The Bulldozer: Driver Accused of Reckless Driving

October 28, 2020

I don’t know if the story in the Sydney Morning Herald is true. You, as I did, will have to work through the “real” news report about Amazon’s commitment to its small sellers. With rumors of Jeff Bezos checking out the parking lots at CNN facilities, it is difficult to know where the big machine’s driver will steer the online bookstore next. Just navigate to “Ruined My Life: After Going All In on Amazon, a Merchant Says He Lost Everything.” The hook for the story is that a small online seller learned that Amazon asserted his product inventory was comprised of knock offs, what someone told me was a “fabulous fake.” Amazon wants to sell “real” products made by “real” companies with rights to the “real” product. A Rolex on Amazon, therefore, is “real,” unlike the fine devices available at the Paris street market Les Puces de Saint-Ouen.

What happened?

The Bezos bulldozer allegedly ground the inventory of the small merchant into recyclable materials. The write up explains in objective, actual factual “real” news rhetoric:

Stories like his [the small merchant with zero products and income] have swirled for years in online merchant forums and conferences. Amazon can suspend sellers at any time for any reason, cutting off their livelihoods and freezing their money for weeks or months. The merchants must navigate a largely automated, guilty-until-proven-innocent process in which Amazon serves as judge and jury. Their emails and calls can go unanswered, or Amazon’s replies are incomprehensible, making sellers suspect they’re at the mercy of algorithms with little human oversight.

Yikes, algorithms. What did those savvy math wonks do to alleged knock offs? What about the kidney transplant algorithms? Wait, that’s a different algorithm.

The small merchant was caught in the bulldozer’s blade. The write up explains:

Hoping to have his [the small merchant again] account reinstated and continue selling on the site, Govani [the small merchant] put off the decision. He received a total of 11 emails from Amazon each giving him different dates at which time his inventory would be destroyed if he hadn’t removed it. He sought clarity from Amazon about the conflicting dates. When he tried to submit an inventory removal order through Amazon’s web portal, it wouldn’t let him.

What’s happening now?

The small merchant is couch surfing and trying to figure out what’s next. One hopes that the Bezos bulldozer will not back over the small merchant. Taking Amazon to court is an option. There is the possibility of binding arbitration.

But it may be difficult to predict what the driver of the Bezos bulldozer will do. What’s a small merchant when the mission is larger. In the absence of meaningful regulation and a functioning compass on the big machine, maybe that renovation of CNN is more interesting than third party sellers? The Bezos bulldozer is a giant device with many moving parts. Can those driving it know what’s going on beneath the crawler treads? Is it break time yet?

Stephen E Arnold, October 28, 2020


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