo in the next seven years, as part of a deal that could boost sales of the French company’s technology for self-driving forklift trucks. Warehouse automation is a key element in efforts by Amazon to cut costs and speed up deliveries. The world’s biggest online retailer currently uses robots developed by Kiva Systems, a company it bought for $775 million in 2012. “This agreement ... represents an unprecedented opportunity for Balyo to grow its business and supports the soundness of our investments over the years to perfect our robotic solutions,” Balyo Chief Executive Fabien Bardinet said on Thursday. Under the terms of the deal, Amazon will receive free stock warrants representing up to 29 percent of Balyo’s capital which it can exercise depending on orders of the company’s products. The full 29 percent would be exercised if Amazon orders up to 300 million euros ($346 million) of Balyo’s enabled products. Balyo, whose navigation system turns forklifts into self-driving vehicles, said it expected 2018 revenue to come in at 23.3 million euros, up 40 percent on the previous year. ($1 = 0.8661 euros) Source
  4. Jeff Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie Bezos, announced this morning via the Amazon CEO’s personal Twitter account that they’ve decided to divorce after 25 years of marriage. A novelist, MacKenzie Bezos was a key figure in the early days of Amazon after she and Jeff Bezos moved to the Seattle region. They have four children, ranging approximately in age from early to late teens. The couple met when they worked together at hedge fund D.E. Shaw in New York. “My office was next door to his, and all day long I listened to that fabulous laugh,” MacKenzie Bezos told Vogue in a 2013 profile, explaining how they met. “How could you not fall in love with that laugh?” MacKenzie Bezos has been a staunch defender of Jeff Bezos and Amazon, writing a 1-star review in response to a 2013 book that was critical of the company. She wrote in that review, “I worked for Jeff at D.E. Shaw, I was there when he wrote the business plan, and I worked with him and many others represented in the converted garage, the basement warehouse closet, the barbecue-scented offices, the Christmas-rush distribution centers, and the door-desk filled conference rooms in the early years of Amazon’s history.” MacKenzie Bezos has also been involved in their shared philanthropic initiatives, including scholarships for immigrant children and the new $2 billion Day One Fund. Given Bezos’ status as the world’s richest person, with an estimated net worth of $136 billion, much of the initial discussion about the divorce focused on the splitting of the couple’s shared assets. Washington is a community property state, generally requiring assets to be split equally. Amazon in December announced plans to establish new headquarters in Washington, D.C. and New York City. Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post and a large home in D.C., and one question following the HQ2 announcement is whether he will continue to make the Seattle area his primary residence. Source
  5. Amazon is quietly piloting a program to let brands like Maybelline and Folgers pay to send free samples to consumers — all based on what the retail giant already knows they're likely to buy. Why it matters: Turning free samples into new targeted ads plays to Amazon's strength as a trusted delivery service of everyday goods, something Americans already expect from the company. Amazon is betting the sample strategy is something its biggest competitors — Google and Facebook — can't match. Show less The big picture: Analysts see this as a big advantage for Amazon in its efforts to take on Google and Facebook's ad dominance. The tech giant has the purchasing data and logistics infrastructure to offer samples of actual products, which could be more effective than display ads on Facebook or search ads on Google for certain kinds of consumer packaged goods brands. Display ads are currently how Amazon makes the majority of its roughly $5 billion in ad revenue. But Amazon says that marrying old-school samples with its customer data will provide brands "a higher likelihood of conversion than display ads,” according to a summer job posting. Amazon has more than 100 million subscribers to its Prime services alone, meaning it has established long-term relationships with users. Millions more purchase goods regularly from the company, even without a Prime subscription. "Having this huge installed base of users, or really Prime subscribers, and putting something in the box that people will have a high proclivity for liking — that seems like a brilliant Amazon strategy," said Rich Greenfield, a managing director and media analyst at BTIG. How it works: Samples of new products are sent to customers selected using machine learning based on Amazon's data about consumer habits, according to recent job postings and details listed on its site. In a November listing for a “BizTech Leader” position, the company says that it is an “advertising product that leverages Amazon’s customer data to allow brands to put their products in the hands of the right customers to drive product awareness and conversion.” ("Conversion" is an industry term for when a person goes from seeing an ad to buying the product in the ad.) Amazon doesn’t publicize the offering among its other ad products, but its legal terms for advertisers include details about how its sample program functions. “No later than the date specified by Amazon, Advertiser will deliver to Amazon at the location(s) designated by Amazon and at Advertiser’s expense, all Samples to be delivered or distributed by Amazon,” the terms say. Amazon declined to comment. The company has experimented with different approaches to samples, including one where Prime members can buy samples and get a credit for a later purchase. Between the lines: Analysts predict that offering consumers samples of products in the convenience of their homes also opens up opportunities for Amazon to sell more packaged goods and products. "I would think this would play in well to Amazon’s efforts to capture more activity from packaged goods companies," says Pivotal Research Group's senior advertising analyst Brian Wieser. "To the extent that this sort of an initiative would capitalize on co-op/trade promotion budgets (rather than brand advertising) it’s probably helpful." Yes, but: There could be privacy concerns. Customers are getting items that Amazon’s vast trove of customer data predicts they'll want to buy. But some customers could feel violated when something they haven't ordered shows up unexpectedly on their doorstep. On social media, consumers have acknowledged receiving samples of products from major brands, including mascara from L’Oreal’s Maybelline brand and Folgers coffee. But it doesn't appear as though all of them know why they were selected. “Amazon sent me a random coffee sample!” said one Twitter user in August. “Is it because I have like 15 [different] types of coffee in my cart .” A package pictured in the tweet included both Amazon and Folgers branding and a link to a website devoted to the new coffee offering. Amazon tells consumers that it “surprises select customers with samples that we think will be delightful and helpful,” sent to their account’s default address. Customers can opt out of receiving samples through the settings section of their Amazon account. When Axios created a new Amazon account on Monday, it was automatically opted in to receive the samples. What’s next? “Ultimately, this product leader will develop a suite of sampling products and unify Amazon’s sampling offering, establishing core differentiated capabilities and effectively monetize this Ad format,” says the November job listing. A software developer job listing also says the unit’s tech team works to automate the ad campaigns with the ultimate goal of enabling “self-service,” which means brands can run the ad campaigns without the assistance of a human sales representative. Our thought bubble: Facebook and Google built their ad empires through precise targeting and platforms where companies can spend millions without dealing with a human salesperson. Amazon could leapfrog its competitors by combining that approach with its delivery prowess — bringing samples, and data-based ad targeting, to doorsteps in a visceral way. Source
  6. Microsoft takes on Amazon Go with Kroger ‘smart supermarket’ Microsoft has partnered with supermarket chain Kroger to create a hi-tech store, using cloud computing to combine elements of online shopping with a high street store. As part of a test phase, Kroger has refitted two stores to test out key features of the new approach; including ‘digital shelving’ which update pricing information and advertising, informed by embedded sensors which tally the popularity of each product in real-time. These can be targeted using Microsoft’s own AI software which can predict a shoppers age and gender or, with the individual’s permission, highlight vegetarian and gluten-free options where appropriate. The two outfitted Kroger locations, in Monroe, Ohio and Redmond, Wash., will feature digital shelving displays with real-time price updates and product information, as well as digital advertisements personalized to each shopper. Video analytics systems will alert store associates to low inventories. Location-specific data will be stored and processed on Microsoft’s Azure cloud infrastructure. Microsoft and Kroger will jointly market the technology to other retailers, the companies said. “Our partnership brings together Kroger’s world-class expertise in the grocery industry with the power of Azure and Azure AI,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a statement. “Together, we will redefine the shopping experience for millions of customers at both Kroger and other retailers around the world, setting a new standard for innovation in the industry.” The pilot is reminiscent of Amazon’s new age Amazon Go pilot, which detects the items a shopper has picked up and scans them automatically as the shopper leaves, eliminating the need for traditional cashiers. Amazon is reportedly planning a broad expansion of Go, including in Whole Foods stores, putting pressure on traditional grocers to offer similarly innovative shopping experiences. source
  7. IN 1994, SOON after Jeff Bezos incorporated what would become Amazon, the entrepreneur briefly contemplated changing the company’s name. The nascent firm had been dubbed “Cadabra,” but Bezos wanted a less playful, more accurate alternative: “Relentless.” (Relentless.com redirects to Amazon.com to this day.) Twenty-four years later, perhaps no adjective better describes Bezos’ empire than the name he once wanted to give it. The company is known as the “everything store,” but in its dogged pursuit of growth, Amazon has come to dominate more than just ecommerce. It’s now the largest provider of cloud computing services and a maker of home security systems. Amazon is a fashion designer, advertising business, television and movie producer, book publisher, and the owner of a sprawling platform for crowdsourced micro-labor tasks. The company now occupies roughly as much space worldwide as 38 Pentagons. It has grown so large that Amazon’s many subsidiaries are difficult to track—so we catalogued them all for you. This is our exhaustive map of the Kingdom of Amazon. You might be wondering, why Amazon? After all, other tech firms, including Google and Facebook, have also expanded outside their core businesses in recent years. But few other companies can claim leadership in sectors as disparate as videogame streaming, online fabric sales, and facial recognition. Amazon also employs far more people than its competitors. Roughly 613,000 people work at Amazon, more than twice as many as work at Alphabet (94,000), Facebook (33,000), and Microsoft (135,000) combined. Most of those workers labor in one of Amazon’s more than 100 North American logistics centers, or at one of over 450 Whole Foods stores. Amazon employees are paid far less than other tech workers. In its annual filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission in February, Amazon said its median worker earned $28,446 in 2017 (it says that number jumps to $34,123 for full-time US workers). Facebook’s median salary in 2017, by contrast, was over $240,000. A bit of context: It helps to know how Amazon makes money. While its retail business is the most visible to consumers, the cloud computing arm, Amazon Web Services, is the cash cow. AWS has significantly higher profit margins than other parts of the company. In the third quarter, Amazon generated $3.7 billion in operating income (before taxes). More than half of the total, $2.1 billon, came from AWS, on just 12 percent of Amazon’s total revenue. Amazon can use its cloud cash to subsidize the goods it ships to customers, helping to undercut retail competitors who don’t have similar adjunct revenue streams. Books Amazon began as an online bookseller in 1994, and although it quickly expanded into other ventures, it still owns and operates multiple publishers and online bookselling subsidiaries. Nowadays, most of these fall under the umbrella of Amazon Publishing, which is both a publisher and the owner of imprints for specific genres, languages and locales. Amazon imprint Thomas & Mercer publishes mysteries, thrillers, and true crime novels; Little A handles literary fiction and nonfiction; AmazonCrossing is responsible for translated texts; 47North does science fiction and fantasy; Skyscape is for teen and young adult books; there’s Two Lionsfor children’s books; Jet City Comics for, well, comics; Montlake Romance handles—you guessed it—romance; Waterfall Press publishes Christian fiction; Grand Harbor Press is responsible for a category Amazon describes only as “inspirational;” Lake Union Publishing handles “book club fiction;” Amazon Original Fiction publishes short stories and fiction; AmazonEncore is for “rediscovered works;” and TOPPLE Books spotlights works selected by Jill Soloway. Amazon also has acquired Avalon Books, The Book Depository, and AbeBooks In 2005, Amazon acquired BookSurge, an on-demand self-publishing service, and CustomFlix, an on-demand video publishing service, which was later renamed CreateSpace. Two years later it bought independent audiobook producer, Brilliance Audio, and launched its own e-book publisher, Kindle Direct Publishing, concurrently with the first Amazon Kindle e-reader. Soon after, the company paid $300 million to acquire audiobook seller Audible. It also owns ACX, an audiobook publishing company. In 2009, Amazon merged BookSurge and CreateSpace to provide more on-demand options for publishers; the merged company did business under the name CreateSpace, but was officially named On-Demand Publishing. Four years later, Amazon purchased the book-review site GoodReads. In 2014, the company acquired digital comics distribution platform ComiXology. The following year, it launched Amazon Rapids, a subscription-based app that presents short children’s stories in the form of fake text messages. In 2018, CreateSpace was merged with Kindle Direct Publishing, which now handles all e-book and paperback publishing services, while all media services were transferred to another new company, called Amazon Media on Demand, which is responsible for manufacturing and shipping disc content. Amazon also operates a digital Kindle Store, where customers can purchase ebooks and other content for the Kindle, and more than a dozen physical Amazon Books stores. Media In 1998, four years after its founding, Amazon bought IMDb(Internet Movie Database) and expanded into music, offering users more than 125,000 titles at launch on CDs and DVDs. The following year, Amazon acquired Alexa Internet, a web-traffic-analysis company not to be confused with the other, more popular Alexa that came later. It wasn’t until 2007 that Amazon launched its streaming service, which was originally called Amazon MP3 and later changed to Amazon Music. In 2006, the company launched Amazon Unbox, a service for purchasing and downloading videos, which was later changed to Amazon Video on Demand, then Amazon Instant Video, and finally Prime Video (which is also, confusingly known as Amazon Video). Prime Video showcases content by Amazon Studios, which began in 2010 as a script development entity but now produces and distributes television series and films. (Last year Amazon bought the TV rights to make a Lord of the Rings spinoff for an estimated $250 million.) Through IMDb, Amazon purchased Withoutabox, which streamlined the submission and selection process for film festivals (and which Amazon is in the process of closing), as well as Box Office Mojo, which algorithmically tracks box office revenue, in 2008. In early 2014, Amazon acquired American videogame developer Double Helix Games and renamed it Amazon Game Studios. Shortly after, Amazon bought popular live-streaming platform Twitch for $970 million, and Curse, a gaming information and communication platform with a robust community of users. Shortly after the acquisition, all Curse accounts were transferred to Twitch, boosting the platform’s user base. In 2015, Amazon launched Amazon Tickets, which sells tickets to concerts and other live events in the UK. Amazon also owns sites that provide educational resources, including Amazon Inspire and TenMarks.com (Amazon is winding down the latter). It also has Whispercast, a service designed to help educators share audiobooks. Lastly, for some reason, Amazon also owns DPReview, a digital camera website. Retail Over 6 million independent merchants pay to sell goods through Amazon’s ecommerce marketplace and many also shell out additional fees for services like shipping and warehousing. Amazon also sells its own products through dozens of house brands, including Mountain Falls (primarily personal care products), Rivet (furniture), and Daily Ritual(women’s clothing). Merchants also may pay to place ads on Amazon through Amazon Advertising; the company is now the third-largest digital-advertising platform, behind Google and Facebook, with an estimated 4.2 percent market share. Need some cash to start your Amazon selling business? Amazon Lending, an invitation-only program launched in 2011, has doled out billions in loans to businesses that may have difficulty obtaining credit elsewhere. Nestled within Amazon.com are businesses such as $119 per-year Amazon Prime, which began in 2005 as a subscription service offering free two-day shipping—but quickly ballooned into something much larger. In addition to Prime Video and Prime Music, Amazon launched a photo-storage service called Amazon Photos in 2014, giving users access to Amazon Drive a cloud-based file-storage service. Other Prime products include: Prime Reading, a rotating ebook loan service unrelated to Amazon’s other Kindle offerings; Prime Pantry, which ships non-perishable grocery items for an additional fee; Amazon Fresh, a grocery delivery and pickup service; Prime Now, a one-to-two hour direct delivery service for Prime members in certain cities; and Amazon Restaurants, which offers food delivery, among others. While Prime Now offers one-hour delivery for an additional fee, most of these services are included with a Prime membership. There's also Amazon Warehouse, for deals on used products, Amazon Renewed, for refurbished products with a warranty, and Amazon Second Chance, also for second-hand goods. Lastly, there's Subscribe with Amazon, which lets customers sign up for subscription services like monthly boxes of snacks. Need someone to paint a wall or clean your carpet? There's Amazon Home Services, a marketplace for hiring home-repair and cleaning professionals. To hire and manage the contract workers making deliveries, Amazon created Amazon Flex. The company also has its own payment processor, Amazon Pay, which was launched in 2007. Earlier this year, Amazon acquired the popular Indian payment platform Tapzo for $40 million, and then immediately said it would shutter Tapzo and shift users to Amazon Pay. Aside from Amazon.com, the company also owns several other ecommerce websites, including Zappos (shoes) Shopbop (high-end womens clothing), East Dane (men’s clothing), 6pm (discount clothing) and Fabric.com (you guessed it: fabric). Also in 2010, Amazon purchased Woot!, a site for daily ecommerce deals. Last year, Amazon bought Dubai-based ecommerce platform Souq.com for $580 million; Souq then bought Wing.ae, a startup that builds next-day delivery networks for ecommerce sites. In addition, Amazon also owned Junglee, an Indian ecommerce site. In one of its highest-profile acquisitions, Amazon last year purchased Whole Foods, the high-end grocery store chain with hundreds of locations. Earlier in 2018, it also bought a 49 percent stake in More, one of India’s largest grocery chains. Amazon simultaneously operates its own chain of partially automated grocery stores, known as Amazon Go, which use ceilings’ full of cameras to offer customers a checkout-free experience. It also operates three 4 Star Stores, where customers can purchase products rated 4-stars and above on Amazon Marketplace, and a fleet of Treasure Trucks scattered around the country, doling out everything from steak to Philips Hue lights in a bizarre spinon the traditional food truck model. Aside from traditional ecommerce, Amazon also owns Amazon Mechanical Turk, a site where organizations can hire individuals for piecemeal tasks, such as labeling data for machine learning algorithms. Started in 2005, Mechanical Turk is favored by academic researchers for collecting survey and experimental data. Amazon Web Services In 2003, Amazon launched its web hosting business, Amazon Web Services. The unit had begun several years earlier as Merchant.com, which helped other retailers such as Target and Borders build their own online shopping sites using Amazon’s e-commerce tools. In 2006, the company launched Amazon S3 a “simple” cloud storage service and hosting provider that as of 2013 stored more than two trillion digital objects, as well as Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (better known as EC2), and Amazon Simple Queue Service. Reddit, Tumblr, Netflix, Pinterest, and Dropbox have all used Amazon S3 as their primary host or storage provider at one point over the past decade. (This article is also powered by Amazon, as WIRED’s website runs on AWS.) AWS offers so many cloud computing products and services that it would be cumbersome to name them all. In 2011, Amazon introduced AWS GovCloud, aimed at government agencies. Four years later, it launched AWS IoT, a platform for connecting and managing the plethora of connected devices known as the Internet of Things. Shortly after, the company won a $600 million contract to build AWS Secret Region, a cloud storage service for the CIA. In 2015, Amazon purchased Shoefitr, a startup, that uses 3-D technology to help customers determine their shoe size while shopping online, and Safaba Translation Systems, a machine-translation startup. In 2017, the company acquired3-D body scanning and modeling company Body Labs, and game developer platform GameSparks. Research conducted by these two latter companies was used to flesh out Amazon’s expansion into augmented and virtual reality, which is primarily covered by Amazon Sumerian, an AWS service. Around the same time, Amazon also acquired AI-security startup Harvest.ai and Sqrrl, a cybersecurity startup that was spun out of the NSA. AWS also offers controversial facial-recognition software known as Amazon Rekognition, which is used by some law enforcement agencies and has also been pitched to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. The service has drawn criticism for being inaccurate, particularly when used to identify people of color. In a test, the ACLU found that it incorrectly matched 28 members of Congress with people who had been arrested for a crime. Energy and Transportation To power all those data centers, Amazon has contracted with multiple renewable energy companies to create more than a dozen wind and solar energy farms in Indiana, Virginia, Ohio, and North Carolina. In 2017, it finished construction on its largest wind farm yet, the Amazon Wind Farm Texas, an achievement that Bezos celebrated by smashing a bottle of champagne on top of one of the farm’s 300-plus-foot tall wind turbines in an ultra-dramatic video: Hardware In 2004, Amazon opened Lab126, a computer hardware research and development unit. The Sunnyvale, California-based laboratory later created some of Amazon’s most successful products, including the Kindle in 2007 (and its many updated versions), the Kindle Fire Tablet in 2011, the Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick in 2014, the Amazon Echoin 2015, and the smaller Amazon Echo Dot in 2016. Another Alexa-equipped device, the Echo Look, is a camera contraption that provides fashion advice. Lab126 was also responsible for the Amazon Fire Phone, which was a commercial failure. In 2012, Amazon acquired robotics firm Kiva Systems, for $775 million, which it later renamed Amazon Robotics. After the acquisition, Amazon ended Kiva’s contracts with other companies like Staples and Crate and Barrel, leaving Amazon warehouses as the sole benefactor of the technology. In 2017, Amazon launched Amazon Key, a service that allows Amazon workers to deliver items inside a user’s home by making use of the Amazon Cloud Cam security camera, a compatible smart lock, and the Amazon Key app. Soon after, Amazon acquired Blink Home, a home automation company that makes security cameras and a video doorbell, as well asRing, best known for its smart doorbell, which includes a video camera, motion sensors, and other remote controls. Amazon also expanded Amazon Key delivery to the trunks of users’ cars, for some reason, with a service oh-so-creatively called Amazon Key In-Car. Healthcare In 2014, Amazon started a secret internal lab dedicated to developing healthcare technology that goes by at least three different names, depending on who you ask: 1492, The Amazon Grand Challenge, and Project X. As of late, the project has reportedly partnered with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle to explore using machine learning to prevent or cure cancer, and is pitching health insurance companies on a new product called Hera, which mines patient medical records to flag incorrect codes and potential misdiagnoses, and help hospitals bill patients. Amazon also sells medical supplies to hospitals through a healthcare offshoot of its business-to-business marketplace, Amazon Business. Amazon has been hiring high-profile doctors, primary care specialists, and healthcare law experts. In the first quarter of 2018, Amazon hired more than 20 people with healthcare experience, including employees poached from CVS Health and UnitedHealth Group. In January, Amazon partnered with JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway to create a new, still nameless company ostensibly designed to improve healthcare and cut costs. In August, CNBC reported that Amazon plans to open primary care clinics at its headquarters in Seattle. In June, Amazon bought online pharmacy PillPack, a startup that ships medication directly to customers, for $1 billion. Bezos Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns an equally ridiculous array of companies and ventures outside of Amazon. There’s Nash Holdings, which acquired the Washington Post for $250 million in 2013. Bezos also owns Bezos Expeditions, which manages his venture capital investments. The entity is responsible for spaceflight services company Blue Origin, numerous charitable organizations, a project to recover the Apollo F-1 Engine from the depths of the ocean, and the 10,000 Year Clock, under construction inside a mountain in Texas and designed to last for 10,000 years. source
  8. TORONTO -- Amazon says it plans to create 600 new tech jobs in Toronto. The online retail behemoth says the jobs will be in fields including software development, machine learning and cloud computing. The announcement comes as Amazon is expanding its office in Toronto's downtown core. The city was on the short list to host the company's highly coveted second headquarters, but eventually lost out to New York City and Arlington, Va. Had the Toronto region won that bid, it would have landed 50,000 Amazon jobs. Source
  9. France won’t wait on the rest of the European Union to start taxing big tech. French finance minister Bruno Le Maire says the country will move ahead with a new tax on Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon starting Jan. 1, 2019. The tax is expected to raise €500 million ($570 million) in 2019. France and Germany had originally pushed for an EU-wide 3% tax on big tech firms’ online revenues, in part to prevent companies like Apple from sheltering their profits in countries with the lowest tax rates. The deal, which required the support of all 28 EU states, appeared to crumble earlier this month, with opposition from countries including Ireland, home to the European headquarters of Google and Apple. France and Germany attempted to salvage the deal by scaling it back to a 3% tax on ad sales from tech giants. That would effectively limit the tax to Google and Facebook, excluding companies like Airbnb and Spotify that might have been harder hit under the initial proposal. In the meantime, France is moving ahead with its own tax on Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon, which are collectively known in the region as GAFA. “The tax will be introduced whatever happens on 1 January and it will be for the whole of 2019 for an amount that we estimate at €500m,” Le Maire said at a press conference in Paris, the Guardian reported today (Dec. 17). UK treasury minister Mel Stride has also suggested the UK could act alone to tax tech giants, if a broader European push failed. “We have a strong preference for moving multilaterally in that space but we have said that in the event that that doesn’t move fast enough for us then that this is something we could consider doing unilaterally, or perhaps with a smaller group of other tax authorities,” Stride said in July. While the US has bristled at talk of taxing companies based in Silicon Valley, American economist Jeffrey Sachs in October endorsed a tech tax, arguing it would help avert a dystopian future in which global wealth became even more concentrated among a small number of people. Source
  10. VIENNA (Reuters) - Austrian retailers have filed a complaint against Amazon with their national competition authority over the U.S. e-commerce giant’s dual role as a retailer and a marketplace. The European Commission and Germany’s antitrust authority are also looking into Amazon’s role in the market. A spokesman for Amazon declined to comment. “We have received a complaint. We are examining it,” a spokeswoman for Austria’s Federal Competition Authority (BWB) said on Monday, confirming a statement by the Austrian Retail Association. The main grounds for the complaint laid out by Austria’s biggest retailers’ association is Amazon’s role as both a retailer in its own right and as a marketplace where other retailers’ products are sold. Austrian newspaper Der Standard reported that it had documents showing that the BWB would open an investigation into Amazon. The spokeswoman, however, said that at this stage the BWB was only examining the complaint. “Those documents are not ours,” she said. In a statement outlining its complaint, the Retail Association said the “main problem” was Amazon’s dual role as retailer and marketplace. “Amazon can in theory see the prices of the listed retailers (on its platform), undercut their prices and in the long run attract all that business,” it said, adding that 93 percent of all Austrian online shoppers have made at least once purchase on Amazon. Source
  11. Amazon has “failed to provide sufficient answers” about its controversial facial recognition software, Rekognition — and lawmakers won’t take the company’s usual silent treatment for an answer. The letter, signed by eight lawmakers — including Sen. Edward Markey and Reps. John Lewis and Judy Chu — called on Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos to explain how the company’s technology works — and where it will be used. It comes after the cloud and retail giant secured several high-profile contracts with the U.S. government and at least one major metropolitan city — including Orlando, Florida — for surveillance. The lawmakers said that they expressed a “heightened concern given recent reports that Amazon is actively marketing its biometric technology to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as other reports of pilot programs lacking any hands-on training from Amazon for participating law enforcement officers.” They also said that the system suffers from accuracy issues — which could lead to racial bias, and could harm citizens’ constitutional rights to free expression. “However, at this time, we have serious concerns that this type of product has significant accuracy issues, places disproportionate burdens on communities of color, and could stifle Americans’ willingness to exercise their First Amendment rights in public,” the letter said. The lawmakers want Amazon to explain how Amazon tests for accuracy and if those tests have been independently verified — and how the company tests for bias. It comes after the ACLU found that the software failed to facially recognize 28 members of Congress, with a higher failure rate towards people of color. The facial recognition software has been controversial from the start. Even after concerns from its own employees, Amazon said it would push ahead and sell the technology regardless. Amazon has a little over two weeks to respond to the lawmakers. A spokesperson for Amazon did not respond to a request for comment. Source
  12. from the *enhanced-customer-experience-may-require-bending-over dept The "right of first sale" still exists. Not that Apple's happy about it. Apple's no fan of right-to-repair laws either, preferring to keep its revenue streams nice and deep by forcing customers to get their repairs only from Apple-approved vendors, no matter what the law actually says. So, yeah, you still have the right to resell your Apple products. You're just not going to do it in the largest marketplace in the United States. This CNBC article delivers the bad news like it's good news. Both companies issued statements about improving customer experiences, but nothing about this sounds like a better deal for consumers. It's a paywalled garden guarded by Apple and Amazon that will keep all but a select few resellers from participating. Being an Apple reseller/repairer is pay-to-play. First, Apple has to be convinced you'll do more for it than it will do for you. Then you have to pay for the privilege of being allowed to exercise your first sale rights. This "improvement" of "customer experience" means more old Apple products will be headed for landfills than other people's homes. Jason Koebler of Motherboard interviewed John Bumstead -- a reseller who buys old MacBooks from recyclers and, until recently, sold the refurbs on Amazon. Bumstead was just informed he was no longer welcome at Amazon, thanks to the new deal with Apple. Bumstead had a good thing going -- something that worked for him and the environment. But Amazon's refurb program -- as modified by Apple -- only wants to deal with people who have the capability to feed a bunch of money to Apple before reselling used devices. This doesn't do much for customers seeking affordable Apple products. Apple continues to set the literal gold standard with its phone and laptop pricing. Severely curtailing the options Amazon customers have for affordable devices doesn't sound like an "improved customer experience," but those are the empty words both companies are using to sell this. Now, Apple and Amazon are free to handle refurb sales however they wish. There may be a "right to first sale" just like there's First Amendment speech protections, but the actions of private companies don't infringe on that right. They're free to de-platform anyone for almost any reason. You can resell your Apple stuff. You just can't do it here. I'd say it isn't wise for Apple to take such an antagonistic stance against its customers, but its aggressively anti-consumer efforts haven't made much of a dent in customer goodwill. It may attract the occasional attention of regulators, but not often enough to result in a softened stance on resale or repair. The problem is Apple's actions make things worse for customers who have never purchased its products. Homogenizing marketplaces rarely results in better prices and its anti-right-to-repair efforts are funneling customers towards a select few outlets and preventing device owners from enjoying the privileges of ownership. Source
  13. Excluded merchants, review watchdogs allege Amazon is guilty of review manipulation. Amazon.com cracked down on fake reviews two years ago by prohibiting shoppers from getting free products directly from merchants in exchange for writing reviews. It was a major turning point for the world’s largest online retailer, which had previously seen “incentivised reviews” as a key way for consumers to discover new products. Amazon changed course because it realised some merchants were using such reviews to game its search algorithm, undermining faith in the customer feedback that helps drive e-commerce. Amazon instead used its “Vine” program, in which Amazon serves as a middleman between prolific Amazon reviewers and vendors eager for exposure. Amazon would still allow freebies in exchange for feedback so long as there was no direct contact between its retail partners and reviewers, theoretically lessening the chance of quid-pro-quo. Amazon would select shoppers eligible for the program, and Amazon vendors would pay a fee and provide free products to participate. But there was an important group excluded from the Vine program: independent merchants who supply about half the goods sold on the site. Now those excluded merchants and review watchdogs are alleging Amazon is guilty of the review manipulation the company said it was trying to prevent. Amazon uses Vine extensively to promote a fast-growing assortment of its own private-label products, distributing free samples to quickly accumulate the reviews needed to rise in search results and boost shopper faith in making a purchase. It gives Amazon a big advantage when introducing its own brands over third-party merchants who are more vulnerable to Amazon’s private-label competition than prominent brands already in stores. The merchants’ complaints have taken on heightened importance amid a European Union antitrust probe into whether Amazon advantages its own merchandise over rival products on the site. The explosion of Amazon’s private-label brands is a key focus of inquiry, according to questionnaires regulators sent to Amazon merchants and reviewed by Bloomberg.Amazon didn’t specifically address merchant concerns about its use of the Vine program being unfair. In an emailed statement, the company said shoppers selected for the Vine program “can select from any eligible product, whether it’s an Amazon private-label product or a product from one of our vendors. The same guardrails that are in place for vendors are in place for our private-label brands.” The company could open the Vine program to marketplace merchants in the future, according to a person familiar with executives’ thinking. Marketplace merchants introducing new products can use Amazon’s “early reviewer program” to get reviews. This program prohibits the distribution of free products, is far more restrictive than the Vine program and gives reviewers fewer rewards. An Amazon shopper writing a review for the “Early Reviewer Program” can get an Amazon gift card worth up to $3 as a thank you. Those selected for the Vine program can accumulate thousands of dollars in free merchandise. Private-label brands aren’t unique to Amazon, of course. Big-box retailers and grocery stores use their own brands to appeal to price-conscious customers and keep brand names from raising prices too high. But Amazon is in a unique position given the vast consumer data it has collected covering a broad range of categories. A typical big-box store carries about 100,000 products while Amazon sells hundreds of millions. Amazon’s private-label products include batteries, diapers, phone chargers, tortilla chips, dresses, foam mattresses and even microwave ovens. Its own brands will grow to sales of $25 billion in 2022, according to SunTrust, Robinson Humphrey Inc. Amazon has more than 120 brands, about 100 of which were introduced over the past two years, according to TJI Research. One is Amazon Basics motor oil. Less than three months since its July debut, the product has a 4.5-star rating based on about 100 customer reviews. That’s almost as many reviews as a similar Valvoline product sold on the site for six years. More than 80 percent of the reviews for Amazon’s new oil came through the Vine program; the Valvoline oil had zero Vine reviews. This is a distinction lost on many shoppers who simply eyeball the overall product rank. Amazon labels each Vine review with a green icon, but only those scrolling through pages and pages of reviews see the full extent of how Amazon uses freebies for reviews. The abundance of Vine reviews makes Amazon motor oil’s 4.5-star ranking meaningless, says Saoud Khalifah, whose Fakespot monitors online reviews. The Amazon oil reviews were written predominately by professional reviewers in it for the freebies who give generic positive feedback and little useful information, while the 108 Valvoline reviews were left by “gear heads that are really into their cars,” he says. “It’s a night and day difference in content,” Khalifah says. Fakespot, which grades reviews for Amazon products, gave the feedback for Amazon motor oil an F and reviews for Valvoline an A. A review of Amazon customers in the Vine program reinforces Khalifah’s point. One customer named “Smart4” wrote reviews for nearly 40 products—all received for free through the Vine program—in a single day. The merchandise, which included toys, strollers, clothes and electronics, was worth more than $3 000. Amazon doesn’t limit the number of products Vine reviewers can sample. Even though Amazon says Vine program participants aren’t required to leave good reviews, the people getting free products probably feel obliged to, especially when the freebies are Amazon brands and Amazon is the one that sends them so much valuable merchandise, says Tommy Noonan, founder of ReviewMeta, another site that monitors customer reviews.“The whole reason the Vine program was supposed to work was because Amazon would run it itself and make sure the brands are not cherry-picking reviewers or complaining to reviewers about critical feedback,” he says. “Now that they are putting their own products through it, it’s no longer a neutral third party. It seems like a potential conflict of interest.” Several merchants selling goods on Amazon say their sales fell after Amazon introduced similar private-label products that were heavily promoted on the site, both through Vine reviews and through sponsored search placement on the site. Amazon is increasingly a pay-to-play platform, giving prominent page presence to paid advertisers, including its own brands. The merchants spoke on condition of anonymity fearing retribution from Amazon. Antitrust regulators are unlikely to find that Amazon’s practices are hurting consumers by driving up prices, says Justin Johnson, an economics professor at Cornell University who specialises in antitrust issues. Yet they could find that Amazon stifles competition by pushing its own brands on a platform it controls, discouraging merchants from developing and posting new products on the site. Such findings would be sufficient to levy fines and force the company to change its behaviour, he says. “You can certainly tell a story of competitive harm if you find examples of driving out competition and stifling innovation,” he says. “If you’re going to introduce new regulations and levy fines, I’d hope there would be some evidence of consumer harm and not just a bunch of unhappy merchants.” Source
  14. Online retail powerhouse eBay has sued Amazon, alleging that the tech giant illegally lured sellers away from its site. In the lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Santa Clara County Superior Court in California, eBay claims “dozens” of Amazon sales reps around the world set up eBay accounts specifically to contact and recruit “high-value” eBay sellers to Amazon. The suit alleges these practices violated a California computer crime law and its own user agreement. The lawsuit comes two weeks after eBay reportedly sent a cease-and-desist letter to the tech giant, demanding Amazon knock off its alleged seller poaching efforts. The situation came to light “a few weeks ago” when an eBay seller came forward to report alleged poaching efforts by Amazon. “Over the past several years, Amazon has perpetrated a scheme to infiltrate and exploit eBay’s internal member email system,” according to the suit. “Amazon did this to recruit high-value eBay sellers to Amazon. The breadth and scope of Amazon’s conduct is startling. Since 2015, dozens of Amazon sales representatives in the U.S. and overseas set up eBay member accounts to access eBay’s ‘M2M’ email system and used that system to solicit many hundreds of eBay sellers to sell on Amazon’s platform.” Amazon declined to comment on the suit. When eBay’s cease-and-desist letter came to light, Amazon said in a statement “we are conducting a thorough investigation of these allegations.” The lawsuit alleges Amazon did not comply with the cease-and-desist letter and did not provide additional information requested by eBay. “eBay brings this action because Amazon — unwilling to fairly compete for third party seller business — instead has resorted to an orchestrated, coordinated, worldwide campaign, using eBay’s proprietary M2M system, to illegally lure eBay sellers to sell on Amazon. eBay seeks to stop Amazon’s unlawful scheme and to obtain redress for the damage it has caused.” Amazon and eBay have competed for years in the online shopping industry. Though the tech giants differ slightly — Amazon also directly sells products, while eBay does not — they both run huge marketplace businesses that rely on third-party sellers. The suit lays out how Amazon allegedly contacted sellers, breaking up phone numbers with periods and spelling out full email addresses. They did this, eBay alleges, because Amazon representatives knew they were violating eBay rules and sought to avoid detection. “Rather than follow the rules, the representatives employed various techniques to circumvent detection by eBay. They changed the presentation of Amazon email addresses, for example: ‘You can write me at jdoe AT amazon DOT com;’ ‘DoeJohn at Amazon dot com,’ and ‘JDoe at amazon dot com.’ They also provided unconventional phone number formats, again, solely for the purpose of evading detection — telling eBay sellers, for example, that ‘you can write down 2.0.6. — 5.5.5. — and then delete this message if you so choose.” eBay v. Amazon on Scribd Source
  15. Amazon is announcing a $2 million grant to help Seattle school students. But the focus isn’t the latest shiny education technology. Instead, it’s that missing raincoat, a weekend backpack full of food, or unaffordable school supplies. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Amazon is announcing a $2 million grant to help Seattle school students. But the focus isn’t the latest shiny education technology. Instead, it’s that missing raincoat, a weekend backpack full of food, or unaffordable school supplies. Amazon’s donation to the Alliance for Education, which is an organization that works closely with Seattle Public Schools, will create what the company calls a new “Right Now Needs Fund” to meet the urgent needs of individual students. The Alliance will administer the grant, designed to cover the current 2018-19 and the following 2019-20 school years. The only condition, Amazon says, is that fund spending has to directly benefit students and can’t replace items currently in the district’s budget. “The Alliance for Education has a track record of administering on-the-ground programs that effectively support success for students and teachers,” said David Zapolsky, Amazon SVP & general counsel and Alliance for Education board member, in a statement. “We worked hard with the Alliance to create a flexible source of funding so each school can quickly decide how to best serve their students.” Amazon says the Alliance will distribute the funds to schools based on student needs, with higher poverty schools getting more support. Some 31 of Seattle’s 103 public schools are considered “Title 1” schools by the federal government, educating a large proportion of kids from low-income families. More broadly, more than 18,000 students are said to receive free and reduced lunch across the Seattle school district. Amazon, in making the donation, pointed out it also supports STEM and computer science education, as well as other programs that address childhood hunger and family homelessness. In addition, Amazon has donated to the Families Yes campaign that promotes the Nov. 6 ballot measure called the Families, Education, Preschool, and Promise Levy. Amazon’s more direct involvement in education with its own edtech products and services has a more spotty history, with the company earlier this year stating it would shutter its TenMarks business and end its TenMarks Math and Writing products after the 2018-19 school year. Amazon was also largely a no-show at the huge International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference in Chicago in June, after having had a large presence in previous years. The grant to the Alliance is another way for Amazon to play a supporting role in education, and to support its hometown of Seattle, even as it continues to pursue a second headquarters city. It comes one month after Amazon founder Jeff Bezos separately committed $2 billion to his “Day One Fund,” a philanthropic initiative to help homeless families and promote preschool education. “The opportunity gap facing children from low income families has been a persistent problem in our community, and it is widening,” said Lisa Chick, the Alliance’s president and CEO, in the announcement of the grant. “We are grateful for Amazon’s generosity and understanding that to be successful in education we need to support the basic needs of children. These funds will help us directly address closing the opportunity gap in Seattle.” Source
  16. The Amazon CEO already invests $1 billion a year in the space company. Jeff Bezos believes in Blue Origin so much, he's investing even more money in the space company next year. On Monday, the Amazon CEO said he plans to invest "a little more" than a billion dollars in the company next year, up from his previous investment of $1 billion annually. "I just got the news from the team," he said during the Wired25 conference at the SFJazz Center in San Francisco. Bezos added that he never says no when Blue Origin asks for money. "We are starting to bump up against the absolute true fact that Earth is finite," he said said. "Blue Origin, what we need to do is lower the cost of access to space." Bezos became the world's richest person last October, thanks to the surging value of Amazon, which he founded in 1994 in his garage and stewarded into the world's biggest e-commerce site. He still owns 16 percent of the company. Amazon has upended the way we all shop for goods, and it's now aiming to change how we interact with our devices. The company's Alexa digital voice assistant works with more than 20,000 devices, including the new Echo smart speakers and Amazon's new voice-activated microwave. It's often considered by experts to be one of the smartest smart assistants available. Bezos' ambitions extend beyond Amazon. In addition to Blue Origin, he has moved into media with his purchase of The Washington Post. Last month, Bezos made good on a promise to start giving back more of his enormous wealth, announcing the Day One charitable fund and a $2 billion donation to help with education and fight homelessness. Blue Origin competes with Elon Musk's SpaceX when it comes to space exploration. SpaceX has received more attention, both for its successes and its failures, over the past few years and is further along in developing its business. But Blue Origin technically beat Musk to the punch with the first successful rocket launch and recovery -- on land at its west Texas facility in 2015. At Wired25, Bezos said Blue Origin "is the most important thing I'm working on, but I won't live to see it all rolled out." He added that it's important to take risks and work on things that are different from what everyone else is doing. "You want risk taking, and you want people to have vision that most people don't agree with," he said. "We have never needed to think long term as a species. And we finally do." Bezos also said that he will support the US Defense Department. Earlier this month, cloud computing rival Google pulled out of the bidding for a $10 billion Pentagon contract after employee protests. Google said the project may conflict with its principles for ethical use of AI. "If big tech companies are going to turn their backs on the Department of Defense, we are in big trouble," Bezos said. "This is a great country, and it does need to be defended." He added that despite its problems, the US is "still the best country in the world," and if it were up to him, he'd let anyone come to the country who wants. Source
  17. The move comes in the wake of mounting criticism of the company’s treatment of warehouse workers. In the wake of mounting criticism from politicians like Senator Bernie Sanders about its treatment of warehouse workers, Amazon announced on Tuesday morning a new $15 minimum hourly wage for all 350,000 of its U.S. employees. The new pay threshold will go into effect Nov. 1 and impact all full-time, temporary and seasonal workers across the company’s U.S. warehouse and customer service teams as well as Whole Foods, the company said in a blog post. It did not disclose what its current minimum pay wage is for U.S. workers, perhaps in part because there is not one set rate. “We listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do, and decided we want to lead,” Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said in a statement. “We’re excited about this change and encourage our competitors and other large employers to join us.” Alongside the cash compensation bump, Amazon said it will eventually eliminate its practice of granting stock to these workers and will instead institute a program that allows them to purchase Amazon stock through the company. The company claimed that “we’ve heard from our hourly fulfillment and customer service employees that they prefer the predictability and immediacy of cash to [restricted stock units]” and said that “[t]he net effect of this change and the new higher cash compensation is significantly more total compensation for employees.” Amazon said those workers already making $15 an hour would also see a pay bump, but did not specify how much. The announcement comes as Amazon has faced increased criticism over its pay and treatment of warehouse workers, and as CEO Jeff Bezos’s place as the world’s wealthiest businessman has made his company a lightning rod for politicians like Senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders, in particular, has been relentless in his criticism of Amazon over the last few months, proposing a bill that would tax the company as a penalty for having workers who need food stamps and other public assistance to make ends meet. News of the change also coincides with the lead-up to Amazon’s imminent announcement of where it will place a second U.S. headquarters, which will be sure to spark debate over the huge tax breaks that will likely accompany the winning deal. The Washington, D.C., area — the professional home of some high-profile Amazon critics — is seen as a frontrunner. “We will be working to gain Congressional support for an increase in the federal minimum wage. The current rate of $7.25 was set nearly a decade ago,” Amazon’s head of public policy, Jay Carney, said in a statement. “We intend to advocate for a minimum wage increase that will have a profound impact on the lives of tens of millions of people and families across this country.” Among its large competitors in traditional retail, Target has said it will eventually raise its minimum wage to $15 — but not until the end of 2020. Earlier this year, Walmart said it was increasing its minimum wage for hourly workers to $11. But the changes at Amazon may pressure these companies to do something sooner, especially in advance of the important holiday shopping season. Source
  18. Amazon is expected to announce a free, ad-supported video service on Fire TV which will feature libraries of past TV shows and movies, five people who have had talks with the company told CNBC. The offering, which is similar to The Roku Channel and Hulu, will let advertisers use Amazon's first-party data and third-party consumer information to target advertising. Amazon subsidiary IMDB is expected to announce this week a free, ad-supported video service for Amazon Fire TV users, according to several people with knowledge about the matter. The new service, which will be similar to The Roku Channel or some parts of Hulu, will feature TV shows and movies. It will be available to all Fire TV users, not just Amazon Prime Video users. News of the video service was previously reported by The Information. The move could help Amazon capture revenue from the lucrative TV advertising market, which is expected to generate almost $70 billion in revenue in the U.S. this year according to eMarketer. Advertising budgets for over-the-top services, where people can watch TV without a cable or satellite subscription, are only about $7 billion, according to Merkle. But the market is growing rapidly. The service will also help Amazon continue to grow its share of the digital advertising market, which is dominated by Google and Facebook. According to eMarketer, Amazon is now the third-largest digital advertiser, with about 4 percent of the market; Google and Facebook combined have more than 57 percent. On the new service, advertisements can appear between content, and marketers will be able to wrap ads around an embedded video "player," similar to the experience on many web sites. Amazon already allows commercials on content on Fire TV apps, but this would vastly expand the offering and allow for more insights from Amazon's massive user base. To lure more brands, Amazon will allow marketers access to its proprietary data to help target video advertising for the first time on Fire TV, one agency executive said. Amazon is expected to account for about half of the U.S e-commerce market by the end of the year, per eMarketer. Companies can combine that information with third-party data on consumers to help advise where they want to put their ads. The company has been in discussions with at least three major media companies to bring their programming to the new Fire TV service, according to sources familiar with the talks. Content will include libraries of past shows and movies. An advertising executive said Amazon has considered creating an ad-supported Prime Video version of the service as well. The announcement will be made this week during Advertising Week in New York, two people said. Amazon declined to comment for this story. Source
  19. Amazon, the country’s second-largest employer, has so far remained immune to any attempts by U.S. workers to form a union. With rumblings of employee organization at Whole Foods—which Amazon bought for $13.7 billion last year—a 45-minute union-busting training video produced by the company was sent to Team Leaders of the grocery chain last week, according to sources with knowledge of the store’s activities. Recordings of that video, obtained by Gizmodo, provide valuable insight into the company’s thinking and tactics. Screenshot: Amazon training video (Amazon) Each of the video’s six sections, which the narrator states are “specifically designed to give you the tools that you need for success when it comes to labor organizing,” take place in an animated simulacrum of a Fulfillment Center. The video’s narrators are clad in the reflective vests typical of the real-world setting. “We are not anti-union, but we are not neutral either,” the video states, drawing a distinction that would likely be largely academic to potential organizers. To expound on what non-neutrality might look like, the video adds in plain language (emphasis ours): Amazon’s anti-union training video comes to light amid an image crisis for the company. Years of reporting on low pay and poor working conditions reached a fever pitch late this summer when Senator Bernie Sanders proposed legislation directly challenging the company’s reliance on social subsidy programs. Likewise, Amazon lost more than it gained in a charm offensive ploy that rewarded its warehouse ambassadors for tweeting nice things about the company—like how they are free to use facility restrooms and are not slaves. Gizmodo has opted to not publish the video itself in order to maintain source anonymity. Throughout, the video claims Amazon prefers a “direct management” structure where employees can bring grievances to their bosses individually, rather than union representation. However, a number of warehouse workers have expressed to Gizmodo in past reporting that they believed voicing their concerns led to retaliatory scrutiny or firing. “[Amazon] preaches that they have this open-door policy and then when you try to go through that open door, instead of being allowed in, you are now set up,” a former Fulfillment Center worker in Indiana told Gizmodo. “You’re somebody that talks and you’re somebody they’re gonna absolutely make the job as difficult as humanly possible for.” Another Floridian Fulfillment Center worker told Gizmodo he sent complaints of low pay to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s public-facing email address ([email protected]) and claims management was “harassing me since I sent that email.” He said he was terminated shortly afterward. We’ve reached out to Amazon for comment regarding its response to employees who raise concerns and will update when we hear back. T.I.P.S. are the tactics Amazon advises management not to use, according to the video. Screenshot: Amazon training video (Amazon) The video provides some background on the National Labor Relations Act—the 1935 law that guaranteed workers the right to organize, take collective action, and strike—and the various protect activities employees can engage in. But the meat of the video begins in section four, entitled “Warning Signs.” Here are a few of the (extensive) examples “that can indicate associate disengagement, vulnerability to organizing, or early organizing activity,” according to the video: Use of words like “living wage” and “steward” Distribution of petitions and fliers Associates raising concerns on behalf of their coworkers Wearing union t-shirts, hats, or jackets Workers “who normally aren’t connected to each other suddenly hanging out together” Workers showing an “unusual interest in policies, benefits, employee lists, or other company information” Increased negativity in the workplace “[A]ny other associate behavior that is out of character” The training video then asks managers to listen to 10 hypothetical employees and select whether their remarks constitute a “warning sign” or “innocent interaction.” Workers loitering in the break room after their shift, asking for a list of the site’s roster, or complaining about the absence of a living wage fall into the “warning sign” category. Screenshot: Amazon training video (Amazon) In following sections, Amazon teaches managers that, where talking to subordinates about unions is concerned, “almost anything you say is lawful,” even providing some examples of what statements are completely kosher even if they’re clearly meant to inspire fear of organization (emphasis ours): While warning managers that activities like threatening employees cross a line, giving personal opinions that accomplish nearly the same are within their rights. “Opinions can be mild, like, ‘I’d rather work with associates directly,’ or strong: ‘Unions are lying, cheating rats.’ The law protects both!” Throughout, managers are encouraged to express opinions against unions to their workers, and any of signs of potential organization are supposed to be escalated to human resources and general managers immediately. Sadly, these kinds of tactics are not unique to Amazon. Target, Lowe’s, and Walmart have all faced criticism in recent years for producing training videos intended to quash employee organizing. “The truth is that [Whole Foods Market] is afraid of organized labor and these trainings speak to that fear,” a current Whole Foods organizer told Gizmodo. “I think the parts in particular where it teaches team leaders how to subtly manipulate conversations with their team members is just really gross. It is representative of the worst parts of WFM culture.” Source
  20. steven36

    Amazon hit by EU antitrust probe

    European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager has begun questioning merchants on Amazon's use of their data. Vestager has the power to fine companies up to 10 percent of their global turnover for breaching EU antitrust rules. Earlier this year, she levied a record $5 billion fine against Google related to its Android business. She also launched an "in-depth investigation" into Apple and its purchase of music recognition app Shazam. The EU regulators behind a $5 billion fine against Google are turning their attentions to Amazon. European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager has begun questioning merchants on Amazon's use of their data, Vestager said Wednesday. The issue, she said, is whether Amazon is using data from the merchants it hosts on its site to secure an advantage in selling products against those same retailers. "These are very early days and we haven't formally opened a case. We are trying to make sure that we get the full picture," Vestager said during a news conference Wednesday. The probe comes as the world's largest online retailer faces growing calls for regulation. Investors and insiders have long cited Amazon's size and reach as reason to break the company up. President Donald Trump has hinted at antitrust action against Amazon as part of continued attacks against CEO Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was set to meet this month with state officials to discuss antitrust concerns in Silicon Valley, though much of the regulation on Big Tech thus far has come out of Brussels. Vestager has the power to fine companies up to 10 percent of their global turnover for breaching EU antitrust rules. Earlier this year, she levied a record $5 billion fine against Google related to its Android business. She also launched an "in-depth investigation" into Apple and its purchase of music recognition app Shazam. Amazon allows third-parties to sell goods on Amazon through its Seller program. The questioning by Vestager appears to be designed to determine whether or not Amazon puts these third-party sellers at a disadvantage by using their sales data to boost Amazon's own sales. Amazon declined to comment. —Reuters contributed to this report. Source
  21. Devices sold on Amazon and eBay fraudulently use FCC logo, FCC's O'Rielly said. Pirate TV boxes that falsely display the Federal Communications Commission logo should be removed from Amazon and eBay, an FCC commissioner told the companies last week. Commissioner Michael O'Rielly, part of the FCC's Republican majority, wrote a letter to the Amazon and eBay CEOs asking them to crack down on set-top boxes that violate FCC rules. Amazon quickly responded, saying that it already takes steps to prevent sale of these products but that it is willing to step up enforcement if any such devices are still for sale on Amazon. O'Rielly's letter didn't identify any specific products that need to be taken down from Amazon or eBay. O'Rielly wrote: We asked O'Rielly's office and the FCC for information on those nine set-top box distributors and will update this story if we get any details. Amazon sued TV box makers Amazon—which operates a major video streaming service—doesn't need any convincing about copyright problems raised by pirate TV boxes. Amazon has teamed up with Netflix and major film studios to sue the makers of several hardware devices that can be used to view copyrighted videos without a subscription. "We strictly prohibit the sale of IP-infringing and non-compliant products [on Amazon's retail website]," Amazon Public Policy VP Brian Huseman wrote in a response to O'Rielly. Huseman continued: Huseman said that Amazon would "appreciate the opportunity to collaborate further with the FCC to remove non-compliant devices that improperly use the FCC logo or falsely claim FCC certification." Amazon's policy on the sale of streaming media players has provisions designed to prevent copyright infringement. "As part of the application process, you must send in a sample product for every model of streaming media player to Amazon" and submit detailed information about the product, Amazon says. Amazon's letter seems to indicate that the company doesn't know which devices O'Rielly wants taken off the Amazon marketplace. "If any FCC non-compliant devices are identified, we seek to work with you to ensure they are not offered for sale," Huseman wrote. FCC can impose fines The FCC logo is used to demonstrate compliance with the FCC's equipment authorization requirements. The FCC can impose fines of up to $144,344 for each "continuing violation" that lasts at least eight days. O'Rielly's letter acknowledged that Amazon and eBay already have policies "to remove devices that are marketed as facilitating piracy" from their websites. Amazon has "prevented the sale of tens of thousands of unlawful devices" after conducting its own investigations or receiving notices of infringement from intellectual property rights holders, O'Rielly's letter said. eBay "also removes devices that are reported as infringing from rights-holders and actively removes devices with red flag phrases like 'never pay another cable bill' or "fully loaded' that suggests an infringing purpose," O'Rielly wrote. "Unfortunately, despite your good work in this area, devices continue to make it to consumers through your websites," he continued. "Many of these devices contain harmful malware that will most certainly be passed on to the consumer. Moreover, the consumer may unwittingly believe that the device is lawful since they were able to purchase it from a legitimate company." O'Rielly's letter then asked Amazon and eBay for "further cooperation" with the FCC to prevent sale of "non-FCC compliant devices or devices that fraudulently bear the FCC logo." "f your company is made aware by the Commission, with supporting evidence, that a particular device is using a fraudulent FCC label or has not been appropriately certified and labeled with a valid FCC logo, I respectfully request that you commit to swiftly removing these products from your sites," O'Rielly wrote. As previously noted, Amazon's response to O'Rielly made it clear that the company is willing to cooperate with the FCC. We contacted eBay about O'Rielly's letter today and will update this story if we get a response. UPDATE: eBay provided a statement to Ars, saying that it is "committed to working in collaboration with the FCC to prevent the sale of these illegal products." "As outlined in [O'Rielly's] letter, eBay utilizes a variety of measures to prevent these products from being sold on our platform," eBay's statement said. "These include proactive filtering and manual site reviews to identify illegal products, as well as taking action on direct referrals received from the FCC. We look forward to continuing to work in partnership with the FCC to keep these illegal products off our site." ORielly fought plan to lower TV bills While some hardware devices make it easy to illegally stream copyrighted video, some consumers just want an easier way to access the TV content that they have paid for and are legally entitled to watch. O'Rielly helped kill a plan that would have helped consumers use their TV subscriptions on streaming devices such as the Apple TV, Roku, or Amazon Fire TV. Cable and satellite TV customers often pay monthly rental fees for set-top boxes in addition to TV service charges. The FCC in 2016 nearly passed rules that could have lowered consumers' bills by requiring cable and satellite TV providers to let customers watch all their TV channels on third-party devices. The pay-TV providers opposed the proposal, and then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wasn't able to secure enough votes. Source
  22. from the it's-important dept Earlier this year we wrote about the bad decisions by both Google and Amazon to end domain fronting. Domain fronting was a (somewhat accidental) way in which services could effectively hide certain traffic to make it quite difficult for, say, authoritarian regimes in Iran or China to block the traffic. For that reason, domain fronting was an important tool in keeping services like Signal's encrypted communications platform working for activists and dissidents in such places. Amazon and Google claimed that they never intended to allow domain fronting, and that while it helped those services work in such places it might also lead to much broader blocks by those countries trying to get at the fronted communications. Now, in an interesting move, Senators Ron Wyden and Marco Rubio have sent both companies a letter asking them to reconsider. The letter then presents two specific questions the Senators would like the companies to respond to: It's good to see these Senators speak out against both Google and Amazon on this move. Hopefully it leads both companies to reconsider their decision on this one. Source
  23. Upcoming deals on Huawei, Honor and Moto phones have already been announced. Amazon Prime Day starts at noon PT (3 p.m. ET) on Monday and runs through Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. PT (Wednesday, 2:59 a.m. ET), and most of the million-plus items on sale are still secret. But we already know about a few phone deals that we can share here. Remember that the prices listed below don't go into effect until the sale starts: Monday, noon PT (3 p.m. ET). And note that CNET may get a share of revenue from the sale of the products featured on this page. So without further ado, here are the early phone deals: Moto G6: One of our favorite budget phones, new for 2018, is now even more wallet-friendly. Prime members can purchase the 64GB Moto G6 for $259.99 on Prime Day ($100 off). Huawei Mate 10 Pro: A terrific high-end device from late 2017 that's still relevant, with superb photography skills and a long-lasting battery. It'll cost $500 ($85 off). Honor View 10: This affordable powerhouse will sell for $399 ($100 off). Honor 7X: For $169 ($30 off), this Android phone has dual rear cameras and a 5.9-inch screen. Remember that Amazon already has a section of its site devoted to exclusive discounts on unlocked LG and Moto phones for Prime members. Check back on Monday for even more deals. < Here >
  24. Amazon is expanding its footprint in Canada with a fulfilment centre in Ottawa that will create 600 full-time jobs. The e-commerce giant announced Tuesday that employees at the new warehouse in the capital city’s eastern suburb of Orleans will pick, pack and ship large items such as household decor, sporting equipment and gardening tools. The warehouse will be the company’s eighth in Canada, joining others in Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, and a technology hub in Vancouver that is undergoing an expansion. The Ottawa announcement came as Amazon is hunting for a home for its second North American headquarters, dubbed HQ2. Toronto is the lone Canadian city still in contention to house the headquarters, whose location the company said it will announce sometime this year. “Ontario continues to be a great place for Amazon to do business and we look forward to adding a fulfilment centre in the National Capital Region,” Glenn Sommerville, Director of Amazon Operations in Canada, said in a release. “Our ability to expand in Ontario and create more than 600 new jobs is the result of two things: incredible customers and an outstanding workforce. Amazon is committed to providing great opportunities for employment and creating a positive economic impact for the region.” The 92,900 square metre facility in Ottawa will be constructed by Broccolini, the real estate developer behind the forthcoming CBC and Radio-Canada headquarters in Montreal and a 50-storey, mixed use tower across from the Bell Centre in the same city. < Here >
  25. Jane was working in Amazon.com Inc.’s Seattle headquarters when she was asked to a meeting with her manager and a human resources representative. They gave her a document outlining concerns about her work performance and spelled out three choices. She could quit and receive severance pay, spend the next several weeks trying to keep her job by meeting certain performance goals, or square off with her manager in a videoconference version of the Thunderdome, pleading her case with a panel of co-workers while her boss argued against her. Jane, who asked that her real name not be used to discuss a personal matter, chose the last one. The employee appeal process is Amazon’s latest experiment in managing its growing workforce of more than 500,000. When it announced the program last year, Amazon acknowledged it had been quick to fire people instead of trying to resolve problems in other ways. Executives recognized that poorly defined roles, dysfunctional teams, and peremptory managers were among the factors that often remained unexamined, according to a person familiar with the matter. Workers facing termination also lacked a forum to discuss such factors, the person says. Amazon is borrowing a page from union grievance processes that don’t apply to most corporate employees. But only about 30 percent of those who appeal their manager’s criticisms prevail, meaning they can keep their jobs or seek new ones within the company with different bosses, according to people familiar with the matter. Eighteen months after its debut, the hearing process has created resentment and raised questions about fairness, according to current and former workers as well as attorneys familiar with their situations. “It’s a kangaroo court,” says George Tamblyn, a Seattle employment lawyer who helped one former Amazon worker plan her appeal earlier this year. “My impression of the process is it’s totally unfair.” Amazon declined to share metrics about the program or answer specific questions. “Pivot is a uniquely Amazonian program that was thoughtfully designed to provide a fair and transparent process for employees who need support,” the company said in an emailed statement. “When employees are placed in Pivot, they have the option of working with their manager and HR to improve with a clear plan forward, of leaving Amazon with severance, or of appealing if they feel they shouldn’t be in the program. Just over a year into program, we’re pleased with the support it offers our employees and we’re continuing to iterate based on employee feedback and their needs.” Workers who lose still get to choose between severance pay or a performance-improvement plan. The downsides of appealing include the stress of litigating a case before strangers and against their bosses and trying to get along with your manager after publicly challenging them. Jane says her manager had recently changed her job responsibilities and set impossible new goals for her (dayslong deadlines for projects that required weeks). She had an hourlong meeting with a company-appointed “career ambassador” who listened to her concerns and said she’d have a few thousand words to rebut her manager’s complaints about her performance. The ambassador later suggested revisions to her draft, including removing details Jane thought were important for the panel to consider. Jane had the option of choosing one manager or three nonmanagers as her jury. She got a list of potential panelists in advance, so she could look up their job titles, biographies, or work backgrounds, using an internal phone tool and LinkedIn. Employees can dismiss some panelists they worry will be unsympathetic. It didn’t help much, she says: At the hearing, the videoconference made it difficult to connect with any of the panelists or engage on a personal level, and she sweated through her shirt. She wasn’t invited to watch her boss’s presentation, and he got the last word. She waited by the phone until the career ambassador called to tell her she’d lost. For a company of Amazon’s size, the system could pay for itself by reducing the high cost of worker departures. A company with a 10 percent turnover rate, meaning 1 in 10 workers leave each year (a low-ball estimate for a tech company) has to dedicate about 5 percent of its annual payroll to recruit, hire, and train replacements, says Fred Whittlesey, a compensation expert who previously worked for Amazon. For a company the size of Amazon, those costs run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. “There’s a huge financial incentive to reduce turnover, if you can do it in a sensible way,” he says. Amazon hired dozens of “career ambassadors” around the world to explain the new process to employees. Yet the appeal process is so baffling that it’s created a steady stream of work for employment lawyers giving consultations to help workers prepare for their appeal, say attorneys familiar with the process. Tamblyn says the process can be unfair, and that his client was forced to focus on performance issues highlighted by her manager instead of the fact she’d recently changed jobs within the company and had little time to adjust. “The fact that she was hired for one job and switched to another was a very important fact,” says Tamblyn. “She wasn’t allowed to present her case.” Amazon declined to address this specific concern. Seattle employment lawyer Alex Higgins says he has consulted with about 10 Amazon employees presented with performance-improvement plans. Four of those clients appealed, and one prevailed, he says. But even that client left for another job shortly afterward because the tension remained with his boss. “It doesn’t really provide a long-term solution,” Higgins says. “The people on the appeal panel say you’re right, and they go away. Then you’re still with the same boss, who thinks you aren’t doing a good job.” After Jane’s career ambassador called to tell her she’d lost the appeal, she had one business day to decide if she wanted to accept about one month of severance pay to leave or attempt to meet the goals of her performance-improvement plan. She chose to keep working. < Here >
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