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  1. FCC approves Amazon’s internet-from-space Kuiper constellation of 3,236 satellites Though there are caveats to the approval An artistic rendering of a satellite in orbit Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge The Federal Communications Commission has approved Amazon’s plans for its ambitious Kuiper constellation, which entails sending 3,236 satellites into orbit to beam internet coverage down to Earth. The decision is a crucial regulatory step that paves the way for Amazon to start launching the satellites when they’re ready. The company plans to send the satellites to three different altitudes, and it claims it needs just 578 satellites in orbit to begin service, according to an FCC document announcing the approval. Amazon said it will invest “more than $10 billion” in Project Kuiper in a blog post. Amazon has not announced which launch provider it plans to use to fly the satellites into orbit yet. While Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos also owns the rocket company Blue Origin, the launch provider will have to compete to launch the satellites along with other companies. There are few caveats to Amazon’s FCC approval. The company must launch half of the constellation by 2026 to retain its FCC license, and then the remaining satellites by 2029. Amazon also must submit to the FCC a finalized plan for how it will mitigate orbital debris, since the design of its satellites aren’t finalized yet. Amazon claims it will take its satellites out of orbit within 355 days, but the FCC argues the company didn’t “present specific information concerning some required elements” for its debris plan. A big concern of a constellation of this size is that the influx of satellites will lead to more collisions in space, creating pieces of debris that could threaten other satellites. Amazon is one of a handful of companies aiming to create a giant constellation of satellites in orbit, in order to provide broadband connectivity to the surface below. Most notable among these competitors is SpaceX, which has approval from the FCC to launch nearly 12,000 satellites for its Starlink project. So far, SpaceX has launched more than 500 Starlink satellites, with plans to start beta testing the system this summer. Meanwhile, UK-based OneWeb also hopes to build a constellation of 650 satellites, and has already launched 74 of them. The company filed for bankruptcy this year, but was recently bailed out by a consortium that includes the UK government and Indian telecom company Bharti Global. Amazon claims that Kuiper will “provide broadband services to unserved and underserved consumers, businesses in the United States, and global customers by employing advanced satellite and earth station technologies,” according to the FCC’s approval document. Amazon also said that Project Kuiper will provide “backhaul solutions for wireless carriers extending LTE and 5G service to new regions” in its blog post. Update July 30th, 8:57PM ET: Added new details from an Amazon blog post. FCC approves Amazon’s internet-from-space Kuiper constellation of 3,236 satellites
  2. Amazon redesigns the Alexa app to highlight first-party features Amazon has launched a new design for the Alexa app, promising a more personalized user experience and giving first-party features a prominent place on the home screen. By doing so, some third-party skill suggestions have been put on the backburner. Before, the Alexa button used to sit at the bottom center of the home screen. The updated Alexa app now moves that dedicated button to the top of the screen where the date and weather updates were previously situated. The redesign makes it easier to see the button first when you open the digital assistant's mobile app. In addition, you can simply say "Alexa" to activate it hands-free. The navigation bar has also received a makeover. For example, the "More" button is now found at the bottom right corner, giving you quick access to features such as Reminders, Routines, Skills, and, Settings. The center of the navigation bar is also occupied by the "Play" button as part of the redesign to give you a faster way of launching media playback. The main screen now displays personalized suggestions based on how you use Alexa. For example, if you use the digital assistant to play music most of the time, you’ll now see that command front and center. You can also view controls for currently active features like the volume level adjustment for the Echo devices. On the other hand, if it's your first time using the app, you will see suggestions on the basic way of using Alexa including other Amazon services such as Music or its shopping list. Amazon says the updated app will be available to everyone over the next month. Supported platforms include iOS, Android, and Fire OS devices. Source: TechCrunch Amazon redesigns the Alexa app to highlight first-party features
  3. Amazon Honeycode allows you to build mobile and web apps without any code Announced today, Amazon Honeycode is a new, fully managed service that will allow users to build mobile and web applications without any programming. These applications will be tailored specifically for tasks that involve tracking data over time and notifying users of changes, routing approvals, and facilitating interactive business processes. For this purpose, Amazon Honeycode houses a visual application builder. Essentially, the app will automate the process of building and linking three tiers of functionality—database, business logic, and user interface. To get started, you can select a pre-built template. Here, the data model, business logic, and applications are pre-defined and ready-to-use out of the box. There is also an option to import data into a blank workbook. The ability to add notifications, reminders, approvals and other actions based on conditions has been provided as well. A preliminary setup can be completed within minutes. The resultant application can scale up to 100,000 rows in each workbook and will be free for up to 20 users. However, you'll have to pay for the additional users and storage for larger applications. If you are interested in finding out more, you may visit this webpage. If you want to get started with Amazon Honeycode, you may sign up here. Amazon Honeycode allows you to build mobile and web apps without any code
  4. Amazon says it mitigated the largest DDoS attack ever recorded An attack with a previously unseen volume of 2.3 Tbps A chart produced by Amazon shows the scale of the attack. Image: Amazon Amazon Web Services recently had to defend against a DDoS attack with a peak traffic volume of 2.3 Tbps, the largest ever recorded, ZDNet reports. Detailing the attack in its Q1 2020 threat report, Amazon said that the attack occurred back in February, and was mitigated by AWS Shield, a service designed to protect customers of Amazon’s on-demand cloud computing platform from DDoS attacks, as well as from bad bots and application vulnerabilities. The company did not disclose the target or the origin of the attack. To put that number into perspective, prior to February of this year, ZDNet notes that the largest DDoS attack recorded was back in March 2018, when NetScout Arbor mitigated a 1.7 Tbps attack. The previous month, GitHub disclosed that it had been hit by an attack with a peak of 1.35 Tbps. February’s attack was a so-called “reflection attack.” As Cloudflare explains, the attempt here is to use a vulnerable third-party server to amplify the amount of data being sent to a victim’s IP address. It mainly relied on exploiting CLDAP servers to amplify its traffic. Attacks using this protocol, which is normally used to access and edit directories shared over the internet, have been taking place since 2016, ZDNet notes. Amazon said that between Q2 2018 and Q4 2019, the largest attacks it saw were smaller than 1 Tbps, and that in the first quarter of this year 99 percent of attacks were 43 Gbps or smaller. ZDNet notes that the 2018 attacks relied on exploiting a new Memcached attack vector, but says that in the years since, internet service providers and content delivery networks have worked to secure Memcached servers that are vulnerable to being exploited. Amazon says it mitigated the largest DDoS attack ever recorded
  5. (Reuters) - California investigators are examining Amazon.com Inc’s business practices as part of an inquiry into the company, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, citing people familiar with the matter. The state’s review focuses at least in part on how Amazon treats sellers in its online marketplace, and its practices for selling its own products in competition with third-party sellers, the report added. Amazon declined to comment on the report. It, however, said its in-house products account for about 1% of its total annual retail sales. The e-commerce giant is already being investigated by the European Commission for its dual role as a marketplace for merchants and as a rival since July last year, triggered by complaints from traders about Amazon’s practices. Amazon may also face EU antitrust charges in the coming weeks over its use of data on merchants with whom it competes on its platform, Reuters reported on Thursday, citing a source. Source
  6. The tech giants have funded a bevy of political groups, including those producing positive polling, and engaged in other fingerprint-free tactics designed to deter regulators. David Espinoza appeared unhappy when Arizona joined scores of states investigating Google last year. The Phoenix-based owner of a shoe-and-leather store wrote in a local newspaper he was “amazed and a little dumbfounded” by regulators’ campaign to “change how digital platforms operate.” “The current system is working for small businesses, and as the old saying goes: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he wrote. But Espinoza’s words, published in September by the Arizona Capitol Times, weren’t entirely his own. They were written on his behalf by an advocacy group that’s backed by Google and other tech behemoths, reflecting Silicon Valley’s stealthy new attempts to shape and weaponize public perception in response to heightened antitrust scrutiny. Under the withering microscope of government watchdogs, tech giants including Amazon, Facebook and Google have funded a bevy of political groups that have helped push positive polling and engaged in other fingerprint-free tactics designed to deter regulators who are seeking to break up or penalize the industry. The approach reflects the growing threats they now face from the Justice Department and the country’s top attorneys general, who have been investigating them on antitrust grounds. The Connected Commerce Council, for example, is a Washington-based nonprofit that bills itself as a voice for small businesses. But it counts Amazon, Facebook and Google as “partners,” and in recent months the group known as 3C has put its muscle to work arguing that Silicon Valley giants do not threaten competition, stifle smaller rivals and harm consumers in the process. Espinoza, a bootmaker by profession, said he was approached by 3C last year after he participated in a Google seminar meant to help small businesses better use digital tools. The advocacy group then wrote the opinion piece largely on his behalf, which appeared online just days after state attorneys general announced their antitrust probe of the company. The opinion piece did not indicate that 3C largely penned it. Espinoza said he still supported Google, whose technology, including its ad tools now under government investigation, have helped his company reach new customers across the country. But he also said he didn’t know about Google’s relationship with 3C, a group of which he is a member, before being contacted by The Post this week. “I’m not surprised,” Espinoza said. Google is “a big company … and they have the finances to extend themselves as much as they can.” Jake Ward, the president of 3C, said his organization represents thousands of small businesses, not Silicon Valley’s largest players. The organization often seeks to encourage corporate founders to share their views publicly, he added. “It is our responsibility, on behalf of our small business members, to protect the existing model and promote the market, which is working exceedingly well,” Ward said, later adding: “We are not, and will not work for, Big Tech.” Amazon and Facebook declined to comment. (Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.) Julie Tarallo McAlister, a spokeswoman for Google, said in a statement that the company supports “a range of organizations like the Connected Commerce Council that are working to help small businesses grow and prosper online.” Silicon Valley tech giants — and companies across a range of industries — often back a wide array of advocacy groups to boost their political fortunes. They aren’t required to disclose how much they spend on these organizations and exactly how involved they are in their day-to-day decisions, but ethics watchdogs say their participation alone is important. “It is an example of industry spending money and exerting influence, but doing it in a way that is meant to give the impression that it is not coming from industry,” said Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group. Bookbinder added: “They wouldn’t be members if they didn’t agree with the thrust of what these organizations are pushing for.” The tech industry’s attempts to shore up its public image in recent months reflects the seriousness of the U.S. government’s new antitrust scrutiny. After years of threats, state and federal leaders have embarked on the kind of inquiries that could result in dramatic changes to the way Amazon, Facebook and Google operate, including punishments that could break apart those companies. With Amazon, regulators are concerned that the e-commerce giant improperly gleans data from third-party sellers in an attempt to give its own products and services an advantage. In looking at Facebook, government officials have probed complaints it has gobbled up its digital rivals, leaving few viable competitors in social networking. And watchdogs have probed Google’s search, advertising and smartphone businesses to determine whether they’ve stifled competition, following in the footsteps of European regulators who have already penalized the company. All three tech giants deny they have violated state and federal antitrust rules. Still, Justice Department officials are expected to file a lawsuit against Google alleging it violated federal competition laws as soon as this month. Nearly every state’s attorney general, meanwhile, could follow with their own complaint in July, The Post previously reported. The antitrust lawsuits come roughly seven years after U.S. officials first probed Google for violating competition law but ultimately decided against bringing a case in court. With legal action imminent — and President Trump recently taking fresh, aggressive aim at Silicon Valley — the industry’s largest companies have shelled out sizable sums to lobby in Washington. Amazon, Facebook and Google have spent more than $11 million combined over the first three months of 2020 to influence federal action on a range of issues, including antitrust, according to ethics disclosures filed with Congress. The amount is slightly higher than the same period in 2019. But those figures do not reflect the hard-to-track sums spent by the industry to shape public opinion beyond the Beltway. Many in the tech industry privately say they’ve adopted such tactics because they face an onslaught of criticism from a wide array of new opposition groups, such as the Campaign for Accountability, a nonprofit that has produced research critical of tech companies including Amazon and Google. The group does not list its current backers, and it declined to detail them fully Tuesday. In the past it has courted Google’s critics, including Oracle, though the campaign maintains it is not taking corporate contributions. Facebook, for example, already has invested in a forthcoming advocacy group known as American Edge. The organization shares a similar structure to organizations such as the National Rifle Association, which blitzes airwaves with ads and doesn’t have to disclose its donors. The new tech group has sought to enlist support from other tech companies including Amazon and Google, according to two people familiar with the effort who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations. It is not clear whether either company intends to join. The Post first reported last month on the group’s imminent plans for launch. The tech industry also has sought to funnel dollars to a wide array of conservative groups in recent years, hoping to earn more favor among Republicans in power at the White House and in Congress. That includes the National Taxpayers Union, a right-leaning outfit that typically targets government spending it sees as wasteful. Last month, the NTU tapped a firm that previously polled for Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign to gauge voter sentiment about big tech. They focused their efforts on Arizona, Texas and other states that are actively investigating Google and other companies, and their findings concluded that voters would rather see their attorneys general focusing on other issues, including the opioid epidemic. The survey explicitly asked if states should punish companies including Amazon and Google, which publicly have acknowledged their past financial support of the NTU. Pete Sepp, the president of the organization, declined to discuss the NTU’s donors or the exact reasons it commissioned the poll, though he stressed that he and his organization have worked on competition-related issues for decades. “We have huge historical footprint in the antitrust issue space that transcends any tech firm and goes well before their founding,” he said. Such research — seeking to channel public sentiment — is a battle-tested tactic in antitrust probes, former regulators say. It’s meant to “press upon public officials, and indirectly upon agencies, that [companies] enjoy broad public support for what they’re doing,” said William Kovacic, a top professor at George Washington University’s law school who previously served on the Federal Trade Commission. “To tamper with them in a significant way is to anger the broader public.” Two years ago, the Connected Commerce Council launched as a voice for small businesses, and Ward, its leader, has grown the organization into an operation that represents more than 10,000 entrepreneurs. The group provides technical support, helping owners and employees use tech tools to place ads, manage their checkbooks and reach new customers online, he said. The goal was to connect these smaller operators to larger companies, according to Ward, who found that “policy and politics collided pretty quickly on what I was trying to do.” In the end, he has found himself defending Amazon, Facebook and Google because it’s better for the start-ups 3C represents, he said. By September 2018, 3C members had sounded off in support of major tech companies during a regulatory proceeding at the Federal Trade Commission. 3C also helped produce opinion pieces, including the one published by Espinoza in 2019. Ward said the work is critical because regulators and readers otherwise never would hear from small businesses. In more recent months, 3C has amped up its letter-writing campaigns, dispatching missives targeting Texas and other states now investigating large technology companies. Its letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in May, signed by 200 members, even said the state should not penalize Big Tech amid the coronavirus crisis. “During a pandemic, when many storefronts are shuttered and businesses that are still running are operating entirely online, it is the wrong time to demand changes in digital technology operations and business models,” they said. In doing so, however, Ward has stressed his organization’s independence. “We don’t lobby on their behalf,” he said. “And we’re not advocates for their larger positions.” Paywall Source Free Mirror Source
  7. NEW DELHI/HONG KONG (Reuters) - Amazon.com (AMZN.O) is in early-stage talks to buy a stake worth at least $2 billion in Indian mobile operator Bharti Airtel (BRTI.NS), three people with knowledge of the discussions told Reuters, in a move that could turbocharge India’s digital economy. The planned investment, if completed, would mean Amazon acquiring a roughly 5% stake based on the current market value of Bharti and would give India’s third-largest telecoms company a boost as it seeks to compete against the number one player Reliance Jio. “Jio has transformed itself from a pure mobile operator to a digital technology-led consumer facing platform, and Airtel can do the same,” said one of the people. “Airtel is looking to play a catch-up game here, and for Amazon it makes all the strategic directional sense for the India business.” Amazon had been mulling several investment options, including buying a stake worth up to 8-10%, a second person said. The talks between Bharti and Amazon are at an early stage and the deal terms could change, or an agreement may not be reached, said two of the three people, all of whom declined to be identified because the discussions are confidential. If talks to buy a stake fail, the companies could also look at a commercial transaction that could give Bharti’s customers cheap access to Amazon products, one of the people said. An Amazon spokeswoman said the company does “not offer comments on speculation of what we may or may not do in future.” Bharti said they routinely work with all digital players to bring their products, content and services to customers. “Beyond that there is no other activity to report,” it said in a statement. Shares in Bharti closed 3.8% higher after rising as much as 6% on news of the Amazon talks. The broader NSE Nifty 50 index .NSEI closed down 0.32%. U.S. TECH INTEREST The discussions between Amazon and Bharti underscore the attraction of India’s digital economy for U.S. tech giants. Over the past six weeks, Jio, the digital arm of Reliance Industries (RELI.NS) raised $10 billion from global investors including Facebook (FB.O) as it seeks to establish itself as a one-stop digital commerce platform. Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google is also exploring an investment in Vodafone Idea, a joint venture between Britain’s Vodafone Group Plc (VOD.L) and India’s Idea Cellular, the Financial Times reported last week. Vodafone Idea is the second-largest telecoms company in India, where the coronavirus lockdown has led to a surge in demand for online shopping, entertainment and data. Amazon counts India as a crucial growth market where it has committed $6.5 billion in investments mainly toward expanding its e-commerce footprint. The Seattle-based company has also expanded its digital offerings in India via its voice-activated speakers, video streaming and cloud storage, as it seeks to tap a rising number of internet and smartphone users in the country of 1.3 billion people. A deal with Bharti could help Amazon expand offerings via its smart speakers and also boost its cloud business as access to Bharti’s vast telecom fibre network could help Amazon lower costs. Reliance’s Jio has already partnered with Microsoft for use of its Azure cloud platform. Source
  8. Why Amazon Prime Day 2020 postponed until August makes sense for everyone If Prime Day deals start in August, everyone will benefit (Image credit: Amazon) The Amazon Prime Day 2020 date is reportedly happening in August 2020, not July, offering a one-month reprieve on what's normally an epic deals marathon. That's the right move for everyone. People still need to save money – now more than ever – but this year's Prime Day has to be timed right: for consumers, for Amazon employees, for delivery workers, and for all of the manufacturers. Officially, Amazon hasn't said much. There's just one line on its website: "Prime Day 2020 has not been announced." But Reuters threw up an exclusive in April, noting that it will be delayed until "at least August", citing internal meeting notes. Amazon hasn't come to a decision, or publicized one at least. That said, everything points to August making the most sense – if Prime Day 2020 happens at all. (Image credit: Amazon) (Image credit: Amazon) Everyone needs time to stay safe and recover First and foremost, Amazon needs to make sure its employees aren't vulnerable to further Covid-19 infections before even considering a Prime Day 2020 date. There are a lot of unknowns that prevent that decision from happening right now. So far, seven Amazon employees have died of Covid-19, reports the Daily Mail. The company needs to make sure its warehouse and contractors are safe, and so far we don't have all of the facts. Amazon has an ongoing Covid-19 blog, which begins with a statement: "Our top concern is ensuring the health and safety of our employees, and we expect to invest approximately $4 billion from April to June on COVID-related initiatives getting products to customers and keeping employees safe." Prime Day puts incredible strain on warehouse and delivery workers. We've talked to delivery people in the past who note that the actual deals dates aren't bad for them – it's the two days following sales that stress them out. Now imagine feeling that way during the tail end of a pandemic. Likewise, consumers need to have a better understanding of how the economy will bounce back and ensure their jobs are safe before making big ticket purchases. Anyone recently laid off is undoubtedly less than eager to splurge in July. (Image credit: Amazon) But people still need to save... and sell If consumers are really putting off big purchases and Amazon is prioritizing essential goods right now, there's going to be pent-up demand to both buy and sell by August. Or that's the hope for Amazon Prime Day 2020, at least. What's selling today? Our data shows that people are adjusting to the sudden work-from-home lifestyle by buying webcams and monitors. They're by and large sold out. It's not just face masks and cleaning supplies flying off store shelves. Consumers have been putting off big ticket purchases until they know more about the economy's recovery and how safe their jobs are long-term. That confidence is more likely to start to return in August than July. Manufacturers, meanwhile, have inventory sitting in warehouses, and many rely on the annual Prime Day sales push to counteract a sleepy July. Companies have also delayed product announcements. There's pent-up demand on both ends. (Image credit: Amazon) Anything beyond August runs close to Black Friday Pushing Amazon Prime Day until "at least August", as Reuter reported, doesn't mean it'll actually happen in August. It could happen later or be scrapped entirely. But here's our thinking: delaying the Prime Day date beyond August runs the risk of happening in a crowded season. In September, we expect Apple to announce the iPhone 12 (which it won't be on sale through Amazon) and control the media narrative (not to mention the the budget of consumers). How about October or beyond? Well, that runs into an even bigger risk: Black Friday 2020 and Cyber Monday happen in November. Sure, they're at the end of November, but retailers begin their sales push on November 1 or sooner. (Image credit: Shutterstock) August is the Goldilocks month for Prime Day July may be too soon for the safety of Amazon workers and for consumer confidence to return. People will need haircuts in June more than they need a new 4K TV or a laptop at a discount. But anything from September onward seems too late to have the impact that Amazon and manufacturers need. That leaves August as the best option for Prime Day 2020. When will Amazon finally announce the official Prime Day date? We don't typically find out about the date until two weeks before it happens, so even if it was July, we wouldn't know today. In fact, Jeff Bezos and company may not know when to launch Prime Day internally. Amazon is likely waiting on the same data regarding new Covid-19 infection rates and consumer confidence that we're all waiting on. Source: Why Amazon Prime Day 2020 postponed until August makes sense for everyone (TechRadar)
  9. Amazon’s new Fire HD 8 tablets: Higher prices, higher specs, out today This year’s Fire HD 8 models offer USB-C charging, a faster CPU, and more RAM. First image of article image gallery. Please visit the source link to see all 4 images. Amazon is updating its eight-inch line of Fire HD tablets today, including a Fire HD 8 ($90), Fire HD 8 Plus ($110—or $140, with optional wireless charging dock), and Fire HD 8 Kids Edition ($140). All three versions are available for pre-order today, with shipping beginning on June 3. Base model—Fire HD 8, $90 The base Fire HD 8 doubles the internal storage of the prior generation, going from 16GB to 32GB, and offers later expansion of up to 1TB with an additional microSD card. It also bumps up the RAM a touch, going from 1.5GB in the last generation to 2GB with the new edition. Charging is USB-C, like 2019's Fire HD 10—which is a blessing for both adults and small children, since there is no "upside-down" orientation for USB-C. The processor in the Fire 8 gets a significant bump from the prior generation, replacing its 1.3GHz quad-core processor with a 2.0GHz. Amazon claims a 30-percent speed boost—but it's still probably not as fast as the larger, more expensive Fire HD 10, which offers an octa-core CPU. Screen resolution remains unchanged, at 1280×800—enough to watch a 720p movie at full resolution. Battery life also takes an uptick, with Amazon rating the new model at "up to 12 hours" of use, compared to the last generation's "up to 10." These ratings are pretty loose and are described as time spent "reading, browsing the web, watching video, and listening to music"—playing games will generally result in considerably less battery time, as will keeping the screen at full brightness. Amazon is also offering a new "Game Mode" feature in its Fire OS ecosystem, which allows the user to disable notifications from other apps while playing games—no word yet on whether this new Fire OS feature will be backported to older models or kept exclusive to the new models only. The new Fire HD 8 models also joins last year's Fire HD 10 in offering Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) support—a welcome change from the Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n) only networking of previous HD 8 models. There is no Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) support, but we don't think that's a deal-breaker. Very few people have Wi-Fi 6 routers or mesh kits so far—and in its current state, Wi-Fi 6 is unlikely to be an enormous upgrade for those few who do. The new model is launching at $90—which is $10 more than the off-sale price of last year's model. The hardware upgrades are worth the extra $10, in our opinion—particularly the shift from micro USB-B to USB-C charging. We wouldn't recommend going for last year's model unless you can find it at truly fire-sale prices—$50 or less—and don't mind getting a minor downgrade all the way around. The Fire HD 8 is available in White, Black, Twilight Blue, and Plum—and optional cases, which fit either the HD 8 or the upgraded HD 8 Plus, are available for another $30 in Twilight Blue, Charcoal Black, Sandstone White, and Plum. Upgraded model—Fire HD 8 Plus, $110 For $20 more than the base model, Fire HD 8 Plus offers an extra GB of RAM, wireless charging capability (wireless charger not included), and a 20-percent faster USB-C charger than the base model. It also includes a six-month pre-paid subscription to Kindle Unlimited, an otherwise $10/mo Amazon service offering all-you-can-read consumption of a large but limited set of books and magazines. The Fire HD 8 Plus comes in an exclusive Slate color not available on the base model, and the same $30 accessory cases for the base model fit the Plus as well. The Fire HD 8 Plus is $110 or can be purchased in a bundle with a made-for-Amazon wireless charging dock for $140. For the kids—Fire HD 8 Kids Edition, $140 As with previous generations, the Fire HD 8 Kids Edition isn't actually different hardware—it's the base Fire HD 8 plus a rugged, kid-friendly case, a two-year "if they break it, we'll fix it" guarantee, and a year's prepaid subscription to Free Time Unlimited, Amazon's rotating firehose of kid-friendly game and media content. The price premium for the Kids' Edition is steeper than it used to be—the ruggedized case, hardware guarantee, and subscription bumps up the price $50 this year, to a total of $140. The case is a significant upgrade from years gone by, with a new stand allowing hands-free viewing. Even with the increase in price, in our opinion the Kids' Edition is worth it for parents of small children. The FreeTime Unlimited ecosystem offers good parental controls and access to a seemingly never-ending safe and curated stream of content that small children enjoy, with brands and characters they recognize. Although Amazon describes FreeTime Unlimited as offering "all the content kids age 3-12 want," with profiles configurable to three separate age ranges, in our experience kids tend to "age out" of the FreeTime Unlimited system somewhere around six or seven. Until then, however, it's an excellent service that allows kids to "shop" safely for new apps and content, in a simple environment free of spammers and scammers. While you could buy a less-expensive Fire HD 8 base model and add a separate FreeTime Unlimited subscription, the first year's subscription already brings you to $126—or $150, for non-Prime customers—and you don't have either the case or the two-year "they break it, we'll replace it" guarantee. One cautionary note—Amazon says FreeTime Unlimited is currently only available to customers in the United States. Customers in the UK instead get access to Fire for Kids Unlimited—a similar service that we have not seen or tested and was not mentioned in today's press release. We're not certain what, if any, kids' content options are available outside the USA and UK. The new Kids Edition Fire HD 8 cases with adjustable stands are available in blue, pink, or purple. Listing image by Amazon Source: Amazon’s new Fire HD 8 tablets: Higher prices, higher specs, out today (Ars Technica) (To view the article's image gallery, please visit the above link)
  10. Congress calls on Bezos to come explain Amazon’s possible lies And if he doesn't come voluntarily, he'll be voluntold with a subpoena. Enlarge / Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos and his surprised face speaking in 2019. Eric Baradat | AFP | Getty Images 82 with 55 posters participating, including story author A bipartisan group of House representatives wants Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to show up and explain to their socially distanced faces why media reports say his company is doing something Amazon previously promised Congress it would never do. The House Antitrust subcommittee opened its investigation into "abusive conduct" in the tech sector—focusing on Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Apple, and Facebook—last June, almost a year ago. So far the committee has held several public hearings and has gone through untold reams of documentation it requested from all four firms about several of their business practices. Among the practices under examination is Amazon's treatment of third-party vendors on its massive marketplace platform and its use of data generated by those merchants to compete against them directly with first-party private label sales. Company representatives explicitly told Congress several times in the past year that Amazon does not access vendors' data in that way or for those purposes. Except it turns out that it totally does. Media reports, most recently a story published last week by The Wall Street Journal, have found many employees saying they used and were encouraged to use that data, despite company policy saying not to. Congress does not like feeling that it has been lied to, and the letter to Bezos (PDF) makes that displeasure clear. "If the reporting in the Wall Street Journal article is accurate, then statements Amazon made to the Committee about the company's business practices appear to be misleading, and possibly criminally false or perjurious," they write. "In light of our ongoing investigation, recent public reporting, and Amazon's prior testimony before the Committee, we expect you, as Chief Executive Officer of Amazon, to testify before the Committee," the letter continues. "It is vital to the committee, as part of its critical work investigating and understanding competition issues in the digital market, that Amazon respond to these and other critical questions concerning competition issues in digital markets." The invitation to come talk to Congress is also not really a request. "Although we expect that you will testify on a voluntary basis," the letter ends, the committee will "resort to compulsory process"—such as a subpoena—if necessary. "Amazon has had multiple chances to come clean about its business practices," Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), chairman of the antitrust subcommittee, said in a series of tweets. "Instead, its executives have repeatedly misled the Committee and the public. Enough." "In light of the gravity of this situation, I am also considering whether a perjury referral is warranted," he added. "Powerful companies are not above the law." In addition to Cicilline, the letter was signed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Antitrust Subcommittee Vice Chair Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), ranking member Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), and Reps. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.). Earlier this week, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) urged the Justice Department to launch a criminal antitrust probe into Amazon over its alleged use of third-party merchant data. The European Commission's competition bureau is also investigating the matter in depth. Source: Congress calls on Bezos to come explain Amazon’s possible lies (Ars Technica)
  11. Employees at nine Amazon warehouses have contracted the coronavirus Amazon has more than 750,000 workers worldwide. Enlarge Lawrence Glass / Getty 82 with 52 posters participating A week after the first Amazon warehouse worker tested positive for COVID-19 at a facility in Queens, New York, a total of nine Amazon warehouses have seen employees contract the virus, according to local news reports. Workers have tested positive for the virus at Amazon distribution facilities near Oklahoma City, Louisville, Houston, Jacksonville, and Detroit. There have also been coronavirus cases at Amazon facilities on Staten Island, New York; Wallingford, Connecticut, and most recently Moreno Valley, California, east of Los Angeles. “We are supporting the individuals, following guidelines from local officials, and are taking extreme measures to ensure the safety of all the employees at our sites,” an Amazon spokesman told Ars. Amazon has more than 750,000 employees, many of whom work at distribution facilities around the country. So recent cases represent a tiny fraction of Amazon's warehouse workforce. Amazon says that it is taking a number of precautions to minimize the spread of the virus. The company has stepped up efforts to clean and sanitize its distribution facilities. It has also limited face-to-face meetings and staggered start and break times to promote social distancing. But some workers say Amazon isn't doing enough to protect workers. A worker petition calls on Amazon to offer paid sick leave to all workers, offer workers time-and-a-half hazard pay, and suspend productivity quotas that could make it impractical for workers to take precautions against the spread of the coronavirus. Customers have become increasingly reliant on Amazon deliveries as they have limited travel outside their homes. Amazon has seen customer demand surge in recent weeks, forcing the company to delay deliveries of non-essential items so it can focus on delivering essential goods like baby products, health items, and pet food. The company announced last week that it is looking to hire 100,000 more workers to help deal with increasing order volumes. Source: Employees at nine Amazon warehouses have contracted the coronavirus (Ars Technica)
  12. Amazon is making dozens of kids’ shows, including Arthur, completely free Arthur, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Pete the Cat, and more As more people are asked to stay home due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Amazon is making a portion of Prime Video kids and family programming free, including popular shows like Arthur, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, and more. Starting today, 40 family and kids’ shows will be made available to stream on Prime Video for all customers, including those without Prime memberships. All people need is an Amazon account, which they can get for free by signing up on the main site. The offer includes both Amazon Original series like Just Add Magic, Pete the Cat, and If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, alongside licensed series like Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Odd Squad, and PBS’s beloved Arthur. In Europe, licensed programming also includes Peppa Pig and Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom. Amazon’s other free streaming service, IMDb TV, will also offer 80 free family movies through its ad-supported system. These movies include Scooby-Doo: The Movie, Shrek 2, and The Smurfs, among others. Amazon is the latest company to offer parts of its service for free to customers who are stuck sitting at home. Other streaming services, including horror-centric streamer Shudder and sports streaming platforms like NBA League Pass and NFL Game Pass have started offering free past games to fans looking to get their basketball or football fix at a time when live sports have hit pause. Sling TV and Hulu have started adding free live news options to subscribers looking to keep up with the latest information on the COVID-19 pandemic. Although Amazon didn’t say how long the free offering will last, it’s a good way to court new Prime Video subscribers. Streaming usage is up, as Netflix’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos told CNN on Sunday, as people stay home and look for sources of entertainment. Using the time to find new potential customers, and retaining them after life returns to some form of normalcy, is a move that many companies are going to try to do. Amazon offering free family entertainment — on a site where parents are likely ordering or thinking of ordering basic supplies, too — is one of those moves. Source: Amazon is making dozens of kids’ shows, including Arthur, completely free (The Verge)
  13. American Amazon warehouse worker gets COVID-19 The Queens warehouse is operating again after a deep cleaning, Amazon says. Enlarge Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images 98 with 50 posters participating An Amazon worker at a warehouse in Queens, New York, has been infected by the coronavirus, Amazon acknowledged in an email to Ars Technica. "We are supporting the individual who is now in quarantine," a spokesperson wrote. This appears to be the first Amazon warehouse worker to contract the virus in the United States. Multiple workers have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in Europe. Amazon says that after learning about the infected worker, the company sent employees home with pay and performed a deep cleaning of the facility. The warehouse has now been re-opened. "We’re following all guidelines from local officials about the operations of our buildings," the spokesperson wrote. "We have implemented proactive measures to protect employees including increased cleaning at all facilities, maintaining social distance, and adding distance between drivers and customers when making deliveries." The coronavirus pandemic has only increased the importance of Amazon to the American economy. As customers have grown fearful of catching the virus in brick-and-mortar stores, they've been placing more orders with Amazon. Amazon said this week that it plans to hire an extra 100,000 people to help cope with the surging demand. However, there's a risk that more Amazon warehouse workers could catch the coronavirus. Amazon says that it's taking a number of precautions to protect workers. The company says it is maintaining a three-foot separation between workers and has eliminated stand-up meetings during workers' shifts. The company has staggered break times and spread out the chairs in break rooms to minimize contact between employees. Workers also have unlimited unpaid sick time through the end of the month, and Amazon says it's requiring workers to stay home if they feel unwell. Correction: I misread Amazon's statement and wrote that employees had unlimited paid sick time in March. In fact they have unlimited unpaid time off. Source: American Amazon warehouse worker gets COVID-19 (Ars Technica)
  14. Just Walk Out — Amazon offers no-checkout technology to other retailers New licensed version uses a credit card for check-ins instead of an Amazon app. Enlarge / An Amazon Go store in Seattle in February 2020. Chona Kasinger/Bloomberg via Getty Images 58 with 36 posters participating Amazon has made a splash in recent years with Amazon Go, a series of convenience stores—and more recently a full-fledged grocery store—in Seattle, New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. Now the company is offering to license the technology to other retailers. A new website explains how Amazon's Just Walk Out technology works. "We built Just Walk Out technology leveraging the same types of technologies used in self-driving cars: computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning," Amazon's FAQ says. "We provide all the necessary technologies to enable checkout-free shopping in a retailer's store and offer retailers 24/7 support via phone and email." Amazon Go relies on an Amazon-branded app to help customers check into the store and then view their purchases after a shopping trip. In contrast, third-party Just Walk Out stores will be based on a credit card swipe. If customers want a receipt, they can enter an email address—which Amazon will remember for future visits. And while Just Walk Out technology has the potential to reduce the number of people needed to staff a store, Amazon says it won't eliminate retail workers. Just Walk Out stores still need people to answer customer questions, restock shelves, and check ID for customers who want to buy alcohol. As Amazon puts it, retail workers will be "shifted to focus on more valuable activities." Amazon says it can take "as little as a few weeks" to install Just Walk Out technology in a retail location. The company says it will "only collect the data needed to provide shoppers with an accurate receipt." The decision to license Just Walk Out to other retailers is consistent with Amazon's long-standing policy of licensing its core infrastructure widely. For example, Amazon was one of the first to realize, around 2006, that other companies might be interested in licensing Amazon's Web-hosting infrastructure. The result, Amazon Web Services, has become one of Amazon's most profitable product lines. Amazon may be making a similar play here. Even with Amazon's resources, it might be challenging for Amazon to open hundreds—to say nothing of thousands—of Amazon Go stores in the next few years. But if the concept catches on, it's easy to imagine thousands of independent retailers adopting Amazon's Just Walk Out technology—making it a foundation of the 21st-century retail economy in much the same way AWS has become a foundational technology for the modern Web. Source: Amazon offers no-checkout technology to other retailers (Ars Technica)
  15. Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM are under pressure to follow Google and drop gender labels like 'man' and 'woman' from their AI Google's API no longer uses gendered labels for photos Microsoft, IBM, and Amazon are under pressure to stop using gender labels such as "man" or "woman" for their facial recognition and AI services. Google announced its AI tool would stop adding gender classification tags in mid-February, instead tagging images of people with neutral terms such as "person." Joy Buolamwini, a researcher who found AI tools misclassified people's gender, told Business Insider: "There is a choice... I would encourage all companies to reexamine the identity labels they are using as demographic markers." Microsoft, Amazon, and IBM are under pressure to stop automatically applying gendered labels such as "man" or "woman" from images of people, after Google announced in February it would stop using such tags. All four companies offer powerful artificial intelligence tools that can classify objects and people in an image. The tools can variously describe famous landmarks, facial expressions, logos and gender, and have many applications including content moderation, scientific research, and identity verification. Google said it would drop gender labels from its Cloud Vision API image classification service last week, saying that it wasn't possible to infer someone's gender by appearance and that such labels could exacerbate bias. Now the AI researchers who helped bring about the change say Amazon's Rekognition, IBM's Watson, and Microsoft's Azure facial recognition should follow suit. Joy Buolamwini, a computer scientist at MIT and expert in AI bias, told Business Insider: "Google's move sends a message that design choices can be changed. With technology it is easy to think some things cannot be changed or are inevitable. This isn't necessarily true." Microsoft's AI continues to classify people in images by binary gender Source
  16. Amazon confirms Seattle employee is in quarantine with coronavirus The employee went home unwell last Tuesday Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge An Amazon employee in Seattle has tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus, as first reported by The New York Times. “We’re supporting the affected employee who is in quarantine,” the company tells The Verge in a statement. The employee is based out of the company’s “Brazil” (SEA53) building, according to an internal memo sent out to Amazon employees and obtained by The Verge. They went home feeling unwell on Tuesday, February 25th and haven’t returned to Amazon premises since. Amazon has notified employees who have been in close contact with the person. Earlier this week Amazon confirmed that two of its employees in Italy had contracted the virus and were in quarantine. The company had already requested that its nearly 800,000 employees halt non-essential travel within the US and elsewhere. Amazon has also had to deal with price gouging and misinformation on its marketplace in the wake of the virus outbreak. Nine people have died in Washington state from the novel coronavirus — and it’s the only place in the U.S. where deaths have occurred. There’s an ongoing outbreak of the virus in nearby Kirkland, Washington, where it spread among residents of a nursing facility. The virus may have been spreading undetected in Washington for six weeks, according to a genetic analysis. The spread wasn’t noticed until last week because the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hadn’t been testing people with no known exposure to the illness. Source: Amazon confirms Seattle employee is in quarantine with coronavirus (The Verge)
  17. The retailer also reportedly takes down thousands of listings from sellers it says were price-gouging. As the coronavirus continues to spread globally, Amazon is clamping down on merchants looking to take advantage of people's fears about the virus. The online retail giant removed more than 1 million listings for items claiming to cure or defend against the coronavirus, according to a report from Reuters on Thursday. The company also says it removed thousands of items from merchants for price-gouging. "There is no place for price gouging on Amazon," an Amazon spokeswoman said in a statement to Reuters. The company didn't immediately respond to CNET's request for comment. The coronavirus was first reported on Dec. 31 in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Since then, more than 83,000 people have been infected, with more than 2,800 deaths. Cases have been reported around the world, with notable outbreaks in countries including Japan, South Korea and Italy. Facebook is another company putting its foot down on false cures. The social media company said Tuesday it will remove ads touting cures for the virus. Source
  18. A fine mist — Amazon made a bigger camera-spying store—so we tried to steal its fruit It's like other Amazon Go stores, only bigger. But it's a meaningful difference. Enlarge / Amazon Go Grocery's first location in the Seattle neighborhood of Capitol Hill. Sam Machkovech SEATTLE—For how far and wide Amazon's digital footprint reaches, the company clearly wants to advance into real-world space as much as possible. And to that end, Amazon runs some of its most ambitious experiments in its headquarters' city before rolling them out nationwide. As our staff's sole Seattle resident, I pull the short straw of testing these by default. In 2015, I shopped at Amazon's first stab at a brick-and-mortar bookstore (you know, those old things Amazon has been accused of putting out of business in the first place) before that chain's eventual nationwide launch. In 2016, I delivered Amazon packages as a gig-economy driver, before this kind of contract employee became a commonplace part of the nationwide Amazon Prime Now network. And in 2018, I picked through the first "cashierless," camera-filled Amazon Go convenience store before the same concept landed in other major metropolitan centers. First image of article image gallery. Please visit the source link to see all 9+ images. This week, when I got word that the latter concept was expanding into something called Amazon Go Grocery, complete with a much larger selection of items to buy, I knew what I had to do. I had to steal from its newest product line, one that's much harder to carefully track with a mix of RGB and infrared sensors: produce. Could I pilfer some plums? Wrangle some watermelon? Bag a banana? Skynet above the stroopwafels Because Amazon Go Grocery revolves around the same creepy, watch-you-shop system found in smaller Amazon Go shops, I encourage anyone unfamiliar with the concept to rewind to my first look at Amazon Go from early 2018. Functionally, the newest store works identically. You can't enter the shop without entering your Amazon account credentials—complete with a valid payment method—into the Amazon Go app on either iOS or Android. Which, of course, means you can't enter the store without an Internet-connected smart device. Once the app has your Amazon information, it will generate a unique QR code. Tap this onto a gated kiosk's sensor, and after a pause, a gate will open. During this brief pause, the shop's cameras capture your likeness and begin tracking your every step and action. First image of article image gallery. Please visit the source link to see all 8 images. Amazon requires this level of scrutiny to enable its sales pitch of grab-and-go shopping. Once you're inside, pick up any product you want, all marked with clear price labels. Then stuff it into a bag of your choice and leave without any other required action. You can leave your phone and wallet in your pocket or bag; there's no further checkout process involved. If you change your mind about an item you grabbed, put it back on a shelf before you leave, and don't worry about being charged for it. Whatever you keep, you'll be charged for automatically, because Amazon Go and Amazon Go Grocery (AGG) logged your every move. Where AGG differs is its selection, which is simply bigger and more diverse. Instead of limiting its healthiest options to pre-made meals, AGG goes further to include a refrigerated wall of raw meat and seafood, a massive stock of fruits, and a wall of veggies. The latter receives the same automated water-spritzing process you'd expect from a standard grocer. (See? Amazon knows how lettuce works.) I haven't been to a smaller Amazon Go shop since the first one launched in 2018, so I can't speak to whether AGG's massive sensor array (pictured in the above gallery) has been implemented in the chain's smaller shops. But the tech has clearly moved forward since the original store's launch, as the sensor boxes that line the ceiling now have two visible sensors, instead of only one visible sensor in the chain's first-gen boxes. This is in addition to whatever additional RGB or infrared sensors Amazon may choose to hide in the ceiling's unwieldy grid of pipes and aluminum racks. I certainly don't expect the ceiling of a grocery store to be the most romantic view, but I'm surprised Amazon hasn't tried to hide or obscure its terrifying Skynet system by now. But my snapping of photos and glancing at the ceiling didn't turn up any apparent specialization in the cameras. The system that stares at boxes of cookies, a la carte donuts, bags of bread, frozen pizzas, raw chicken, lightly spritzed kale, and bags of oranges looks identical no matter where you stand and look up. Amazon has consistently remained mum on exactly how its system works, but our local sources have indicated that the entire sensing system is placed in the store's ceiling, as opposed to any pressure-sensitive pads that detect changes in weight or inventory when you pick something up. Russet vs. yam, round one The last time I tried to trick Amazon Go into coughing up freebies, I didn't have any luck. I know I confused the heck out of its default tracking system, because my second visit's receipt took a full hour to process, as opposed to my first visit's incredibly simple "grab two things, put them in bag, and leave" process. My second visit in 2018 included a jacket removal and a ton of silly item juggling. On Tuesday, I doubled down on shopping silliness, though mostly in the produce section—where AGG must contend with items whose color and shape can vary significantly within the same product line. Avocados come in "medium" and "large" sizes, and they're priced differently. Loose fruits and root veggies like oranges, potatoes, and watermelons differ more wildly within their own families, not to mention the battle eternally waged between the russet potato and the yam. And conventional bananas sit next to the organic ones; the latter are bundled with yellow tape like most grocery stores, lest you dare pull a banana switcheroo at a Piggly Wiggly! But it's still a possible point of camera-sensor confusion. Sometimes, I just grabbed and juggled a few produce items of different types before putting them back. Other times, my behavior got weirder. At one point, I grabbed a variety of fruits and veggies, bundled them in my arms, and pressed up against the railing to steady some of my bundle. Then I took various items with two hands, reached behind my back and beneath my backpack to exchange which was in which hand before putting them back in their respective spots. (I didn't put items back in the incorrect places for the sake of my experiment, because this shop does employ stockers, and I don't mess with retail workers. That's a golden rule of mine, experiments be damned.) Eventually, I arranged a set of conventional bananas in a bundle, almost resembling a taped-together organic set. After walking a lap around the shop, I returned to grab the conventional banana bundle with one hand and an organic bundle with another. Then I passed both sets behind my back... but got one loose banana stuck between my back and my backpack. I put the rest of the bananas back in their respective bins, then walked to something I hadn't seen at an Amazon Go store before: a bathroom. First image of article image gallery. Please visit the source link to see all 4 images. The store's massive bathroom hallway is lined with sensors and cameras, but the bathrooms themselves do not appear to have any form of camera or sensor inside them. (I didn't take photos inside the bathroom, because I'm not DrDisrespect. You'll have to trust me on that one.) The hallway also includes a little tray outside each bathroom door where customers are encouraged to put merchandise before using the facilities. I left the only other produce in my hand at that time, a single avocado, on that tray. Once I ducked into the bathroom, I immediately opened my backpack and put the banana in there. Stealth banana! I admired my "theft," then sighed. I probably didn't really foil the cameras with a single wacky juggle of banana bundles, I thought to myself. What am I doing here? This moment included a dramatic turn to the bathroom's mirror, which is when a lightbulb went off in my head. I had taken off my jacket and put it into the backpack before entering the shop. Could I confuse the cameras with a wardrobe change? It sure seems like it. As of press time, it's been two hours since my shopping trip concluded, and AGG is still processing my trip. I believe this is, in part, because I was able to walk into the restroom wearing a yellow, long-sleeve shirt and a backpack on my back, then walk out with a gray jacket and a blue T-shirt while holding my backpack to my chest. Additionally, I removed the pair of sunglasses that had been on top of my head. If I were an invested member of the AGG team, I might go back and do more A/B testing of what happens when I emerge from the bathroom with different degrees of outfit changes; was the impact as simple as the backpack's location? The jacket? The aviator shades? I'll likely never know. Solving a problem that doesn't exist Enlarge / Another view of Amazon Go Grocery's first location in the Seattle neighborhood of Capitol Hill. Sam Machkovech The time spent wondering how my purchase was being processed was amusing at first. Then I wondered about how much legwork was going into the store's study of my shopping experience—and the possibility that someone had to rewind recorded footage and painstakingly watch me wander from store section to store section, taking photos and juggling produce all along the way. Is this the future of retail management? It's one thing to concede that major retail chains employ security cameras in a battle against theft. But the AGG future appears to trade the general retail trust contract with the cost of making someone hide behind a screen to study and correct robots' attempts to do that basic, transactional job. It all feels like Amazon is trying to solve a problem that doesn't exist—and creating an entirely new problem in its place. That's in addition to the awkwardness of pulling out a phone and waiting for Amazon's app to load before walking into a store, as opposed to the organic pause-and-grab-wallet opportunity we get in the traditional retail experience (or even the rising tide of automated grocery checkout kiosks, which have their own issues). Maybe there's a future in which walking into and out of AGG is simpler. Something unobtrusive like Apple Pay or Google Pay, which works near-instantly with a fingerprint check or face unlock and a tap of a phone's NFC system, might work. Or maybe Amazon will go for the Full Orwell and require scanning your Amazon-verified face at some point. I don't know. What I do know is that Amazon has had two years to consider its plans for Amazon Go as a living product. This week's new, larger store is proof that the concept is not... ahem... Go-ing anywhere. Amazon wants its fingers in every possible sector of the data universe, and on the retail side, Amazon Go is a huge upgrade for them. The company isn't just examining our every click, purchase, and change of heart within its digital storefronts and apps. With an effective store-spanning sensor array, it can see exactly how people react to sights and sounds in a real-world space. The store's ability to confirm my produce hijinks could be the Trojan horse that will get Amazon Go technology into other retail chains and further break down the existing retail social contract. I'm not sure a sneaky banana heist—which, again, I still haven't confirmed was successful as of press time—is worth it. Update: Hours after this article went through the Ars Technica edit queue, and four hours after my shopping trip concluded, I received a notification from Amazon Go: My order had processed! The results were interesting: Enlarge / This is what Amazon Go Grocery says I purchased on its first day of operation. It's not quite right. The above merchandise is what I had picked out when I ducked into the restroom, as mentioned earlier. None of my ridiculous juggling of beefsteak tomatoes, avocados, potatoes, and bananas stymied AGG's sensor array. However, after leaving the restroom, I picked up two more non-produce items, totaling $6, with zero attempt to be sneaky about it. I even talked to an Amazon representative about what I'd picked up. Those two items are not listed here. What's more, in an earlier photo gallery, you may have noticed I left an avocado on the "outside of restroom" tray. I never picked that one back up, but I was charged for it. (That is in line with the app's warning that whatever you take without returning, you buy.) Surprisingly, then, my "costume change" fooled Amazon Go Grocery. Everything I picked up before ducking into the loo was charged correctly. After that, the app clearly lost track of me, which may align with the receipt's claim of a 2-hour, 23-minute shopping trip, well above the 20 minutes I was actually there. And Amazon needed another hour and a half to conclude that I had picked up those first items, ducked into a bathroom, and then was incapacitated by a jacket-wearing madman with an identical beard and haircut. I hope they catch that guy. He might be armed—with a banana! I had already gotten home to the other side of Seattle after learning I hadn't been charged for two items, so I'll attempt to return those items this week. I do have the option within Amazon's app to request a refund on the avocado, but I think I'll let that one slide. Source: Amazon made a bigger camera-spying store—so we tried to steal its fruit (Ars Technica) (To view the article's image galleries, please visit the above link)
  19. Amazon is expanding its cashierless Go model into a full-blown grocery store The first Amazon Go Grocery opens today in Seattle’s Capitol Hill district Photo by Nick Statt / The Verge Amazon is getting more serious about its brick-and-mortar retail ambitions with its first-ever Amazon-branded grocery store. The store opens today in Seattle’s Capitol Hill district, confirming reports from last year that Amazon was developing a more ambitious version of its cashier-less Go model. The new store, which The Verge toured late last week, is indeed modeled after a standard Amazon Go location, but it has been expanded to include a wide array of grocery items you’d find at, say, Amazon-owned Whole Foods. In fact, the store does source a number of its items, including some produce and meat and other fresh food, from Whole Foods suppliers. It also carries Whole Foods’ 365 brand for certain items. But Amazon’s store offers other products, like Kellogg’s breakfast cereal and Coke products, that you won’t find at Amazon’s higher-end, organic-focused subsidiary. Amazon says the store combines the product availability and low prices of a grocery chain like Publix or Walmart with the convenience and quick shopping times of its Go model, with a selection that includes both big mainstream brands and local, organic produce. It joins the nearly 20 Go stores currently open throughout the country in cities like New York and San Francisco. Amazon Go stores use overhead cameras and computer vision technology, paired with smartphone geofencing, to track both shoppers and items throughout the store. That way, the system can identify when a specific person has picked something off the shelf and placed it in their cart, and even when they decided to put something back. The end result is that customers don’t have to sit through check out. When you’re done at a Go store, you just walk out and your receipt is sent to you through Amazon’s companion app. The same is true of Amazon’s new grocery store, which features shopping carts, but no checkout lanes or counters. Amazon says its Go system has been trained to handle tricky situations that are unique to grocery stores, like customers handling unpackaged produce that looks similar and sits next to other fruits and vegetables or unboxed baked goods that might get stuffed into a single plastic bag. You can even buy alcohol by taking it off the shelf and walking out, although a human employee will have to check your ID before you enter the store if you intend to peruse the libations aisle. Photo by Nick Statt / The Verge Photo by Nick Statt / The Verge Photo by Nick Statt / The Verge Go stores have so far focused on prepared foods, snacks, and a light amount of grocery items including frozen food and condiments. Some have acquired licenses to sell alcohol, too. But no Go store to date has the size or scope of Amazon’s new Go Grocery, as it’s called. The location, at 610 E. Pike Street, is 10,400 square feet, while a standard Go store tends to fall between 1,200 and 2,300 square feet. This grocery effort is starting small, Amazon’s Dilip Kumar, the company’s vice president of physical retail and technology, tells The Verge. Kumar says Amazon has no immediate plans to open more grocery stores. But if it succeeds, an Amazon-branded grocery store using its Go model, which allows customers to get in and out much quicker, could become a fast-growing avenue for the e-commerce giant to continue expanding its offline footprint. And according to Kumar, Amazon Go Grocery is not intended to be competitive with Amazon’s Whole Foods chain, but complementary instead. “Customers shop in many different ways, in many different locations. Sometimes you want it to be delivered, some times you go to the store, some times you go to Whole Foods. Our job is to be able to figure out how to add value,” Kumar says. “Because the customer has different needs... and different things that they look for at different stores, what is it we can we do here in this type of format in this neighborhood to add value? That to me is the selection we carry, the pricing we have — plus the convenience of just being able to walk out.” While Amazon dominates many sectors of online retail, it has yet to make large inroads into the much larger offline retail market, a large segment of which is related to food and beverage consumption. People spend $800 billion a year on groceries in the United States, of which only about 2 percent happens online. Amazon’s domestic retail rival Walmart currently leads the grocery market in volume, and Walmart’s huge retail footprint throughout the country has always put it in a strong position to sell customers everything else they might need on a shopping outing. The same is true of Kroger’s, the largest dedicated grocery chain in the country. That’s because not only do a majority of people buy fresh food in person from grocery stores, they also use those same trips to buy household goods, alcohol, and a number of other products that a company like Amazon could more easily sell in-store than online. Although Amazon has services like Prime Pantry for selling bundles of household goods and a grocery delivery service called Amazon Fresh, it would be immensely difficult and costly to scale those services to reach every grocery shopper in the country. That’s why Amazon has been investing in brick-and-mortar retail in the first place. That complexity inherent to the grocery market is why Amazon chose to brand its new store as a Go one, instead of choosing to bring its cashier-less Go model to an existing Whole Foods location. Amazon wants the freedom to sell people products from major brands they might find at a city bodega, a neighborhood CVS, or a Kroger store, and not just the organic and high-end ones Whole Foods sells today. That sets up Amazon to service a wider variety of customers: Go stores for the office lunch crowd, Go Grocery for the everyday residential shopper, and Whole Foods for the organic-minded and more affluent. Photo by Nick Statt / The Verge “This is not a bigger Amazon Go store. It’s a separate format. We worked backwards from what constitutes a neighborhood grocery store,” Kumar says. “We have a section for pet food, household items, health and personal care, oral care, skin care.” Kumar says that to satisfy the needs of a grocery store, you have to “go beyond food” and include those items that people might normally buy during a standard grocery outing, from paper towels and dish soap to shampoo and deodorant. In addition to all that, the Go Grocery store has a bakery section, as well as a prepared meals and snack section similar to what you’d find in the smaller standard Go store. Amazon says it will also offer items from local Seattle businesses including pastries from Seattle Bagel Bakery, yogurt from Ellenos, and sausage from Uli’s. Whether Amazon Go Grocery takes off is an open question, but the steady rollout of Go stores so far seems to suggest that the cashierless model has been a worthwhile investment for the company. Kumar says key for Amazon right now is making sure it’s doing something customers actually want. “How big it gets and how fast it goes, customers get to decide that,” Kumar says. Source: Amazon is expanding its cashierless Go model into a full-blown grocery store (The Verge)
  20. Have you ever wondered how often your smart speaker accidentally activates itself? A study from Northeastern University tried to find out. No one likes it when a stranger butts into their conversation. Especially when they interrupt with some astonishing non-sequitur. You're watching TV and chatting about the painfully demanding couple on House Hunters International when a distant voice pipes up: "The circumference of the Earth is 24,901 miles." It's Apple's Siri, of course. Or Amazon's Alexa. Or whatever you call your Google Home person. I suspect you pass off these apparent accidents as merely one of those things. Yet, as a new study from Northeastern University reveals, they're one of those things that may happen with alarming regularity. The study estimates that activations of smart speakers when it wasn't you who uttered any wake word occur between 1.5 and 19 times a day. More entertainingly, the average time of activation is 43 seconds, which means that 43 seconds of your conversations might be recorded by the kindly souls at Smart Speaker HQ. The researchers came to these conclusions by analyzing many TV shows and seeing which -- for no obvious reason -- set Alexa and friends to random activation mode. They looked at five specific smart speakers: Google Home Mini first generation, Apple HomePod first generation, Harman Kardon Invoke by Microsoft, a couple of Amazon Echo Dot second generation speakers, and a couple of Amazon Echo Dot third generation speakers. The worst culprit? Siri, of course. She's not very good at understanding most things. Who can be surprised that random words on the TV set her off? And we really are talking random words. Siri confuses her own name with "Faith's funeral." Alexa mishears "congresswoman" for hers, which at least has some poetic truth buried within. Google's Home Mini assistant seems to think she was being summoned on hearing "I don't like the cold." As for Cortana, well, she thinks she's "Colorado." You might feel colorado with anger that these devices seem quite so inaccurate in their aural sensitivities. But what are you supposed to do about it? Hope any conversation that might inadvertently be recorded will be so banal that no one will use it against you? Well, this week Robert Frederick, a former manager at Amazon Web Services, told the BBC that if he wants privacy he knows how to get it. He simply turns his Alexa device off. Perhaps these smart speakers don't make your life so much easier after all. Source
  21. A Federal Court of Appeals judge today temporarily blocked the Pentagon’s $10 billion cloud computing contract that was awarded to Microsoft Corp. last year. The Joint Enterprise Defense Initiative or JEDI contract had been expected to be awarded to Amazon Web Services Inc. The Amazon.com Inc. cloud company last year sued the Department of Defense and asked for an injunction, charging that political interference resulted in the award to Microsoft despite AWS’ greater cloud capabilities. CNBC reported that a court notice announcing the injunction was filed today. It wasn’t made public, and it wasn’t clear why documents were sealed. The first substantive work order had been scheduled to start tomorrow. The judge also told Amazon and the Pentagon to get together by Feb. 27 to determine what parts of the opinion can be released publicly. Amazon has agreed to post $42 million to pay for any costs in case its injunction is determined to be wrongfully issue. AWS and the Pentagon haven’t yet commented on the decision by Judge Patricia E. Campbell Smith, but Frank Shaw, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of communications, issued this statement: “While we are disappointed with the additional delay we believe that we will ultimately be able to move forward with the work to make sure those who serve our country can access the new technology they urgently require. We have confidence in the Department of Defense, and we believe the facts will show they ran a detailed, thorough and fair process in determining the needs of the warfighter were best met by Microsoft.” AWS filed a request for a temporary restraining order on Jan. 19. “It is common practice to stay contract performance while a protest is pending,” the company explained in a statement. In this case, the protest is an ongoing lawsuit through which AWS is challenging the decision to award the deal to Microsoft. AWS contends the decision was tainted by “egregious errors” and political interference from President Donald Trump. Filings unsealed ahead of the ruling today revealed the counterarguments the Pentagon used to convince the court not to halt work on JEDI. Lt. Gen. Brad Schwedo, the Joint Staff’s chief information officer, wrote in a declaration that delaying the project would negatively affect national security. “The men and women of the U.S. military must have access to the right technology at the right time to fight and win wars,” Schwedo told the court in a filing. “Delaying implementation of a cloud solution will negatively affect DoD’s efforts to be victorious in contested environments and retain global influence over our near-peer competitors.” Underscoring the need for the project to be completed as soon as possible, Schwedo laid out some of the advantages the DOD expects to gain from JEDI. “The U.S. military operates globally and must have a means to effectively perform if our communications are threatened or disrupted,” he wrote. “An enterprise cloud capability, with tactical edge technology, can retain its last known data update and continue operating locally in degraded, denied, disrupted, intermittent, or low bandwidth environments.” Another declaration submitted by the DOD, attributed to a contracting official whose name was not disclosed, made a financial argument against suspending the JEDI work. The DOD “anticipates a financial harm of between $5 [million] and $7 million dollars every month that performance of the JEDI contract is delayed,” the official wrote. There were no immediate details on why the judge granted the temporary restraining order. However, some observers believe DOD’s argument of the need for swift implementation of JEDI was undercut somewhat by the program’s own delays on the project, which had originally been expected to be granted early last year. Those delays included one for three months last year when Defense Secretary Mark Esper took another look at the proceedings. In October, he removed himself from the review process, ostensibly because one of his sons worked for onetime bidder IBM Corp., and the DOD granted the contract to Microsoft shortly shortly after that. Indeed, Amazon went after the urgency argument even more strongly in filings this week, noting that JEDI has already been delayed by two other legal challenges and an internal probe. “DoD did not display the urgency it now chums after it closed that investigation,” AWS said in one of the filings. “Rather than awarding the contract to allow performance by July 2019, DoD initiated a ‘review’ of the JEDI procurement by Defense Secretay Mark Esper. Before Secretary Esper even commenced his review, he publicly confirmed there was no ‘hard timeline’ for its completion, and certainly did not indicate imminent urgency for national security.” The DOD’s arguments in the documents unsealed on Wednesday also went beyond AWS’ request for a temporary restraining order. Officials took aim at a separate motion in which the Amazon subsidiary has requested that Trump and other senior officials testify about the contract. “The relevant question in this protest is not whether the president dislikes Amazon, but rather whether the source selection officials — the government personnel who actually evaluated AWS’s and Microsoft’s proposals and decided which offeror would receive the JEDI contract — exhibited bias against AWS in this procurement,” the DOD wrote. Moreover, the documents revealed at least one detail about JEDI that apparently wasn’t known until now: specifics on how much the Pentagon plans to spend on the project in the next two years. In a section spotted by Federal News Network, the declaration from the unnamed contracting official who cited the financial harm of the project disclosed that the DOD plans to spend $45 million this year and $165 million in fiscal 2021. Source
  22. Amazon’s PR campaigns keep blowing up in the company’s face A new op-ed finds the company once again at its most tone-deaf A little over a year ago, when Amazon’s phony “search” for a site for a second “headquarters” was revealed to be a sham, I noted that for a rich tech giant the company seemed surprisingly tone-deaf. A billion-dollar giveaway to one of the world’s biggest corporations caused an outcry with the electorate and their representatives. As a result, the deal that Amazon negotiated for itself in New York City blew up, forcing the company to pay for office space with its own money rather than taxpayers’. In the aftermath of that debacle, I wondered if the company might be chastened, or even apologetic. Instead, though, it has plowed ahead with the confidence of the god Maui in Moana — and the response to any criticism has been a smug “You’re Welcome.” The basic idea, borrowed from Steve Jobs-era Apple, is to cow any critics by referring loudly and constantly to the company’s successes. The latest example of Amazons’s policymaking through self-congratulation comes from Jay Carney, the company’s public relations chief. In an op-ed in the New York Times, Carney reminisces about the time Sen. Bernie Sanders called him to praise Amazon raising its minimum wage to $15. (That’s an annual salary of $31,200; meanwhile, CEO Jeff Bezos made $4.1 billion selling Amazon stock in the past 11 days alone.) The point of this reminiscence is to take credit for doing more than the absolute least that Amazon could do, while attempting to shift the pressure for improving worker conditions back onto members of Congress like Sanders: We know $15 is not a lot. In fact, we believe $15 should be the minimum anyone in the United States is paid for an hour of labor, and in most areas of the country our starting wage is even higher. But while the debate about Amazon’s impact at times focuses on how our hourly jobs compare to jobs of the past, or to an idealized vision of the future, the truth is that more than 40 million Americans earn less than the lowest-paid Amazon associate. For many people, a job at one of our fulfillment centers is by far the best option available in their region. And we are proud of that — even as we agree that our political and business leaders must work together to create more and better options for all America’s workers. One place to start: Raise the federal minimum wage to $15 from its current rate of $7.25 — something only members of Congress like Senator Sanders can do. If Congress were to follow our lead, all it would take to greatly improve the lives of America’s lowest-paid workers is the president’s signature. It’s certainly a good thing that Amazon pays more than the federal minimum wage. And it’s also a good thing that Amazon creates lots of jobs, even if it’s able to create so many jobs in part because it excels at crushing competition. (Diapers.com might have hired a lot of people, and continued to exist, had Amazon not dropped prices by 30 percent in an effort to drive it out of business.) But there are at least two big issues that Carney glosses over while patting his company on the back. The first is that many of the jobs that Amazon creates come with brutal working conditions. Whether it’s the back-breaking work in fulfillment centers, where workers are seriously injured at four times the industry average, or white-collar work at headquarters, where a 2015 investigation found that employees were constantly found crying at their desks, Amazon has a lot to answer for. (Carney responded to the latter case with a legendarily peevish Medium post in which he denigrated several former employees by name, attacked the integrity of the reporters who wrote it, and said almost nothing in defense of what he called the company’s “demanding culture.”) The second big issue glossed over in Carney’s op-ed is that all those jobs the company is creating can come with terrible externalities. For example, BuzzFeed last year connected Amazons’ relentless push for faster deliveries to hundreds of delivery vehicle accidents, resulting in at least six fatalities. When BuzzFeed’s reporters pointed this out on Twitter, Carney was characteristically dismissive: Not wanting people to get run over Amazon delivery vehicles does not, in my opinion, make you a “political advocate.” Nor does writing about the phenomenon strike me as being outside the bounds of good journalism. In truth there’s very little daylight between this kind of lazy, pouty everyone’s-out-to-get-us media criticism and the president’s daily torrent of fake news / witch hunt verbal diarrhea. Some of which is aimed at ... Jeff Bezos, in his capacity as owner of the Washington Post. In both his private actions and his public comments, Bezos has been a strong supporter of a free and independent press. Which makes it all the stranger that his chief attack dog for nearly five years has been so dismissive of one. Even more so because the primary effect of that attitude has been to build enormous and consequential blind spots. Perhaps Amazon will learn that lesson eventually. In the meantime it’s striking that Bezos has been so much more effective at managing the story around his colorful personal life — a story that has recently involved divorce, blackmail, and a WhatsApp-based attack by the the crown prince of Saudi Arabia — than he has been at managing the story about Amazon’s day-to-day business practices. Then again, it’s always easier to play the victim when you actually are one. Source: Amazon’s PR campaigns keep blowing up in the company’s face (The Verge)
  23. Amazon reports big earnings, crosses $1 trillion in value Investors went gaga over the report, raising Amazon's stock market value by 11%. Enlarge / Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive officer of Amazon.com Inc. Getty | Bloomberg Amazon delivered its final quarterly earnings report for the 2019 fiscal year today, and investor response to a largely positive report describing big holiday sales and AWS performance drove the company's market cap above $1 trillion. Amazon told investors that it achieved $87.4 billion in revenue during the fourth quarter of its fiscal-year 2019. This quarter included the holiday shopping frenzy, and Amazon impressed investors with a 21 percent increase in sales compared to the same quarter last year. Amazon executives said that the company quadrupled same-day and one-day shipping over last year's figures, and it credited part of the holiday success to the company's ability to offer expedient shipping. Achieving those speedy deliveries brought Amazon's shipping expenditures in the quarter up to $12.9 billion, more than 40 percent more than last year. CEO Jeff Bezos also said that Amazon now has more than 150 million Amazon Prime members globally. Additionally, the big quarter came thanks to continued growth of Amazon Web Services (AWS), which saw a 34 percent year-over-year increase in sales for a total of $9.95 billion in revenue during the quarter. That said, some investors on the earnings call raised concerns that Amazon's AWS growth is slowing—Q4 2018 saw a 45 percent YOY increase, a bigger step forward than this Q4 2019—as Microsoft's Azure gradually gains ground on AWS in the market. Amazon recently lost its bid for a major government contract (Project JEDI) worth around $10 billion to Microsoft, heating up the race between the two platforms. Google Cloud Platform is also a major competitor. Despite slowing AWS growth, the huge holiday sales season and still-strong numbers for cloud wowed investors and analysts who expected slightly more modest growth than ended up being reported this quarter. Net income grew 8 percent to $3.27 billion. Amazon shares jumped up by as much as 11 percent after the earnings report was shared with investors, pushing the company's market cap above that $1 trillion threshold. Other $1 trillion-or-greater tech companies include Apple, Microsoft, and Alphabet, placing Amazon in an exclusive upper echelon. But that's not news to anybody at this point. Like Apple earlier this week, Amazon gave an unusually large guidance range for the next quarter (between $69 billion and $73 billion), mainly due to uncertainty about the impact of China's coronavirus health crisis on various aspects of Amazon's business and operations. Source: Amazon reports big earnings, crosses $1 trillion in value (Ars Technica)
  24. How Amazon escapes liability for the riskiest products on its site Who’s at fault when something you buy on Amazon goes bad? WendyWendy Weintraub was always careful not to leave appliances plugged in, just in case. But around two years ago, she was getting ready for work by blow-drying her hair when she noticed smoke and the smell of burning. Soon, she saw something shoot out from the end of the hair dryer and onto the floor. It was a small metallic bit, she recalled, like a link in a necklace chain. Flying out of the dryer, it looked “like a shooting star.” Weintraub says she purchased the hair dryer on Amazon in 2016, a high-end model that cost more than $200. She had never had any problems before that day. She put the dryer down, but it was too late. Smoke was pouring out of her bedroom closet, and she was starting to panic. She dragged out her fire extinguisher and did her best to fight back the flames, but the smoke was everywhere and it was getting harder to breathe. “That burns your throat and you feel it,” she says. “It’s terrible. It just burns.” For a moment, she thought she’d successfully fought back the flames, but it quickly became clear that the fire would spread. The firefighters helped her out of her home as they fought the blaze, and she had to watch from outside, as the flames could be seen climbing out the windows of her home. “The whole house started,” Weintraub says. “The fire was just spreading.” She managed to get her cats out with the firefighters’ help, for which she’s forever grateful. “Things are things and they can be replaced,” she says, “but life is life and cannot be replaced.” The situation still feels surreal. “It’s hard to grasp when it happened, that it actually happened,” she says. Weintraub still has lingering fears after the fire. For a time, she wouldn’t use a hair dryer unless someone else was home with her. When someone talks idiomatically about a “house on fire,” she gets upset. She returned to her fire-damaged home every day to take care of the stray cats that she had been feeding. In some ways, what happened next was the best-case scenario for Weintraub. While she had to leave her house, the insurance company paid for the reconstruction costs and for a rental house while contractors handled the repairs. She’s since been able to move back in. The insurance company, however, has sued both the hair dryer manufacturer and Amazon to recover the money, asking a court to order reimbursement of more than $850,000. The suit has been tied up in court and may raise the question of what, exactly, Amazon is. For years, the online retail company has argued that many of its customers are simply passing through to use its platform — that the buyer and seller of the product are connecting, and Amazon is merely a passing intermediary. The argument has given Amazon a crucial legal defense, allowing it to completely sidestep the liability that conventional retailers face. For the most part, courts have been satisfied by the claim, and Amazon has been able to expand its third-party seller business into hundreds of billions of dollars in sales. Recently, though, that wall has shown signs of fracturing. Some courts and scholars have questioned exactly how far those protections should go, and whether Amazon is truly as hands-off a player as it would like to seem. “They’re taking affirmative steps to lure the consumer into buying their products or their manufacturer’s products,” says Dennis Crawford, the attorney who is representing Weintraub’s insurance company in its case against Amazon. The question is: who’s really at fault? WhenWhen you buy a product on Amazon, there’s little guarantee that what you’re getting has been expertly vetted for safety. The Wall Street Journal reported this year that more than 4,000 banned, unsafe, and mislabeled products were on the company’s platform, ranging from faulty motorcycle helmets to magnetic toys labeled as choking hazards. Those faulty products have resulted in serious, sometimes fatal, injuries, setting loose a tidal wave of liability claims. According to court records viewed by The Verge, Amazon has faced more than 60 federal lawsuits over product liability in the past decade. The suits are a grim catalog of disaster: some allege that hoverboards purchased through the company burned down properties. A vape pen purchased through the company exploded in a pocket, according to another suit, leaving a 17-year-old with severe burns. The list goes on: an allegedly faulty ladder bought on Amazon is blamed for a death. Two days after Christmas in 2014, a fire started at a Wyoming home, blamed on holiday lights purchased through the company. Firefighters found a man inside, facedown and unconscious, according to court filings. He died that night. The results of the suits have been mixed: Amazon has settled some cases, and successfully defended itself in others, depending on the circumstances. (The company declined to comment for this article.) Throughout the cases, Amazon has taken advantage of its unusual legal status as half-platform, half-store. If Home Depot sells a defective bandsaw, the store can be sued alongside the company that made the product. That liability means conventional retailers have to be careful about the products they stock, making sure every item on store shelves has passed at least the most basic product safety requirements. States have passed different versions of product liability laws, but they all put the burden of fault on more than just the original manufacturer. But Amazon is more complex: it acts as a direct seller of products, while also providing a platform, called Marketplace, for third parties to sell their products. Tightly integrated into Amazon’s own sales, Marketplace products are often cheaper for consumers, less controlled, and sometimes less reliable than other products — and because Amazon is usually seen as a platform for those sales rather than a seller, the company has far less liability for anything that goes wrong. But because the Marketplace is so intertwined with Amazon’s main “retail” store, it’s easy for customers to miss the difference. “How many people even really remember after they might briefly see it, when they’re buying a third party product that’s shipped and stocked by Amazon, what the name of that company is?” says John Bergmayer, legal director at the advocacy group Public Knowledge. Amazon launched Marketplace in 2000, and it didn’t take long for the company to see it was a massive financial winner. Fourth months after its debut, the company announced that monthly gross merchandise sales on the platform had more than tripled. Jeff Bezos announced in 2018 that Marketplace sales made up the majority of transactions on Amazon that year, roughly double Amazon’s first-party retail sales. It’s a $175 billion business for the company, offering the same kind of user-driven scale that fuels social media companies like Facebook. The model has been so successful that the company reportedly shifted more resources toward third-party sellers last year, courting frustration from wholesalers. As Amazon tells it, Marketplace is more like Craigslist than Home Depot. The company is providing technology to connect two people — a buyer and a seller — but anything that goes wrong is their responsibility. The logic, for most courts, has been compelling. “Certainly the status quo is they’re not liable,” says Mark Geistfeld, a professor of civil litigation at New York University. But a recent decision from a federal circuit court has thrown the status quo into doubt. In 2014, a woman named Heather Oberdorf lost vision in one eye after a dog leash she’d ordered from an Amazon Marketplace seller broke as she took her dog for a walk. Oberdorf sued Amazon, arguing that it was negligent for having the product on its platform. Oberdorf lost the case in a Pennsylvania district court, but the decision was reversed on appeal. That court decided Amazon was so involved in the purchasing process that the company meets the definition of a “seller” of products under state law, and so could be held liable for defective third-party products on its platform. (Amazon has also claimed protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects online platforms from user actions, but has had less success with the defense.) If Amazon is held liable for every mishap caused by products on its third-party Marketplace, the result could be a serious hit to Amazon’s bottom line. Already, the company has said it may spend billions of dollars to stop the spread of dangerous goods. Amazon is currently seeking a review of the Oberdorf decision, and the decision has meanwhile been vacated, as cases in multiple states have been put on hold while the situation shakes out. For scholars like Geistfeld, this change in perspective has been a long time coming. The appeals court decision against Amazon was “the better reasoned opinion, and even that could have been stronger,” Geistfeld says. “If you look at the body of law defining what a seller is, and look at Amazon in comparison,” he says, “[it’s] hard to see why the corner deli is deemed to be a seller for all the stuff in the store there, and the amount of control they have for safety and the like is much less than what Amazon has.” Geistfeld isn’t the only legal scholar taking that line of thinking. In an academic paper set to be published next year in the Brooklyn Journal of Corporate, Financial & Commercial Law, two professors argue that Amazon acts as a “heavy hand” in its Marketplace, closely influencing purchases on its platform. “In our view,” the professors write, “the courts do not grasp the magnitude of the problem or the reality of the situation.” The company’s “contention that it is a neutral platform that simply facilitates sales between sellers and buyers is a myth,” they conclude. The two argue that Amazon influences winners and losers through the placement it gives products on its platform, including the coveted “buy box,” where sellers compete to appear. In some cases, the company works with merchants to offer fulfillment services. Through services Amazon Prime, the company directly places its brand ahead of the product. Taken together, the professors say, this makes Amazon much more than a background player just facilitating a transaction. Aaron Twerski, a professor at Brooklyn Law School and one of the authors of the paper, says “Amazon’s got its fingers all over the sale from the beginning to the end.” The average consumer buying through Amazon has no idea of the logistics that go into shipping a product. For most people, buying through Amazon means buying from Amazon. “You’d have to be a genius to figure out what’s going on,” Twerski says. But while Twerski and others push to change the legal precedent, defective third-party products are still doing damage — and Amazon is still getting off the hook. In November 2015, a Tennessee family bought a hoverboard through Amazon as a Christmas gift. But in January, according to a suit the family later filed, the hoverboard caught fire, which rapidly spread through the house. Two of the children were trapped upstairs and, with the stairs down blocked by the growing blaze, forced to jump from the second story of the home. Steve Anderson, a Tennessee attorney who’s worked on the Fox family’s case, says the pair fortunately had “no serious lifelong injuries — physically, certainly.” The family sued Amazon and the third-party company that sold the hoverboard, but Amazon argued again that it’s not a “seller” under the meaning of the law. After losing a court decision, the family appealed the ruling, and had some limited success — the appeals court sent one part of the decision back for further deliberations. But despite how closely Amazon was involved in the process, the company still hadn’t met the definition of a seller under Tennessee law, the court found. The court “certainly goes on at some length about the possibility that Amazon could be a seller under certain circumstances, but that the circumstances did not rise to that level in our case,” Anderson says. Those clauses suggest Amazon’s liability shield might be starting to crack — but that kind of caveat still won’t do much good for the family. “It’s a big issue because they are in control,” Anderson says. “When this thing went poorly, when the hoverboard started to have a problem, who decided to take them off the market? Amazon.” Source: How Amazon escapes liability for the riskiest products on its site (The Verge)
  25. SEATTLE - More than 330 Amazon employees violated the e-commerce giant's communications policy Sunday in an unprecedented public display of support for colleagues who were warned that they could be fired for speaking out to criticize the company's climate practices. Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, a group of workers concerned about the company's business with the oil and gas industry as well as its carbon footprint, published quotes from the workers in a post on Medium. The comments, all of which are attributed to Amazon workers by name, are a mass defiance of company rules that bar workers from commenting publicly on its business without corporate justification and approval from executives. "Amazon's role in the climate crisis is staggering and alarming," wrote Scott Ogle, a queue management analyst, according to comments viewed in advance by The Washington Post. "While the company has publicly announced measures to reduce emissions and impacts in the coming years, it does not add up with its ongoing support to oil and gas industries and its efforts to silence employees who speak out. I stand with fellow employees who prioritize sustainability over profits." Another employee denounced Amazon's efforts to stifle criticism. "Solidarity to the workers facing retaliation for standing up!" wrote Charlie LaBarge, a software engineer. The group on Monday plans to post a video of employees speaking about the danger of climate change and saying they won't be silenced. Amazon encourages workers to advocate for causes they believe in but wants them to pursue those convictions when related to the company's business internally, spokesman Drew Herdener said in a statement. Workers can submit questions to executives during all-hands meetings, and they can join internal interest groups, such as ones that focus on sustainability. Employees can also attend lunch sessions with Amazon leaders to discuss the issues, as long as they are willing to keep matters raised in those sessions confidential. "While all employees are welcome to engage constructively with any of the many teams inside Amazon that work on sustainability and other topics, we do enforce our external communications policy and will not allow employees to publicly disparage or misrepresent the company or the hard work of their colleagues who are developing solutions to these hard problems," Herdener said. To illustrate Amazon's focus on sustainability, Herdener pointed to an initiative Bezos announced in September agreeing to measure and report Amazon's emissions on a regular basis and meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement 10 years early. Critics said at the time that the commitments lack accountability and transparency. "Of course we are passionate about these issues," Herdener said. The employee group claims credit for pushing Amazon to take those steps, but it wants the company to go further. The group has called on Amazon to commit to being carbon neutral by 2030, to end cloud-computing contracts that help energy companies accelerate oil and gas extraction and to stop funding politicians and lobbyists who deny the existence of climate change. Amazon workers are part of a growing activist movement among tech workers. Along with thousands of Amazon employees, Google workers walked off the job Sept. 20 to protest corporate climate policies. A year before, thousands of Google employees stepped away from their desks to protest the company's handling of sexual harassment claims. Workers at both of those companies, as well as at Microsoft, have criticized the development of facial-recognition technology from their companies, fearing misuse by law enforcement and other government agencies. Amazon's employees are betting the company won't crack down on them; Google's workers say they were fired in retaliation for their public criticism of the company and their attempts to organize. Google said the recent firings were a result of policy violations regarding the accessing and sharing of internal documents and calendars. The company has denied that the firings were retaliatory. The activism of Amazon's workers is different, said Margaret O'Mara, a history professor at the University of Washington and the author of "The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America," a chronicle of the tech industry. Collective action is rare among white-collar workers, and even rarer among the coders, testers and engineers who work for tech giants. "This is not something we've seen before," O'Mara said. The challenge for Amazon is that it is selective in its hiring, investing large sums to entice employees to join the company and train them to develop its sophisticated products and services. Though the workers speaking out account for a small fraction of Amazon's total workforce of 750,000, including warehouse workers, they would be costly to replace. "These high-skilled workers are among these tech companies' most valuable assets," O'Mara said. Sunday's protest follows a threat to fire two workers who spoke out about the company's environmental policies in October. Maren Costa, a principal user-experience designer at the company, and Jamie Kowalski, a software development engineer, told The Post in a joint statement that the company is contributing to climate change as its cloud-computing business aids exploration by oil and gas companies. The pair raised concerns related to a new set of statements from the company outlining its positions on a variety of issues, including an acknowledgment that it would continue to work with the energy industry. Within a few weeks, both employees were called into meetings with the company's human resources staff, and both received letters in November from a lawyer in the department discouraging violations of Amazon's communications policies. The letter to Costa warned that future infractions could "result in formal corrective action, up to and including termination of your employment with Amazon." Rather than back down, the activist employees dialed up the pressure on their employer. The employee group that solicited the comments aims to fight Amazon's communications policy in numbers so large retaliating against everyone would make it challenging to conduct business. "The idea is to intentionally break the communications policy so prolifically that it is unenforceable," the group wrote in an email to colleagues soliciting policy-breaking quotes. "Hundreds of us are now putting our job on the line - because we all believe that speaking up about the climate crisis is necessary and the right thing to do at this time," Sarah Tracy, a software development engineer, said in an email to The Post. "A policy that prevents employees from speaking out in this way at this time just won't work for us." Employee criticism went beyond condemnation of the company's climate policies. Workers also called out Amazon's cloud-computing business for its work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which some have criticized for separating parents from their children at border facilities, and condemned Amazon's treatment of its warehouse staff, some of whom have complained about unsafe working conditions. "No more collaborating with ICE or with oil and gas. No more abusing warehouse employees with inhumane quotas," Hilda Marshall, a data linguist at the company wrote. "Amazon is in a position to turn the tide, and the time is now." One worker suggested Amazon nix its Ring doorbell-camera business, arguing that the privacy concerns are "not compatible with a free society." Ring acknowledged earlier this month that it fired workers in recent years for improperly accessing users' video data. Last year, a hacker accessed a Ring camera in an 8-year-old girl's room and used it to harass her, something the company attributed to the theft of credentials that provided access. "The privacy issues are not fixable with regulation and there is no balance that can be struck," wrote software development engineer Max Eliaser. "Ring should be shut down immediately and not brought back." Moreover, members of climate group say speaking up about important issues, even if it means disagreeing with senior leaders, is an ingrained part of Amazon's corporate culture. At the core of Amazon's culture are 14 leadership principles, intended to guide decision-making at the company, including "Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit," in which workers are encouraged to argue their convictions, "even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting." "I thought Amazon was a place where those who see something that's wrong and bring it up are celebrated for being leaders, not threatened with firing," said Victoria Liang, a software development engineer and a member of the climate group. Source
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