European Parliament Embraces the Regulatory PEZ Dispenser Model for Fines on Big Tech

January 24, 2022

I read about the Digital Services Act. “European Parliament Passes Huge Clampdown on Tracking Ads” states:

The European Parliament, the legislative body for the European Union (EU), has voted in favor of its Digital Services Act (DSA), which seeks to limit the power of American internet giants such as Facebook, Amazon and Google.

That’s mostly on the money. What’s not spelled out is that the procedure of identifying a tracking instance, building a case, adjudicating, appealing, and levying a fine is now official. It’s a procedure. Perhaps a bright French artificial intelligence professional will use Facebook or Google AI components to make the entire process automatic, efficient, and – obviously – without bias. No discrimination! But the DSA is aimed at outfits like Amazon, Facebook, and Google. Nope. Not discriminatory and also not yet a really official thing…yet.

I found this paragraph memorable:

According to the EU, the DSA covers several key areas, including introducing mechanisms by which companies have to remove “illegal” content in a timely manner in a bid to reduce misinformation, increasing requirements on so-called very large online platforms (VLOPs), regulating online ad targeting, and clamping down on dark patterns. The scope and scale of the DSA (and associated DMA) are huge, perhaps the biggest effort yet by a substantial world power (outside of China) to regulate what happens in cyberspace.

How does one redistribute “wealth”? Easy. Create a legal PEZ dispenser, push the plastic likeness of Mr. Bezos, Mr. Zuckerberg, or Mr. Pichai (who is the only one of the PEZ dispensers with AI in his name).

Stephen E Arnold, January 24, 2022

Public Libraries: Who Wants Them? Not Amazon and Possibly Some Publishers

January 21, 2022

Publishers and libraries used to have an amicable relationship when books and other media were limited to print and physical mediums. Since the advent of the digital revolution, ebooks have ticked up in popularity. Ebooks have reached their highest consumption levels of all times with the global pandemic. Libraries love that people are reading more, but publishers are not happy with lower sales and libraries demanding more ebook licenses. MSN republished the The Boston Globe article that explains the dilemma in: “Libraries Demand A New Deal On Ebooks.”

Publishers are limiting the amount of digital copies libraries can purchase or charging them higher rates than individual consumers. Librarians and Massachusetts lawmakers have teamed up and drafted a bill that would require publishers to make digital products available to public libraries on reasonable terms. Currently publishers sell a limited licenses to libraries:

“According to the American Library Association, libraries currently pay three to five times as much as consumers for ebooks and audiobooks. Thus, an ebook selling for $10 at retail could cost a library $50. In addition, the library can only buy the right to lend the book for a limited time — usually just two years — or for a limited number of loans — usually no more than 26. James Lonergan, director of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, believes that publishers settled on 26 checkouts after calculating that this is the number of times a printed book can be checked out before it’s worn out and in need of replacement. And that’s what happens to a digital book after 26 checkouts. The library must “replace” it by paying full price for the right to lend it out 26 more times.”

Publishers are somewhat justified, because since books have gone digital, Amazon instituted its own publishing platform, and traditional bookstores have become endangered, their profit margins have tanked lower than approval ratings of millionaires. Publishers do have a right to recoup their losses, but it should not be at the expense of public libraries.

Public libraries allow people to access goods and services otherwise limited or unavailable to them. Publishers should be working with public libraries, who also happen to be their largest consumers.

There is a happy solution, but no one has found it yet. I am a professional librarian and try to be optimistic.

Whitney Grace January 21, 2022

Amazon: A Decision Imposed and A Practice Challenged

January 12, 2022

Alexa.com, purportedly named for legendary bastion of knowledge the Library at Alexandria, has been a go-to tool for traffic-based web rankings, APIs, and other website information for 25 years. Now, however, Amazon is pulling the plug on the subsidiary. Bleeping Computer announces, “Amazon Is Shutting Down Web Ranking Site Alexa.com.” Perhaps Alexa the AI assistant wanted the name all to itself. New subscriptions have been halted, but existing subscribers will have access to Amazon data and SEO tools until May 1, 2022. Amazon APIs will be retired on December 8, 2022. Writer Mayank Parmar reports:

“In addition to the global website ranking system, Amazon’s Alexa.com also offers a full suite of SEO and competitor analysis tools with its paid subscriptions. In a new support document, Amazon says that it will be discontinuing the Alexa.com platform in May 2022 and no new monthly stats will be released going forward. ‘Twenty-five years ago, we founded Alexa Internet. After two decades of helping you find, reach, and convert your digital audience, we’ve made the difficult decision to retire Alexa.com on May 1, 2022. Thank you for making us your go-to resource for content research, competitive analysis, keyword research, and so much more,’ the company stated.”

Meanwhile, Reuters tells us good old Italy is trying to fight back against the Amazon behemoth in, “Italy Fines Amazon Record €1.3 Bln for Abuse of Market Dominance.” Reporters Elvira Pollina and Maria Pia Quaglia write:

“Italy’s watchdog said in a statement that Amazon had leveraged its dominant position in the Italian market for intermediation services on marketplaces to favor the adoption of its own logistics service – Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) – by sellers active on Amazon.it. The authority said Amazon tied to the use of FBA access to a set of exclusive benefits, including the Prime label, that help increase visibility and boost sales on Amazon.it. … The antitrust authority also said it would impose corrective steps that will be subject to review by a monitoring trustee.”

This comes as the EU Commission is pursuing two of its own investigations into Amazon. One involves the use of sensitive data from independent retailers. The other considers whether the company elevated its own retail offers and those of sellers that use its logistics and delivery services over offers from other vendors. The €1.13 billion fine is one of the largest to be levied on a US tech company by a European entity, but will it be enough to give Amazon pause? Along with its compatriots/rivals Google and Facebook, the company has a history of shrugging off what seem to most like large fees and carrying on with business as usual.

Cynthia Murrell, January 12, 2022

How about That Smart Software?

January 3, 2022

In the short cut world of training smart software, minor glitches are to be expected. When an OCR program delivers 95 percent accuracy, that works out to five mistakes in every 100 words. When Alexa tells a child to put a metal object into a home electrical outlet, what do you expert? This is close enough for horse shoes.

Now what about the Google Maps of today, a maps solution which I find almost unusable. “Google Maps May Have Led Tahoe Travelers Astray During Snowstorm” quoted a Tweet from a person who is obviously unaware of the role probabilities play in the magical world of Google. Here’s the Tweet:

This is an abject failure. You are sending people up a poorly maintained forest road to their death in a severe blizzard. Hire people who can address winter storms in your code (or maybe get some of your engineers who are stuck in Tahoe right now on it).

Big deal? Of course not, Amazon and Google are focused on the efficiencies of machine-centric methods for identifying relevant, on point information. The probability is that most of the Amazon and Google outputs will be on the money. Google Maps rarely misses on pizza or the location of March Madness basketball games.

Severely injured children? Well, that probably won’t happen. Individuals lost in a snow storm? Well, that probably won’t happen.

The flaw in these giant firms’ methods are correct from these companies’ point of view in the majority of cases. A terminated humanoid or a driver wondering if a friendly forest ranger will come along the logging road? Not a big deal.

What happens when these smart systems output decisions which have ever larger consequences? Autonomous weapons, anyone?

Stephen E Arnold, January 3, 2021

Does Amazon Have Canaries?

December 27, 2021

I read “‘There’s No Moment of Silence’: What Happened after 2 Amazon Employees Reportedly Died within Hours of Each Other.” If accurate, two employees in an Amazon Alabama facility expired. When I saw the headline, I thought about the death of six Amazon workers in a company warehouse. “Amazon Criticized Over Safety at Tornado-Hit Warehouse” describes what happened. Today is December 23. I think that means that in the last week and a half, reports of eight Amazon worker deaths have reached Harrods Creek, Kentucky. Kentucky is semi familiar with work related deaths. The coal mines were noted for their safety track records. Some of those old fashioned safety conscious operations relied on canaries to alert the happy workers that a problem existed: Dead bird, bad air. Has Amazon considered canaries — either digital or with feathers  — for its facilities?

Stephen E Arnold, December 27, 2021

Amazon: Emulating the Big Apple

December 23, 2021

I love the idea that giant technology companies operate in a space untethered from too many conventions, regulatory constraints, and ethical meshes. Apple I have heard entered into a two-buck deal with China. Okay, okay, the dollar amount was closer to US$ 3 billion. What’s the big deal?

Now it seems that Amazon has channeled its inner apple core. “Amazon Partnered with China Propaganda Arm” reports in a truthy and trustworthy way:

That [once confidential Amazon] briefing document, and interviews with more than two dozen people who have been involved in Amazon’s China operation, reveal how the company has survived and thrived in China by helping to further the ruling Communist Party’s global economic and political agenda, while at times pushing back on some government demands. In a core element of this strategy, the internal document and interviews show, Amazon partnered with an arm of China’s propaganda apparatus to create a selling portal on the company’s U.S. site, Amazon.com – a project that came to be known as China Books. The venture – which eventually offered more than 90,000 publications for sale – hasn’t generated significant revenue. But the document shows that it was seen by Amazon as crucial to winning support in China as the company grew its Kindle electronic-book device, cloud-computing and e-commerce businesses.

Is it a surprise that China’s ruling elite told the dog outside the online bookstore to bite the digital hand of any human or bot daring to give a very special book a bad review.

What is the book, one might ask? It appears that the instant best seller and biographical high water mark is “Xi Jinping: The Governance of China.

The answer, one supposes, is money. The truthy and trustworthy report says:

Amazon Web Services, or AWS, is now one of the largest providers to Chinese companies globally, according to a report this year by analysis firm iResearch in China, and people who have worked for AWS.

Gee, Leader Xi can ping Amazon and Apple any time he chooses. Let’s make a TikTok on a mobile and a desktop too while dining at a TikTok restaurant. Endangered animal stir fry, anyone? It is called Kung Pao Democracy I think.

Stephen E Arnold, December 23, 2021

Amazon Allegedly Deceives: Another Side of the Online Bookstore

December 10, 2021

I think Jeff Bezos, the designer of the Bezos bulldozer and its other market moving equipment, has some interest in the Washington Post. Maybe I am wrong. Will and editorial Zoom call be convened to discuss “Amazon’s Search Results Are Full of Ads Unlawfully Deceiving Consumers, New Complaint to the FTC Claims.” The story could have been given a bit more zing. (Not surprisingly, one will have to pony up some hard cash to read this Bezos related story in the Bezos associated source. What? You want something free from the Bezos centric products?) As it is, it reports:

More than a quarter of search results on Amazon are paid ads.

Yep, selling digital ad inventory is a heck of a lot easier than keeping the AWS warehouse and product fulfillment system online. And those employees? Wow. Just use scripts and smart software to plug in ads for stuff people want to buy. How does Amazon know what sells? I assume it is one of those black electronic control units found in modern vehicles and possibly the Bezos bulldozer line of market shapers.

The write up points out:

Ad sales are one of Amazon’s fastest-growing businesses, and the complaint alleges the lack of disclosures around these practices runs afoul of consumer protection law. The company delays labels indicating a search result is sponsored for several seconds after a page loads, the group claims, a practice that “deliberately obfuscat[es]” ads. The coalition’s researchers determined the company was “substantially or entirely out of compliance” with all of the federal guidelines to ensure ads can easily be distinguished from organic search results.

Like the newspapers grousing about Facebook and Google and those estimable firms’ approach to advertising, perhaps Amazon’s executives have been studying these companies’ methods. And why not? The write up says:

The research firm eMarketer estimates that Amazon’s digital ad business will hit $24.47 billion this year, up 55.5 percent from 2020, and will capture 11.6 percent of the digital ad market.

With Facebook facing headwinds and the Google getting into healing, Amazon may sense an opportunity to grows its ad market share.

Is this desire good or bad? For stakeholders, Amazon’s push into ads is good news. For those who are horrified that the online bookstore continues to diversify its revenue streams, Amazon is a dangerous driver of a Bezos branded piece of heavy equipment.

Now about that editorial meeting?

Stephen E Arnold, December 10, 2021

Amazon: Engendering Excitement and Questions about Failover and Reliability

December 8, 2021

Amazon’s big-bang conference is mostly a memory. I don’t think the conference announcements or the praise sung by the choir of Amazon faithful can top this story: “Amazon Packages Pile Up after AWS Outage Spawns Delivery Havoc.” The agility of the two-pizza method and the super duper automatic redundancy, failover ingenuity did not work. What’s affected? Just the foundation business of the online bookstore.

The write up states:

Three delivery service partners said an Amazon.com Inc. app used to communicate with delivery drivers is down. Vans that were supposed to be on the road delivering packages are sitting idle with no communication from the company, the person said. Amazon Flex drivers, independent delivery people who carry parcels in their own cars, can’t log into Amazon’s app to get assignments, said another person. The problems come amid Amazon’s critical holiday shopping season when the e-commerce giant can ill afford delays that could potentially create lasting log-jams.

Personally I don’t care too much about my deliver of household cleaner. I do worry that Amazon’s assurances for the existing GovCloud and the newly minted GovCloud West may suffer a similar meltdown. A failure to provide me with three bottles of Krud Kutter are tiny compared with fouling up top secret messaging and secured processes.

Concentration of online in the capable hands of a few technology behemoths makes sense to some MBAs. Efficiency, scale, better service, yada yada. The reality is reported in the start Detroit News’ story: Havoc. Marketing and conference talks are just easier and more exciting than maintaining a hugely complex system which is getting more difficult for some to believe in good, old Saint Bezos.

Seasons Greetings and Happy New Year!

Stephen E Arnold, December 8, 2021

Amazon: The Online Bookstore Does FinTech

December 1, 2021

Several years ago, I did a series of reports about Amazon’s push into a data marketplace. That technology is chugging along, but it appeals to the back office crowd. “Goldman Sachs Unveils Amazon Backed Cloud Service for Wall Street Trading Firms” makes clear that the back office is an important part of the Bezos bulldozer’s post-Jeff itinerary. Instead of teaming with US government agencies, the online bookstore has connected with everyone’s favorite financial institution to create a fintech cloud.

The write up reports:

The bank is opening up access to its trove of market data and software tools to hedge funds and asset managers in an offering designed with Amazon’s cloud division.

Like other Amazon back office services, many Amazon watchers will yawn. The excite swirls around Black Friday deals and Amazon’s alleged manipulation of its product search results.

How long has the online bookstore been working with the estimable Wall Street eminence? The answer is more than a decade.

Worth watching because the back office in the world of finance is possibly more lucrative than selling Amazon Basics T shirts.

Stephen E Arnold, December xx, 2021

The Bezos Bulldozer and One of Its Charming Quirks

October 22, 2021

Amazon is the Bezos bulldozer. I know. I know. He’s into space and making the world better. Nevertheless, the “trust” outfit Reuters is not buying the PR. “Amazon Copied Products and Rigged Search Results to Promote Its Own Brands, Documents Show” provides an interesting look at Amazon’s ecommerce business strategy.

The write up asserts:

… Thousands of pages of internal Amazon documents examined by Reuters – including emails, strategy papers and business plans – show the company ran a systematic campaign of creating knockoffs and manipulating search results to boost its own product lines in India, one of the company’s largest growth markets. The documents reveal how Amazon’s private-brands team in India secretly exploited internal data from Amazon.in to copy products sold by other companies, and then offered them on its platform.

Navigate to the source document for quotes, names of bulldozer drivers, and the specifics of the retail ants crushed under the steel tracks of the snorting behemoth.

Why would Amazon copy and boost its own products?

Gee, that’s a tough question. Pick from these possible reasons:

[a] Executive compensation incentives engineer rapacious methods into the ecommerce processes

[b] Because Amazon could. Hey, what’s power for if one doesn’t use it.

[c] Increasing profit results in higher stock prices and juicier bonuses for high-performing Amazon professionals

[d] It’s fun because business is a game

[e] The companies and products are little more than tests for Amazon. Follow the data.

I like the “It’s fun” answer. Because business is a game to be won.

Stephen E Arnold, October 22, 2021

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