With Amazon Reviews, Look Beyond the Stars

January 14, 2021

We have covered Amazon’s persistent problem with fake reviews for products on its platform. Ars Technica discusses a slightly different issue in, “Amazon Still Hasn’t Fixed Its Problem with Bait-and-Switch Reviews.” Writer Timothy B. Lee describes his effort to find a good drone for his kids. A certain selection enjoyed thousands of five-star reviews—great! Many shoppers would stop there, hit “add to cart,” and be on their way. However, Lee actually checked out the text of the best reviews and discovered they were singing the praises of a certain brand of honey. Honey! How one would confuse the rich, golden sweetener with a flying head-bonker is beyond us. Lee writes:

“When I sorted the reviews by date, I saw that the most recent reviewers actually had bought a drone and they were overwhelmingly not giving it five stars. ‘Bought this for my Grandson,’ a customer wrote on December 26. ‘He played with it for 2 hours before it broke and is no longer working.’ He gave the drone one star. But the older reviews were for honey. Apparently, the manufacturer had tricked Amazon into displaying thousands of reviews for an unrelated product below its drone, helping the drone to unfairly rise to the top of Amazon’s search results. The story was similar for the second and third results in my drone search. Both had thousands of reviews with five-star averages. In both cases, many of the five-star reviews were obviously for other products—including a bottle of vodka, a bracelet, and a box of Christmas cards. In both cases, the most recent reviews were almost all negative reviews from customers who had actually bought the drones. One reviewer claimed that a drone had scratched their son’s face.”

Ay, Caramba! This sellers’ scam has been going on for some time now; we’re reminded Buzzfeed covered it over two years ago. We doubt Amazon will ever raise a finger to fix the problem—that would cost money, which they would prefer to avoid. As much as the company blusters about putting the customer first, it is really the bottom line at the top of its agenda.

Cynthia Murrell, January 14, 2021

What Has Amazon Caught? The Google Syndrome?

January 4, 2021

No, Google has not launched a virus infecting Amazon Web Services (although AWS has people capable of designing such a virus). Instead Google has infected AWS with its “shiny object syndrome” says Last Week In AWS in the article: “The Google Disease Afflicting AWS.”

Last Week In AWS refers to Google’s mind state as the “launch new service” mentality, where Google perpetually launches new projects, works on them for the headlines, then abandons them. Apparently it is the only way to advance in Google’s hierarchy. AWS, on the other hand, is starting a “launch new service” mentality when those new services should be features on preexisting projects.

AWS should be helping their customers, instead they are creating new and competing services. This mentality has harmed Google and will not do any favors for AWS. The majority of people agree:

“For a company that believes its team should Be Right a Lot, this is pretty clearly the wrong path—according to customers, analysts, random passersby, and employees with a penchant for honesty. It’s not good for anyone, and I firmly believe that you don’t Earn Trust from your customers by making even the most diligent cloud-watchers feel that the cloud is accelerating away from their ability to understand and contextualize what you’ve built.”

The article wonders why no one has pointed this out to AWS top brass. We do not know if anyone actually has, but common sense states that an employee must have reported the top heavy and poor customer service model. This common sense employee was probably reprimanded or fired for speaking the truth. Remember the child who said the emperor was naked?

Whitney Grace, January 4, 2021

Amazon Top Dog Video: A Minor Omission

January 1, 2021

If you are an Amazon watcher, you will enjoy the production values and some of the examples in the video “How Amazon Became the Top Dog in Artificial Intelligence: Tech Video.” On the plus side, the producer has pumped some bucks into visuals intended to represent the way Amazon’s technology functions. Keep in mind that the program is a video, and not a white board in an Amazon tech center. There is one downside or what I call a “minor omission” in the program. The oversight is probably irrelevant because Amazon itself goes out of its way to choke off the flows of information about one of its more interesting businesses: Policeware. Amazon is the plumbing for some of the most widely used policeware vendors who specialize in aggregating and analyzing information to solve crimes. Plus Amazon has a pride of lion hearted entrepreneurs who are developing next generation policeware for their government customers. Also, Amazon has some “interesting” partners who match up products, services, features, and functions for government projects. Are you watching Dubai’s use of AWS? Ah, well, there’s 2021 to dive into that topic. The policeware angle is not to be found in the video. Oversight? Amazon’s influence? Cutting room floor?

Stephen E Arnold, January 1, 2021

Thumb Typers Know Exactly What to Do: Okay, Not So Much

December 29, 2020

I read “More Info is Available about Which College Majors Pay Off, But Students Aren’t Using It.” This is a surprise? Nope, but it is “real” news. I noted this statement:

“What we find is that they’re not changing their majors,” Troutman [an expert in this subject] said. “They’re following their passions.”

Passions like van life, a digital emulation of riding a camel in the desert waiting for their Lawrence of Arabia to deliver a payoff?

The Bezos publication points out:

But even as this information becomes more readily available, there’s consensus that students generally aren’t consulting it when deciding where to go and what to study.

But what about students who don’t pick a major which “pays off”?

The write up states:

That students don’t know their likely future incomes well before they graduate is particularly surprising given that getting a good job is now the No. 1 reason they say they go to college, according to a nationwide survey of freshmen by an institute at the University of California at Los Angeles — edging out “learn[ing] more about things that interest me” — and that 84 percent said it was very important or essential to them to be financially very well off.

Maybe journalism? Alternatively another Bezos linked entity is hiring for warehouse work or artificial intelligence development.

Stephen E Arnold, December 29, 2020

Zuckasar and Bezoder or Caeberg and Alexos?

December 24, 2020

I spotted this image in Google Images. Miraculously I was able to locate it by querying “Zuckerberg Caesar.” Bingo.

image

The idea is that the Facebook poobah seems to look like the Big J. As you will recall, some of his friends allegedly unliked the Ruler of the World using real knives, not unfollows.

I read “Jeff Bezos Reportedly Considers Himself the Alexander the Great of Modern Exploitation.” The source of this revelation in tottering Oxford don or donette (no, not a donut, gentle reader). The insight appears in an online information service called Jezebel which recycled an interview from an alleged Amazon whiz person.

I learned:

According to an Amazon cybersecurity engineer who spoke anonymously and quite candidly with Logic Magazine, working at Amazon is much more Philip K. Dick than it is Plutarch, despite Jeff Bezos’s boner for Alexander the Great:

“Jeff Bezos studies other “great men” in history and imagines himself to be a kind of Alexander the Great. There’s even a building on the Amazon campus called Alexandria, which was the name of one of the company’s early projects to get every single book that had ever been published to be listed on Amazon.”

image image

I see the resemblance. Uncanny. The mosaic reminds me of the thousands of AWS services which contribute to Mr. Bezos’ wealth.

One question: Why are these business leaders embracing the war fighters and dictators of yesteryear?

There are other helpful models; for example:

image

JP Morgan is a potential role model.

The ancient history thing may not be about money. Perhaps the appeal is for the allure of power and the world domination thing. Interesting. I am looking forward to Messrs. Zuckerberg and Bezos commissioning Bernadette Banner. She can create the Big J armor for the Zuck and come up with a period correct outfit from 370 BC for Mr. Bezos.

Great for live streaming when the monopoly hearings become available. Perfect for Shopify T shirt vendors and TikTok snippets with Wal-Mart adverts.

Stephen E Arnold, December 24, 2020

The Amazon Bracelet: Is It Like Those Shock Collars Thingies?

December 24, 2020

A pair of Washington Post reviewers tell us exactly how they feel about the recent entry into the fitness-tracker market. Greenwich Time shares, “Amazon’s New Health Band Is the Most Invasive Tech We’ve Ever Tested.” Geoffrey A Fowler and Heather Kelly write:

“Amazon has a new health-tracking bracelet with a microphone and an app that tells you everything that’s wrong with you. You haven’t exercised or slept enough, reports Amazon’s $65 Halo Band. Your body has too much fat, the Halo’s app shows in a 3-D rendering of your near-naked body. And even: Your tone of voice is ‘overbearing’ or ‘irritated,’ the Halo determines, after listening through its tiny microphone on your wrist. Hope our tone is clear here: We don’t need this kind of criticism from a computer. The Halo collects the most intimate information we’ve seen from a consumer health gadget – and makes the absolute least use of it. This wearable is much better at helping Amazon gather data than at helping you get healthy and happy.”

Yes, in addition to basics like heart rate, skin temperature, activity, and sleep, this late entry to the market collects information its rivals do not—body photos and voice recordings. Despite that, it offers surprisingly little in the way of personalized advice. Are its users simply paying for the privilege of feeding Amazon’s machine-learning databases? The reviewers also found that, compared to competitors, the device seems less accurate in its measurements. Furthermore, the band has no display—a corresponding phone app is the only way to receive feedback. It also scores one’s progress in an what appears to be an arbitrary 150-point scale that did little to motivate these reviewers.

And what of that tone-of-voice functionality? Apparently having the AI divine one’s mood is supposed to help the user somehow, but the reviewers found it to be mostly a judgmental downer. Not only that but, like many algorithms, it may have a gender bias problem. We’re told:

“The terms diverged when we filtered just for ones with negative connotations. In declining order of frequency, the Halo described Geoffrey’s tone as ‘sad,’ ‘opinionated,’ ‘stern,’ and ‘hesitant.’ Heather, on the other hand, got ‘dismissive,’ ‘stubborn,’ ‘stern’ and ‘condescending.’ She doesn’t dispute she might have sounded like that, especially while talking to her children. But some of the terms, including ‘overbearing’ and ‘opinionated,’ hit Heather differently than they might a male user. The very existence of a tone-policing AI that makes judgment calls in those terms feels sexist. Amazon has created an automated system that essentially says, ‘Hey sweetie, why don’t you smile more?’”

Perhaps Amazon should go back to the drawing board with this one. That is, if it is as interested in serving its customers as in feeding its algorithms.

Cynthia Murrell, December 24, 2020

Seeking Clarity? Amazon AWS Can Provide It

December 17, 2020

AWS increases their AI and machine learnings technology offerings everyday. While AWS is one of the leading providers for AI-powered technology it has yet to overcome AI’s limitations. One of the biggest issues facing AI-powered technology is bias. The best examples of AI bias are facial recognition studies that lack diverse ethnic examples (e.g. black, white, Asian, etc. people).

Amazon developed a solution for bias: Amazon SageMaker Clarify, a tool designed for machine learning developers to gain deeper insight into training data and models to detect bias and explain predictions. Amazon SageMaker Clarify works by:

“SageMaker Clarify is integrated with Amazon SageMaker Data Wrangler, making it easier to identify bias during data preparation. You specify attributes of interest, such as gender or age, and SageMaker Clarify runs a set of algorithms to detect any presence of bias in those attributes. After the algorithm runs, SageMaker Clarify provides a visual report with a description of the sources and measurements of possible bias so that you can identify steps to remediate the bias. For example, in a financial dataset that contains only a few examples of business loans to one age group as compared to others, SageMaker will flag the imbalance so that you can avoid a model that disfavors that age group.”

Eliminating bias detection is a major holdup in AI technology, but SageMaker Clarify is a step in the right direction. Other AI players, including Google, Microsoft, and Apple, are developing their own ways to detect bias.

Whitney Grace, December 17, 2020

Clouds Hide a Basic Truth: Rebuilding Mandatory

December 10, 2020

I read “There Must Be a Better Way to Build on AWS.”

Here’s the passage I noted:

The real cost of going with AWS is its complexity. There is hardly anything more important to an early-stage startup than moving fast, but this is exactly where AWS fails startup founders. It is hard to set up and manage, which is the opposite of fast.

The article spells out a truth which gets modest coverage in the zip zip world of headline feeds:

So startup founders are forced to choose whether to bite the bullet with AWS, or to move fast and pay a premium for tools like Firebase — only to have to rebuild from scratch later anyway.

I think this is an interesting observation. Amazon AWS has several “hooks” to lure innovators. These must be factored into the Bezos bulldozer’s operations manual:

  1. Lock in. Amazon has generated a 21st century version of the IBM lock in model.
  2. Radar pings. Innovators on Amazon can get a financial break. Amazon gets an opportunity to see what works.
  3. A stealthy bulldozer. Innovators may not hear Amazon coming. Why? The old school corporate machines ran on noisy diesel engines. Amazon’s bulldozer is electric, thus, it is quiet unless one hears the sound of objects being crushed.

Net net: Useful article with a great punch line. Build on Amazon only to rebuild another way. Efficient? Sure, do the work twice.

Stephen E Arnold, December 10, 2020

AWS Panorama: Such a Happy Name!

December 2, 2020

AWS Announces Panorama, a Device That Adds Machine Learning Technology to Any Camera” caught my attention. (Now don’t think I ignored Amazon’s work monitoring system called Monitron, a wonderful name, very Robo Cop like. I have not.) I noted the word “all” in the title. Very wide in scope. Appropriate in an era of data harvesting. Also, I quite liked the “appliance” moniker. What could me more appropriate for a company with more than one million employees, oodles of government contracts with assorted nation states, and customers hungry to know as much as possible about humanoids and other entities of interest? A toaster, a data Hoover, a device to exploit the info-pressure differential between those with the gizmo and those monitored by the gizmo.

The write up states:

…enterprises continue to clamor for new machine learning-enabled video recognition technologies for security, safety and quality control. Indeed, as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, new protocols around building use and occupancy are being adopted to not only adapt to the current epidemic, but plan ahead for spaces and protocols that can help mitigate the severity of the next one.

And law enforcement and intelligence applications? Whoops. Not included in the write up nor in the AWS blog post. Amazon is not in the policeware and intelware business. At least, that’s what I have been told.

Stephen E Arnold, December 2, 2020

Amazon Zoom: This Is Just Not Important, Right?

December 2, 2020

Zoom and Amazon Extend Partnership for the Future of Online Communication” explains that “Zoom is coming to an Amazon Echo Show.” Makes sense, right? The article reports:

The new collaboration extends the companies’ existing relationship, which will now see AWS working to expand and scale Zoom’s services to meet customer demand.

What does the write up omit? A couple of things; for instance:

  • What type of data will Amazon AWS log files capture?
  • How quickly will AWS “zoomification” diffuse to other video applications?
  • What Zoom data will be subject to cross correlation in Amazon’s streaming data marketplace?

No answers in the write up or from either Amazon or Zoom yet. This announcement is not important, right?

Stephen E Arnold, December 2, 2020

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