An Amazon Statistic and the Word All

July 14, 2018

I read “Amazon’s Share of the US E Commerce Market Is Now 49% or 5% of All Retail Spend.” The idea of “all” is reassuring. One does not have to worry about precision. All means all, right. Cantor struggled with his view of all. That worry does not trouble the expert writing this article.

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Setting aside word choice, the factoid is semi interesting. Amazon has, according to this source, about half of the e commerce market in the US. Now the sample has to ask people who own a computing device, are able to get online, and who have some method for making a digital payment. If one considers what percentage of the US population checks these boxes, the “all” becomes a subset of the US population. The reason check cashing services exist pivots on the individuals who do not have a banking relationship either directly or via the mostly available prepaid credit cards. Using these prepaid credit cards can be interesting.

Let’s assume that Amazon does have a big chunk of the US e commerce market. The write up suggests that Amazon is heading toward a tipping point. The idea, I think, is that the “all” really will mean every nickel and dime spent online for “retail products.” The idea that Amazon’s growth is surprising strikes me as interesting. The key metric is the rate of change between each major financial milestone. At one time, Google was smoking along. Has Amazon’s growth been chugging along with a nifty slope between time and financial data (remember those?)

An outfit called eMarketer provides data which illustrates how Amazon is making revenue in clothing, beauty items, and groceries.

The only problem I have is that Amazon’s online success is old news. Not far from our log cabin in rural Kentucky, Wal-Mart closed three of its retail outlets. I think that Amazon’s success in e commerce was a contributing factor. In some demographic segments, Amazon’s share of the US retail market is nosing toward 80 percent. Even in rural Kentucky, our rescue French bulldog can be run over by one of the six or seven Amazon deliveries each day unless we are on our toes.

So what?

  • Amazon’s tipping point was reached a couple of years ago? Amazon is now just running plays from its 20 year old playbook. We’re into déjà vu territory.
  • Amazon’s e commerce system is part of a slightly more sophisticated online store. I think it may be helpful for some whiz kid analysts to think about Oracle’s data marketplace and ask, “What does that have in common with Amazon’s retail business?”
  • The notion of “all” is not a helpful way to explain what Amazon has achieved. eMarketer like many other professionals think about consumer products. Big market indeed. There are other ways to look at Amazon’s platform.

Why are these questions important? If Amazon is going to generate enough revenue to double or triple its revenue, it will have to do more than sell T shirts, avocados, and vinyl records.

Wal-Mart’s “Amazon disease” is now spreading to other markets. The “all” misleads when used without a more informed context.

Stephen E Arnold, July 14, 2018

Distasteful Content and Digital Currency: A Love Match

May 10, 2018

Porn Site Leads Way in Cryptocurrency Acceptance

While it sounds like a surprise at first, a partnership between pornography site PornHub and cryptocurrency upstart, Verge, is a perfect pair. Increased privacy, especially when credit card statements are sent home at the end of every month, has an indelible appeal to porn customers. We learned about this interesting development from a recent article in Digital Trends, “Want to Hide Your PornHub Subscription? Pay with Virtual Verge Currency.”

According to the story:

“History has proven that the adult entertainment industry plays a critical role in adoption for innovative technology. We saw that with VHS, Beta Max, credit card payment icons and, most recently, VR goggles. We expect to see widespread adoption of crypto and blockchain in short order.”

This is a really interesting point and one worth thinking on for a moment. However, there’s also a serious risk to being the first person to set a trend. For one, how much do most customers know about Verge? A little digging shows that they had been hacked less than a month before this Pornhub announcement. Security is probably the number one concern of anyone getting into cryptocurrency. While this partnership with Verge and Pornhub makes perfect sense, it’s still a little early in the relationship for us to give it much of a blessing.

Patrick Roland, May 10, 2018

An Interesting Use of Instagram

April 22, 2018

There is an opioid dealer nearby. In fact, this drug kingpin is not standing on the corner or lurking on college campuses, this supplier is right at your fingertips. Thanks to a recent article, the plague of drug sales through popular and public social media platforms has caught the attention of some powerful people. We learned about these developments in a recent Wired article, “One Woman Got Facebook to Police Opioid Sales on Instagram.”

While it’s a little confusing, the basic story goes that one woman who discovered opioid sales on Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) reached out to Facebook, urging them to take action, through a rival social platform, Twitter. The tactic worked, even getting the FDA involved.

According to the story:

“It shouldn’t take this much effort to get people to realize that  you have some responsibility for the stuff on your platform…A 13 year old could do this search and realize there’s bad stuff on your platform — and probably has — you don’t need the commissioner of the FDA to tell you that.”

However, the act of policing drug sales on social media platforms and the dark web is not as easy as one might think. Yes, they shut down offending accounts, but beyond that there is little that can be done. According to the story, it outlawed certain hashtags, like it had done before. “Instagram previously restricted the drug-related hashtags, #Xanax and #Xanaxbar and banned #weedforsale and #weed4sale.”

It’s a small step, but hopefully one that will lead to greater and greater progress. For more information, learn more about CyberOSINT (the Dark Web) here.

Patrick Roland, April 21, 2018

 

Online Shopping: Held Back by HTML and Google. Hmmm.

April 20, 2018

e-Commerce has certainly marginalized some traditional retail stores. But, Main Street still exists and so do the some shops. What works in Silicon Valley, does not work very well in some cities. Think Peoria, Illinois.

The new monopolists have found their niche. The question becomes, “Why are there some functions and businesses which have not be more dramatically changed by online?” We were surprised to read the views of one expert who claims two reasons: HTML and Google. According to a Tech Crunch piece, “The Sudden Death of the Website.” The reason is that HTML is not robust enough to handle e-Commerce’s demands, but also Google is the problem:

“The second problem with the Web is Google. When we started to build websites in the ’90s, everyone was trying to design their virtual stores differently. On one hand, this made them interesting and unique; on the other, the lack of industry standards made them hard to navigate — and really hard to “index” into a universal card catalog.”

Hardly convincing stuff. But according to other experts, search isn’t the only thing slowing down e-commerce. The big data powering Amazon and others has allowed for fast shipping and hassle-free returns. According to Forbes, that’s actually what will take down e-commerce. They describe the return policies as a ticking time bomb and use LL Bean’s recent decision to stop no-questions asked returns as an example.

There you have it: HTML and Google. Unfortunately the Beyond Search goose is not convinced. Some digital magic does not make sense in rural Kentucky. Walking to the local store works pretty well because what works in San Mateo does not work in Harrod’s Creek.

Cynthia Murrell, April 20, 2018

Payoff in Shopping Speed Up

March 30, 2018

Mobile shopping is a major priority for just about anyone who does sales outside of only a brick and mortar store. The increasing attention to this economy has led to the big names online beefing up their services and the results are astounding. We learned more from a recent IT ProPortal story, “Google Reveals New Mobile Shopping Tools.”

According to the story:

“Businesses have not prioritized their mobile sites and now that more online shopping than ever is done from a smartphone, this needs to change.  Google’s analysis suggests that by improving mobile load time from six to three seconds that an average site could see an increase of $255,000 in annual revenue.”

That’s an incredible number, especially for smaller businesses. But that’s not all. Oddly, some of the most impressive innovations in mobile shopping comes from the restaurant industry. Coffee shops and pizza delivery joints have led the way, but recently, places like Burger King are getting in on the action and seeing an impact. What kind of conclusion can we draw from this? Not a ton, but just that your mobile shopping experience is going to increase, but we have a hunch that along with this money that is to be made the proliferation of advertisements will soon follow in ingenuity.

Patrick Roland, March 30, 2018

Algorithm Positions Microsoft on Top of Global Tech Field

March 23, 2018

This is quite a surprise. Reporting the results of their own analysis, Reuters announces, “Microsoft Tops Thomson Reuters Top 100 Global Tech Leaders List.” The write-up tells us that, in second and third place, were:

… Chipmaker Intel and network gear maker Cisco Systems. The list, which aims to identify the industry’s top financially successful and organizationally sound organizations, features US tech giants such as Apple, Alphabet, International Business Machines and Texas Instruments, among its top 10. Microchip maker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, German business software giant SAP and Dublin-based consultant Accenture round out the top 10. The remaining 90 companies are not ranked, but the list also includes the world’s largest online retailer Amazon and social media giant Facebook.

 

The results are based on a 28-factor algorithm that measures performance across eight benchmarks: financial, management and investor confidence, risk and resilience, legal compliance, innovation, people and social responsibility, environmental impact, and reputation. The assessment tracks patent activity for technological innovation and sentiment in news and selected social media as the reflection of a company’s public reputation. The set of tech companies is restricted to those that have at least $1 billion in annual revenue.

That is an interesting combination of factors; I’d like to see that Venn diagram. Some trends emerged from the report. For example, 45 of those 100 companies are based in the US (but 47 in North America); 38 are headquartered in Asia, 14 in Europe, and one in Australia.

Cynthia Murrell, March 23, 2018

Dark Web Marketplaces Under Assault

February 16, 2018

It seems to be getting more difficult to operate on the Dark Web. We learn of a couple complications from the DarkWebNews post, “Popular Darknet Markets Back Online After DDoS Attacks.” A string of DDoS attacks has been keeping Dark Web marketplaces on the defense, with several suffering severe outages. We’re told the attacks have been especially hard on the comparatively long-lived and popular Dream Market, in operation since 2013. Citing a recent report from Europol, The Internet Organized Crime Threat Assessment, writer Richard explains:

[These attacks] are implemented with ease on many of the darknet markets, even when such sites have put in place restrictive measures to protect them against DDoS attacks. However, with the recent cases, there seems to be a general increase in the longevity and severity of these attacks. After the collapse of several reputable sites such as Hansa and AlphaBay, there has been a general cloud of fear in the darknet market community, which is now apparently visible on various forums including Reddit. What’s more, the recent increase in DDoS attacks has not done any good to the darknet market industry, with numerous regular users now seeking to find other alternative options. Many of these users have now turned to visiting dedicated vendor shops with others even making use of peer-to-peer possibilities, both of which eradicate the likelihood of a central failure. Nonetheless, even with the future looking uncertain for some darknet markets like Dream, the crisis seems to have opened a way for the emergence of new alternative markets with the likes of OpenBazaar taking full advantage.

OpenBazaar, by the way, is a peer-to-peer proposition. On top of those accessibility issues, the recent Bitcoin craze has complicated Dark Web users’ lives. By its nature, cryptocurrency is susceptible to congestion as more and more users attempt to complete transactions. However, the rise of several alternative “coins” (or “altcoins”) may provide some relief for the Dark Web shopper. What to do about those DDoS attacks, though, is another matter.

Cynthia Murrell, February 16, 2018

Investigating Cybercrime

December 29, 2017

The devastating Equifax breach is being pursued by federal investigators who know what they are doing, we learn from the piece, “Cybercrimes Present Unique Challenges for Investigators” at SFGate. AP Writer Kate Brumback writes:

The federal investigators looking into the breach that exposed personal information maintained by the Equifax credit report company are used to dealing with high-profile hacks and the challenges they present. The U.S. attorney’s office and FBI in Atlanta have prosecuted developers and promoters of the SpyEye and Citadel malware toolkits, used to infect computers and steal banking information. They’ve helped prosecute a hack into Scottrade and ETrade that was part of an identity theft scheme, and aided the international effort that in July shut down AlphaBay, the world’s largest online criminal marketplace.

 

The U.S. Attorney’s office has confirmed that, along with the FBI, it is investigating the breach at Atlanta-based Equifax, which the company said lasted from mid-May to July and exposed the data of 145 million Americans.

Though investigators would not tell Brumback anything about this specific investigation, they shared some of what it is like to pursue cybercrime in general. For example, one prosecutor notes that for every conviction there are about 10 times as many investigations that dead-end. Aliases and invite-only forums make it difficult to identify perpetrators; often, success is the result of a slip-up on the part of the bad actor. Another complication—as we know, the internet transcends boundaries, and several foreign governments do not extradite to the U.S. (or do, but slowly). Once we do catch the bad guys, they can be punished, but the issue of restitution tends to be prohibitively complicated. With a focus on prevention, investigators are now working with many companies before breaches occur.

Cynthia Murrell, December 29, 2017

Alexa AI Could Drastically Change Your Shopping Experience

December 25, 2017

Amazon’s Alexa, a wi-fi enabled, voice-activated speaker, has become less of a novelty and more of a way of life for millions of owners. With that in mind, the company is aiming to utilize this exposure for analytic purposes. But many are not so excited, as we learned from a Wired piece, “Alexa Wants You To Talk to Your Ads.”

According to the story,

These early interactions won’t necessarily provide additional revenue, but for forward-thinking brands they do hold value. No matter how basic the interaction, connecting with a customer through voice provides a trove of data on how consumers are interacting with a product. Collecting information on how Alexa is used will provide a base of knowledge to position brands to build the more sophisticated tech still to come. Once that “killer experience” is discovered and the confusion clears, these early advertising settlers will be set up to succeed.

They are angling this as a great thing for customers, too. But we are a little skeptical. There is a real fear that Amazon is overstepping boundaries in the name of AI and analytics. Recently, it has come to light that Alexa is always listening and possibly transmitting that data to a warehouse. Even more intimidating is a recent report that Alexa can be easily hacked and used as an eavesdropping tool. This might not be the ideal time for Amazon to encourage this level of interaction with Alexa.

Patrick Roland, December 25, 2017

Data Analysis Startup Primer Already Well-Positioned

December 22, 2017

A new startup believes it has something unique to add to the AI data-processing scene, we learn from VentureBeat’s article, “Primer Uses AI to Understand and Summarize Mountains of Text.” The company’s software automatically summarizes (what it considers to be) the most important information from huge collections of documents. Filters then allow users to drill into the analyzed data. Of course, the goal is to reduce or eliminate the need for human analysts to produce such a report; whether Primer can soar where others have fallen short on this tricky task remains to be seen. Reporter Blair Hanley Frank observes:

Primer isn’t the first company to offer a natural language understanding tool, but the company’s strength comes from its ability to collate a massive number of documents with seemingly minimal human intervention and to deliver a single, easily navigable report that includes human-readable summaries of content. It’s this combination of scale and human readability that could give the company an edge over larger tech powerhouses like Google or Palantir. In addition, the company’s product can run inside private data centers, something that’s critical for dealing with classified information or working with customers who don’t want to lock themselves into a particular cloud provider.

Primer is sitting pretty with $14.7 million in funding (from the likes of Data Collective, In-Q-Tel, Lux Capital, and Amplify Partners) and, perhaps more importantly, a contract with In-Q-Tel that connects them with the U.S. Intelligence community. We’re told the software is being used by several agencies, but that Primer knows not which ones. On the commercial side, retail giant Walmart is now a customer. Primer emphasizes they are working to enable more complex reports, like automatically generated maps that pinpoint locations of important events. The company is based in San Francisco and is hiring for several prominent positions as of this writing.

Cynthia Murrell, December 22, 2017

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