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  1. New York mayor says Amazon headquarters debacle was 'an abuse of corporate power' New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is still upset that Amazon isn't coming to New York. De Blasio attacked the company Sunday for canceling plans to build a second headquarters in Queens last week. "This is an example of an abuse of corporate power," de Blasio told NBC's Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press." "Amazon just took their ball and went home. And what they did was confirm people's worst fears about corporate America." He made similar comments in a New York Times op-ed Saturday. Amazon (AMZN) canceled the deal just months after announcing plans to split its new, second headquarters between New York and Virginia. The Seattle-based company, which is trying to grow its footprint at home and abroad, spent a year reviewing hundreds of "HQ2" proposals from all over North America before settling on the two regions. Last November, de Blasio cheered the newsand promised that it would benefit locals, including residents of a large public-housing development located nearby. But critics — including many Democrats — lambasted the massive subsidies that New York offered to lure Amazon, including $1.525 billion in incentives that were contingent on the company creating 25,000 new jobs with an average salary of $150,000. On Sunday, de Blasio, a Democrat, said New York offered Amazon a "fair deal," and blamed the company for making what he called an "arbitrary" decision to leave after some people objected. "They said they wanted a partnership, but the minute there were criticisms, they walked away," he added. "What does that say to working people that a company would leave them high and dry simply because some people raised criticisms?" Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment about de Blasio's latest remarks. But the company last week criticized "a number of state and local politicians" who it said "have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required" to complete the project. The fight over Amazon is the fight for the future of the Democratic Party The fallout over the Amazon headquarters exposed a rift among Democrats. While de Blasio and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo welcomed the company late last year, others in the party chafed at the plans — including freshman Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, whose district is near the site in Queens where Amazon would have been located. That divide continued last week when Amazon reneged on the deal. Cuomo attacked politicians who he felt "put their own narrow political interests above their community." Ocasio-Cortez, meanwhile,declared victory. Asked Sunday about the disconnect among progressives, de Blasio said they are capable of governing and giving back to working people. "I am representing 8.6 million people, and a clear majority of those people believe we need more fairness in our economy. But of course, we need jobs, we need growth, we need revenue," said the mayor, who called himself a progressive. "Progressives can do both." Amazon said last week that it will not look to replace New York with another city, but will still move forward with existing plans in Virginia. It also is working on a hub in Nashville. Source
  2. Despite record profits, Amazon didn't pay any federal income tax in 2017 or 2018. Here's why Amazon hasn't paid any taxes to the US government in the past two years. Actually, Amazon received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal tax credits in 2017 and 2018. That might seem nuts, considering Amazon is the third-most valuable company in the world and earned a record $10 billion last year. But critics of Amazon's tax bill aren't accusing Amazon of doing anything improper. "This is tax avoidance, not tax evasion. There's no indication of any wrongdoing, except on the part of Congress," said Matthew Gardner, senior fellow at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a liberal think tank. US tax code allows money-losing companies to reduce their future taxable income. Amazon (AMZN) piled up billions of dollars in losses over its two-decade history. It posted $3 billion worth of losses during its first eight years as a public company. It swung between profit and loss since 2003. Its most recent annual loss was $241 million in 2014. Amazon's total earnings have easily topped its losses — many times over. But some of Amazon's earnings came from sales outside the United States, on which Amazon paid either lower or no US taxes. Other earnings were offset by Amazon's investments in equipment, such computers and robots at its fulfillment centers. Last year, Amazon benefited from an accelerated tax credit for equipment purchases, which was part of the corporate tax bill passed at the end of 2017. And the company has received research and development tax credits. So Amazon's federal tax bill came to a net credit of $129 million in 2018 after getting a $137 million tax credit in 2017. The company said in its most recent annual financial statement that it still has $1.4 billion in federal tax credits available to offset future tax bills. Many companies that lose money pay little or no federal income taxes. For example, General Motors (GM) has paid little federal tax money since emerging from bankruptcy in 2009, despite posting record profits for several years. GM doesn't anticipate having to pay any significant federal tax for years to come. Amazon has money, power and influence. But it flamed out in NYC. Here's why that matters Amazon, by contrast, paid $1.1 billion in federal taxes in 2016. The company has also paid non-federal taxes. Amazon paid $533 million in state taxes and $1.3 billion in international taxes over the past two years. Proponents of the federal tax law argue the tax credits for past losses, equipment purchases and research and development allow companies to invest for the future and grow. "Amazon is a powerhouse company and it got there because it invested extensively," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics. "Most of our policies are much too short cited. This is one policy that rewards a longer-term perspective and taking some risk. Because of that, Amazon will ultimately be a big payoff for taxpayers." But Gardner said Amazon's success makes such tax breaks unnecessary. "It's hard to see a compelling argument that they would have been hamstrung in their ability to create jobs if they had been forced to pay taxes like everyone else does," said Gardner. Amazon declined to comment on its federal tax payments. The company announced it would drop plans to create 25,000 jobs in New York because of political backlash to the $1.5 billion in tax incentives being offered by the city and the state. The tax breaks it receives from the federal government are more valuable, but have gotten a lot less attention. Source
  3. Amazon invests in startup building electric pickup trucks and SUVs Rivian lands a $700 million funding round led by the tech conglomerate Amazon continued its push into the transportation space on Friday with some big news: the company is leading a $700 million investment round in Rivian, a United States-based EV startup that’s working to launch an all-electric pickup truck and SUV in 2020. The announcement follows last week’s news that Amazon was part of a group that raised $530 million for Aurora Innovation, an autonomous vehicle startup led by the former head of Google’s self-driving car project. Rivian will “remain an independent company,” the startup announced in a press release. While Amazon is leading the funding round, the EV startup says its existing shareholders are also involved in raising the $700 million. Rivian did not disclose exactly how much money Amazon is contributing. General Motors, which Reuters reported this week is also interested in investing in Rivian, was not named in the press release. “We have nothing additional to add beyond our previously shared statement from earlier this week,” a spokesperson for GM said in an email to The Verge. “We admire Rivian’s contribution to a future of zero emissions and an all-electric future.” RELATED This startup is building self-driving trucks and SUVs for futuristic off-road adventures Rivian is a relatively new name on the startup scene, having only debuted its pickup truck and SUV at the end of November last year. But the company has been operating in stealth since 2009. Originally founded to make something that competed with Tesla’s first car, the Lotus-based Roadster, Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe eventually pivoted the company toward a more action-adventure customer segment. The result was two high-power, off-road-ready electric vehicles: the R1T (the pickup) and the R1S (the SUV). Built on the same technological platform, Rivian claims its vehicles — which will start around $70,000 — will be able to travel up to around 400 miles on a single charge, hit 60 miles per hour in under three seconds, and eventually be able to drive themselves in some capacity. The company boasts a number of top ex-engineers and designers from McLaren, and it’s spent years developing a unique approach to building high-capacity battery packs. “[E]very single one of [our vehicles] has to have this Patagonia-like feel of enabling adventure,” Scaringe told The Verge in November last year. “We want to keep that very sharp. We want to focus only on the adventure space, so customers understand what we stand for.” Unlike fellow US-based EV startups like Faraday Future or Lucid Motors, which struggled financially following the announcements of their own electric vehicles, Scaringe took a far more slow and secretive approach with Rivian. The company operated in almost total radio silence for nearly a decade before showing off its vehicle designs late last year. By the time it did, Rivian had a number of pieces in place that those other startups didn’t when they debuted their own electric vehicles — like a manufacturing facility in Illinois. For Amazon, the investment in Rivian is the latest evidence of the conglomerate’s push in the transportation space. Beyond last week’s investment in Aurora, Amazon is also developing its own autonomous delivery robot, has been linked to self-driving trucking startup Embark, and is working on drone delivery, to name a few. “We’re inspired by Rivian’s vision for the future of electric transportation,” Jeff Wilke, CEO of Amazon’s worldwide consumer division, said in a statement. “RJ has built an impressive organization, with a product portfolio and technology to match. We’re thrilled to invest in such an innovative company.” Source
  4. Amazon and Walmart have been dealt a big blow in India, one of their most important markets, as the local government tightens rules regarding how foreign ecommerce platforms sell goods and conduct business in the country. Above: Employees of Amazon India Under the current laws, foreign-owned ecommerce companies are not allowed to sell directly to customers (in other words, to operate under an inventory-based model of ecommerce). Instead, they can only provide a marketplace that acts as “an information technology platform” and serves as a facilitator between “buyer and seller.” To bypass this restriction, both Amazon and Flipkart, which sold a majority stake to Walmart last year, have acquired stakes in some of the biggest third-party sellers in the country. For instance, Amazon owns stake in parent companies of Cloudtail India and Appario Retail, while Flipkart until recently controlled WS Retail, the largest seller on its platform. In late December, the Indian government revised the policies to close the loophole. The policies, which go into effect tomorrow, prohibit Amazon and Flipkart from selling goods from companies in which they have a stake. The two companies were hoping the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, the government agency that issued the revised policies, would extend the February 1 deadline. But efforts to gain more time were unsuccessful. (At around 6:50 p.m. local time – 8.20 a.m. Pacific, the government said it won’t be extending the deadline.) “The Department had received some representations to extend the deadline of February 1, 2019 to comply with the conditions contained in the Press Note 2 of 2018 series on FDI Policy in e-Commerce issued by the Department. After due consideration, it has been decided, with the approval of the competent authority, not to extend the above deadline,” the government said in a statement today. As a result of this, both Amazon and Flipkart are preparing to comply with the new policies, which, among other changes, means that hundreds of thousands of goods, including Amazon’s own Kindle and Echo speaker lineup, will suddenly disappear from the online sites, multiple people familiar with the companies’ thinking have said. Amazon and Flipkart have explored various options in recent weeks, including holding talks with government officials, and have alerted their merchant partners to ensure they are ready to comply with the new policies, sources said. Commenting on DIPP’s notification today, an Amazon India spokesperson told VentureBeat, “While we remain committed to complying with all laws and regulations, we will continue to look to engage with the government to seek clarifications that help us decide our future course of action, as well as minimize the impact on our customers and sellers.” Flipkart did not respond to a request for comment. But in recent weeks, the company has warned the government that these new policies would cause “significant customer disruption.” Above: A look at how Amazon sells the Echo Dot on its US website and its India website. The revised policies say that Amazon, Flipkart, and any other foreign-owned player (or FDI, foreign direct investment) cannot have a single vendor purchase more than 25 percent of the inventory from the ecommerce’s business-to-business (wholesale) arm and then sell it on the same store. “Earlier, ecommerce players had a marketplace entity and a business-to-business playing entity, which would either sell on the marketplace or sell to other vendors participating in the marketplace,” Arjun Sinha, a New Delhi-based analyst and lawyer who studies policies, explained to VentureBeat. “They [the ecommerce companies] will have to look at these arrangements. Walmart will also need to check how much it can sell on Flipkart’s platform, and how much it can sell to merchants who sell on Flipkart. These structures would need to be relooked at to prevent indirect multi-brand retail,” Sinha said. An industry insider, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that many clauses in the policies are too ambiguous, so it would be especially challenging for Amazon and Flipkart to fully comply with them. For instance, Amazon has more than 400,000 partners in India. It would be a major pain point for the company to audit these partners’ books and ensure that they are playing fairly, the person said. The new policies also prevent Flipkart and Amazon from striking agreements that give third-party merchants exclusive rights to sell their products in the country. A look at the smartphone industry sheds more light on this issue. India is the fastest growing smartphone market, buoyed by Chinese vendors, many of which — including Xiaomi and OnePlus — entered the nation through partnerships with online platforms to cut overhead costs. Smartphones sales are crucial to Amazon and Flipkart, both of which count smartphones among the top three categories for their respective businesses. OnePlus, for instance, exclusively sells its handsets online through Amazon India. The Chinese company, which dominates the premium tier of the smartphone market in India, said this week that it willingly signed that partnership with Amazon. What is at stake? At stake is nothing short of India’s ecommerce market, which is estimated to grow to $200 billion by 2026. Amazon has invested more than $5.5 billion in its India operations, and Walmart paid $16 billion to snag Flipkart. The amendment to the policies could significantly derail the opportunities these companies see in India. Indeed, a draft analysis from global consultant PwC, first reported by Reuters this week, slated that the new ecommerce policy could reduce online sales by $46 billion by 2022. A representative of All India Online Vendors Association (AIOVA), a lobby group of over 30,000 online sellers, said the new policies are not the right solution to help small merchants — supposedly the rationale behind the government’s move — and accused the government of undertaking this task to appease shopkeepers and small business voters ahead of general elections. Some of the clauses mentioned in the new policy — including an ecommerce platforms’ inability to source more than 25 percent of goods from a single vendor — have been in place for more than two years. Ecommerce players worked around these laws for years while the government turned a blind eye, the AIOVA representative said. “Why is the government, months ahead of the elections, turning attention to this now?” the spokesperson asked. Indian government officials did not respond to a request for comment. “Government should realise their work doesn’t stop at policy making, but also requires enforcement. In [the] past, rules have not been enforced, circumvention and self certifications have led to a duopolised market. Government needs to disclose who is stopping these investigations from happening, which is leading to policy intervention,” an AIOVA spokesperson said. But some businesses have expressed approval of the new policy. Kunal Bahl, cofounder and CEO of Snapdeal, an ecommerce company that pivoted to cater to businesses two years ago after negotiations for a merger with Flipkart fell apart, said, “Snapdeal welcomes updates to FDI policy on ecommerce. Marketplaces are meant for genuine, independent sellers, many of whom are MSMEs (micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises). These changes will enable a level playing field for all sellers, helping them leverage the reach of ecommerce.” Retailers with a major presence in the offline market have decried the discounts Amazon and Flipkart have been offering to win customers in recent years. These are among the businesses in support of the new policy. Kishore Biyani is founder and CEO of Future Group, one of the largest brick-and-mortar retailers in India. Biyani said the new policy will force ecommerce players to rethink their entire game plan for India. “There was ambiguity in the previous policy, which some players were taking advantage of,” Biyani said in a televised interview with Indian channel ET Now. “India should always be first with these kinds of policies. Why can’t we build our own Alibaba, and Amazon?” This sense of nationalism was also on display earlier this month when Mukesh Ambani, who is the country’s richest man and runs Reliance Retail, the largest retailer in the country, announced the company’s intention to launch an ecommerce platform to challenge Amazon and Walmart. “We have to collectively launch a new movement against data colonization. For India to succeed in this data-driven revolution, we will have to migrate the control and ownership of Indian data back to India — in other words, Indian wealth back to every Indian,” he said at an event that was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder and CEO of One97 Communications, which operates India’s largest mobile wallet app — Paytm — and also runs ecommerce arm Paytm Mall, declined to comment on the policy at a recent event in New Delhi. A spokesperson for Paytm said the company had no comment at this time. The government, which is expected to deliver an annual budget as soon as tomorrow, reportedly risks upsetting the U.S. administration with this new hardline approach. According to Reuters, the U.S. government has expressed concerns about the new ecommerce policies. Greg Hitt, speaking on behalf of Walmart, told the outlet that the Indian government should “certainly, as you would expect, have engaged the (United States) administration on this issue.” Update at 3:15 p.m. Pacific: Several Amazon-owned products, including select Echo smart speakers, as well as some travel bags, batteries, office supply items, and chargers under Basics brand, and some kitchen items under Presto and apparels under Shoppers Stop brands, have become unavailable on Amazon’s website. Source
  5. A group of activist shareholders are proposing that Amazon.com Inc. stop selling facial recognition software to government agencies until its board determines the technology doesn’t threaten people’s civil rights. The investors, including the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, a member of the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment, filed a resolution on the subject to be voted on at Amazon’s annual meeting later this year. Civil rights groups blasted Amazon in 2018 for marketing its Rekognition service to police departments and government agencies. Thursday’s resolution, organized by nonprofit Open MIC, adds a financial twist and brings the debate into Amazon’s board room. “It’s a familiar pattern: A leading tech company marketing what is hailed as breakthrough technology without understanding or assessing the many real and potential harms of that product," said Michael Connor, executive director of Open MIC. "Sales of Rekognition to government represent considerable risk for the company and investors. That’s why it’s imperative those sales be halted immediately.” The Amazon Web Services product has been used to identify celebrities at Hollywood events. It can also be used by law enforcement agencies to quickly identify suspects from jail booking photos or other sources. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Project on Government Oversight say the facial recognition technology is unreliable and can produce more false positives for people with darker skin, making them more likely to be suspects in criminal investigations. Amazon Web Services Chief Executive Officer Andy Jassy in November said Amazon is working to educate government officials about how to use the software, and said it is only used as a tool in investigations, not the sole factor considered in identifying suspects. Source
  6. Amazon’s Dash buttons have been found to breach consumer e-commerce rules in Germany. The push-to-order gizmos were debuted by Amazon in 2015 in an attempt by the e-commerce giant to shave friction off of the online shopping process by encouraging consumers to fill their homes with stick-on, account-linked buttons that trigger product-specific staple purchases when pressed — from washing powder to toilet roll to cat food. Germany was among the first international markets where Amazon launched Dash, in 2016, along with the U.K. and Austria. But yesterday a higher state court in Munich ruled the system does not provide consumers with sufficient information about a purchase. The judgement follows a legal challenge by a regional consumer watchdog, Verbraucherzentrale NRW, which objects to the terms Amazon operates with Dash. It complains that Amazon’s terms allow the company to substitute a product of a higher price or even a different product in place of what the consumer originally selected for a Dash push purchase. It argues consumers are also not provided with enough information on the purchase triggered when the button is pressed — which might be months after an original selection was made. Dash buttons should carry a label stating that a paid purchase is triggered by a press, it believes. The Munich court has now sided with the group’s view that Amazon does not provide sufficient information to Dash consumers, per Reuters. In a press release following the ruling, Verbraucherzentrale NRW said the judges agreed Amazon should inform consumers about price and product before taking the order, rather than after the purchase as is currently the case. It also expressed confidence the judgement leaves no room for Amazon to appeal — though the company has said it intends to do so. Commenting on the ruling in a statement, Verbraucherzentrale NRW consumer bureau chief, Wolfgang Schuldzinski, said: “We are always open to innovation. But if innovation is to put consumers at a disadvantage and to make price comparisons more difficult, then we use all means against them, as in this case.” Amazon did not reply to questions about how it intends to respond to the court ruling in the short term, such as whether it will withdraw the devices or change how Dash works in Germany. Instead it emailed us the following statement, attributed to a spokesperson: “The decision is not only against innovation, it also prevents customers from making an informed choice for themselves about whether a service like Dash Button is a convenient way for them to shop. We are convinced the Dash Button and the corresponding app are in line with German legislation. Therefore, we’re going to appeal.” Source
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. (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
  10. 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
  11. 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
  12. 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
  13. 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
  14. 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
  15. 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
  16. 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
  17. 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
  18. 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
  19. 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
  20. 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
  21. 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
  22. 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
  23. 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
  24. 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
  25. 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
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