Amazon Scraper

June 12, 2018

Short honk: Want to scrape Amazon content?

Amazon has renamed a previous tool and released it as open source. Navigate to Microsoft’s GitHub and download Amz2csv. The tool performs as advertised.

One question which we are pondering is, “Why is Amazon releasing this tool as open source?”

We also wondered, “What other content acquisition tools and filters does Amazon possess?”

Stephen E Arnold, June 12, 2018

Forbes Does a Semi Rah Rah for Amazon Rekognition

June 9, 2018

I ran through some of our findings about Amazon’s policeware capabilities. Most of the individuals who heard my lectures were surprised that an eCommerce vendor offered high value tools, products, and services directly useful for law enforcement and intelligence professionals.

Why the surprise?

I think there are a number of reasons. But based on conversations with those in my lectures, two categories of comments and questions capture the reaction to the US government documents I reviewed.

First, Europeans do not think about Amazon as anything other than a vendor of products and a service which allows relatively low cost backend services like storage.

Second, the idea that a generalist online eCommerce site and a consumerized cloud service could provide industrial strength tools to investigators, security, and intelligence professionals was a idea not previously considered.

I read what might be an early attempt by the US media to try and explain one small component in Amazon’s rather large policeware system. In “We Built A Powerful Amazon Facial Recognition Tool For Under $10,” a member of the magazine’s staff allegedly “built” a facial recognition system using Amazon’s Rekognition service.

I learned:

because Rekognition is open to all, Forbes decided to try out the service. Based on photos staff consensually provided, and with footage shot across our Jersey City and London offices, we discovered it took just a few hours, some loose change and a little technical knowledge to establish a super-accurate facial recognition operation.

Based on my experience with professionals who work in the field of “real” news and journalism, the Amazon system must be easy to use. Like lawyers, many journalists are more comfortable with words that technology. There are, of course, exceptions such as the Forbes’ journalist.

In order to present a balanced viewpoint, Forbes included a cautionary chunk of information from a third party; to wit:

“This [Rekognitioin] underscores how easily a government can deploy Amazon’s face recognition to conduct mass surveillance,” ACLU technology and civil liberties attorney Matt Cagle said of Forbes’ project. “Now it’s up to Amazon. Will it stop selling dangerous technology to the government? Or will it continue compromising customer privacy and endangering communities of color, protesters and immigrants, who are already under attack in the current political climate?”

What did Amazon contribute to the write up? It appears Amazon was okay with keeping its lips zipped.

I think it may take some time for the person familiar with Amazon as a source of baby diapers to embrace Amazon as a slightly more robust provider of certain interesting technology.

Our research has revealed that Amazon has other policeware services and features sitting on a shelf in a warehouse stuffed with dog food, cosmetics, and clothing. We offer a for fee briefing about Amazon’s policeware. Write benkent2020 at yahoo dot com for details.

Stephen E Arnold, June 11, 2018

Short Honk: Does Amazon Have Facebook Data?

June 5, 2018

I read “Facebook Gave Device Makers Deep Access to Data on Users and Friends.” The write up mentions Amazon as a company given “access to vast amounts of its users’ personal information.” So the answer appears to be “Yes.” I assume that the NYT report is “real” news. What can Amazon do with that data? Check out the Amazon analysis in this week’s DarkCyber.

Stephen E Arnold, June 5, 2018

DarkCyber for June 5, 2018: Amazon and Its LE and Intelligence Services

June 5, 2018

The DarkCyber for June 5, 2018, is now available at www.arnoldit.com/wordpress or on Vimeo at https://vimeo.com/273170550.

This week’s DarkCyber presents an extract from Stephen E Arnold’s lectures at the Prague Telestrategies ISS conference. The conference is designed for security, intelligence, and law enforcement professionals in Europe.

Stephen’s two lectures provided attendees with a snapshot of the services Amazon’s streaming data marketplace offer to customers, developers, and entrepreneurs.

Stephen said:

The Amazon platform is positioned to provide a robust, innovative way to anonymize digital currency transactions and perform the type of analyses needed to deal with bad actors and the activities.

The information was gleaned from Amazon conference lectures, Amazon’s Web logs and documentation, and open source documents.

For example, one public document stated:

“… A law enforcement agency may be a customer and may desire to receive global Bitcoin transactions, correlated by country, with USP data to determine source IP addresses and shipping addresses that correlate to Bitcoin addresses.”

Coupled with Amazon’s facial recognition service “Rekognition” and Amazon’s wide array of technical capabilities, Amazon is able to provide specialized content processing and data services.

Stephen stated:

Instead of learning how to use many different specialized systems, the Amazon approach offers a unified capability available with a Kindle-style interface. This is a potential game changer for LE, intel, and security service providers.

In this week’s DarkCyber video, Stephen provides an eight minute summary of his research, including the mechanisms by which new functions can be added to or integrated with the system.

A for fee lecture about what Stephen calls “Amazon’s intelligence services” is available on a for fee basis. For information, write darkcyber333 at yandex dot com.

Kenny Toth, June 5, 2018

One View of the Amazon Game Plan

May 27, 2018

I read “Invisible Asymptotes.” Job One for me was trying to match the meaning of “asymptote” with the research my DarkCyber team has conducted into one slice of Amazon’s business roll outs in the last three years.

As you know, an “asymptote” is a mathy way of saying “you can’t get from here to there.” According to Wolfram Mathword:

An asymptote is a line or curve that approaches a given curve arbitrarily closely.

Here’s a diagram. No equations, I promise.

Image result for asymptote

This diagram suggests a business angle to the “asymptote” reference: No matter what you do, it requires effort and a commitment to “quality”. The good news is that although one can quantify time, one cannot quantify “quality” or “perfection.” Okay, gerbil, run in that Ferris wheel gizmo in your cage.

The write up points out:

We focus so much on product-market fit, but once companies have achieved some semblance of it, most should spend much more time on the problem of product-market unfit.

I am not exactly sure what “unfit” means. The author provides a hint:

For me, in strategic planning, the question in building my forecast was to flush out what I call the invisible asymptote: a ceiling that our growth curve would bump its head against if we continued down our current path.

Okay, the idea seems to be that if Amazon enters a new market, the “invisible asymptote” is what slows growth or stops it completely. (Is this the Amazon phone’s and the slowing sales of Alexa in the face of competition from the Google Home device?)

The reason Amazon cannot grow ever larger is because of an “invisible asymptote”; that is, a factor which prevents Amazon from becoming a company that Vanderbilt, JP Morgan, and John D. Rockefeller would have wished they had.

The write up does not discuss Amazon’s semi-new entrance into the law enforcement and intelligence market. That’s a push I am exploring in my lecture at the Telestrategies ISS conference in early June.

The focus shifts to a more mundane and increasingly problematic aspect of Amazon’s business: Shipping fees. Fiat, law, and the costs of fuel are just a few of the challenges Amazon faces. I am not sure these are “invisible”, but let’s trudge forward.

Twitter becomes that foundation for social media. I noted this passage:

No company owes it to others to allow people to build direct competitors to their own product.

If Amazon wants to make law enforcement and intelligence services into a major revenue stream, I think the first evidence of this intent will be cutting off the vendors using Amazon’s infrastructure to serve their clients now. (Keep in mind that most of the specialist vendors in the LE and intel space use Amazon as plumbing. To cite one example, Marinus, the anti human trafficking group, follows this approach.

The author brings up Snapchat and other social media companies. I find this example important. Amazon’s facial recognition capabilities hit out radar when my team was assembling “CyberOSINT: Next Generation Information Access”, written in 2014 and published in 2015.

We did not include Amazon in my review of LE and intel tools because I had only references in some Amazon conference videos, a few patent applications which were particularly vague about applications in the Background and Claims sections of the documents, and chatter at meetings I attended.

The American Civil Liberties Union has made a bit of noise about Amazon’s facial recognition system. Recognition is spelled “rekognition”, presumably to make it easy to locate in the wonky world of Bing and Google search. The reason is that Amazon’s facial recognition system can identify individuals and cross tabulate that piece of information with other data available to the Amazon system.

Instant bubblegum card.

The write up “Invisible Asymptote” talks about social content and social rich media without offering any comment about the importance of these types of data to Amazon’s intelligence services or its marketplace.

The conclusion of the 10,000 word essay is more “invisible asymptote”. Is this Amazon’s the secret sauce:

Lastly, though I hesitate to share this, it is possible to avoid invisible asymptotes through sheer genius of product intuition.

Here’s a diagram from the essay which looks quite a bit like the self help diagram I included at the top of this Beyond Search post:

stratechery-disruption-diagram-1.png

Several observations:

  1. The write up makes clear that if anyone thinks Amazon’s platform is neutral, think again.
  2. Strategists at Amazon are not able to “see” and “explain” the nuts and bolts of the “we may be a monopoly but” approach of the Big Dog of the Amazon
  3. The long, long essay does not stray very far from selling stuff to consumers who love free shipping.

Taken as a group of three perceptions, what does this say about Amazon?

For me, I think companies using Amazon’s plumbing will want to do a bit of strategizing using “What if” questions to spark discussion.

For companies behind or beneath the curve, there will be a ceiling, and it will not be easy to break through.

Amazon, on the other hand, may have break through and then replace the old ceiling with a nifty new one made of sterner stuff.

For information about our lectures about Amazon’s Next Big Thing: Intelligence Services, write me at benkent2020@yahoo.com. Put Amazon Streaming Marketplace in the subject line, please.

We now offer for fee webinars and on site consulting sessions. On June 5, 2015, coincident with my two lectures in Prague before an audience of LE and intel professionals, I will release a nine minute DarkCyber video exploring some of the inventions Amazon disclosed in an April document not widely reported in the media. Watch this blog for a link.

Stephen E Arnold, May 27, 2018

Amazon Dumps Domain Fronting

May 2, 2018

Short honk: Beyond Search noted this article: “Amazon Closes Anti-Censorship Loophole on Its Servers.” The main idea is that urls can be obfuscated. The purpose of domain fronting ranges from simplifying traffic flow for users or systems or to permit a VPN type function without using a user installed VPN. The write up points out:

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is cracking down on domain fronting, a practice that some folks use to get round state-level internet censorship of the likes seen in China and Russia (among other countries).

A couple of points:

  • Facebook has taken some steps to make secret communications less secret. The founder of WhatsApp (which Facebook acquired) has apparently quit over this privacy affecting change.
  • Google stopped supporting domain fronting
  • A number of countries have taken steps to crack down on messaging which cannot be decrypted.

But the Amazon change is more interesting for the Beyond Search team. Is it possible that Amazon is streamlining its systems in order to create a new service platform?

Our colleagues who work on the DarkCyber news program have raised this possibility.

Is Amazon ready to reveal its next big thing? The success of that next big thing may pivot on becoming more government centric. Could that be happening to everyone’s favorite digital Wal-Mart?

Worth monitoring or attending my lecture about the possible Amazon play at the Telestrategies ISS conference in Prague in about three weeks. I will be taking a look at what’s called cross correlation. More information about that is located at this Wolfram Mathworld link.

Stephen E Arnold, May 2, 2018

Amazon Beats Google for Holiday Advertising

February 28, 2018

When Google first started out, it earned the majority of its income from online ads.  Online advertising used to be a surefire way for a regular income, but ad blockers, private browsing, and changes in the Internet of things have made Internet ad profits dwindle from dollars to cents.  Google used to be on top, but now Amazon might be angling its way to the top.  AdTechDaily published the article, “Amazon Leads The Crowd For Holiday Paid Search Advertising” how who dominated the 2017 holiday advertising market.

The data in the article is about Amazon UK, but the UK usually bears a strong resemblance to its American counterpart.  Kantar Media conducted a survey about click rates for UK retailers in the 2017 holiday season.  Amazon captured 8.8% of mobile ad clicks and 7.5% of desktop clicks.  The data collection for the survey was quite enlightening:

Kantar Media found that 4,259 advertisers sponsored the keywords via text ads on mobile search, compared with 3,798 advertisers sponsoring the same keywords via desktop search. Of these, only seven retailers generated a click share higher than 1% for both desktop and mobile search text advertising. Together, these retailers captured a combined 26% share of all desktop clicks and 28% of mobile clicks on the 990 retail keywords studied.Online giant Amazon.co.uk held a significant lead ahead of Argos, the retailer in second place for both desktop and mobile search ad clicks. Currys, John Lewis and online marketplace AO.com completed the top five in the list.

Google is a competitive advertising marketplace, but large retailers have the deep pockets and large inventories to give them a run or a “click” for their money  The retailers sponsor a higher number of keywords based on their inventories, so they can have bigger ad campaigns with bigger budgets.  It also does not hurt to have well-known brands in their inventories.  Luxury brands are always reliable.

Google is struggling with its online ads, shall we call this the Froogle Fumble?

Whitney Grace, February 28, 2018

Big Tech Giants Not Bulletproof

February 22, 2018

It’s safe to say that the honeymoon is over for the big tech companies that use big data to the extreme. The likes of Facebook, Apple, Google, and Amazon had a rough 2017 and things aren’t looking up, according to Forbes story, “Big Trouble for Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Apple in 2018.”

According to the story 2017 was the year:

We realized that maybe, just maybe, FAGA (Facebook, Apple, Google, Amazon) were no different from car companies, real estate brokerages, banks, insurance companies, big pharma and other technology companies – those guys. When FAGA joined the family of “regular” companies they lost some appeal. In fact, if the trend continues, FAGA might even find themselves on the list of some of the most disrespected companies!

 

2017 made it clear that FAGA exists for their shareholders, partners, executives and customers, in that order. What an awakening for even the love-is-blind crowd: just say it ain’t so!  Just another company?

Things are not so rosy for tech companies that once claimed they would change the world. Net neutrality might cause them to drastically shift their business models, and a recent Vanity Fair story pulled back the curtain on Silicon Valley and revealed a hedonistic culture that is a drastic shift in our perception. Does this mean we are in for a tide shift in tech? Mmmmm, probably not. These giants are firmly planted, but it is proof they are not bulletproof.

Patrick Roland, February 22, 2018

Amazon and Google Voice Recognition Easily Fooled

January 31, 2018

Voice recognition technology has vastly improved over the past decade, but it still has a long way to go before it responds like a quick-thinking science-fiction computer.  CNET shares how funny and harmful voice recognition technology can be in the article, “Fooling Amazon and Googles’ Voice Recognition Isn’t Hard.”  What exactly is the problem with voice recognition technology?  If someone sounds like you, smart speakers like Google Home or Amazon Echo with Alexa will allow that person to use your credit cards and access your personal information.

The smart speakers can be trained to recognize voices, so that they can respond according to an individual.  For example, families can program the smart speakers to recognize individual members so each person can access their personal information.  It is quite easy to fool Alexa and Googles’ voice recognition.  Purchases can be made vocally and personal information can be exposed.  There are ways to take precautions, such as disabling voice purchasing and there are features to turn of broadcasting your personal information.

In their defense, Google said voice recognition should not be used as a security feature:

Google warns you when you first set up voice recognition that a similar voice might be able to access your info. In response to this story, Kara Stockton on the Google Assistant team offered the following statement over email: Users shouldn’t rely upon Voice Match as a security feature. It is possible for a user to not be identified, or for a guest to be identified as a connected user. Those cases are rare, but they do exist and we’re continuing to work on making the product better.’

Maybe silence is golden after all.  It keeps credit cards and purchases free from vocal stealing.

Whitney Grace, January 31, 2018

Amazon and Google Voice Recognition Easily Fooled

January 25, 2018

Voice recognition technology has vastly improved over the past decade, but it still has a long way to go before it responds like a quick-thinking science-fiction computer.  CNET shares how funny and harmful voice recognition technology can be in the article, “Fooling Amazon and Googles’ Voice Recognition Isn’t Hard.”  What exactly is the problem with voice recognition technology?  If someone sounds like you, smart speakers like Google Home or Amazon Echo with Alexa will allow that person to use your credit cards and access your personal information.

The smart speakers can be trained to recognize voices so that they can respond according to an individual.  For example, families can program the smart speakers to recognize individual members so each person can access their personal information.  It is quite easy to fool Alexa and Googles’ voice recognition.  Purchases can be made vocally and personal information can be exposed.  There are ways to take precautions, such as disabling voice purchasing and there are features to turn of broadcasting your personal information.

In their defense, Google said voice recognition should not be used as a security feature:

Google warns you when you first set up voice recognition that a similar voice might be able to access your info. In response to this story, Kara Stockton on the Google Assistant team offered the following statement over email: Users shouldn’t rely upon Voice Match as a security feature. It is possible for a user to not be identified, or for a guest to be identified as a connected user. Those cases are rare, but they do exist and we’re continuing to work on making the product better.’

Maybe silence is golden after all.  It keeps credit cards and purchases free from vocal stealing.

Whitney Grace, January 25, 2018

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