Pundit Recounts Amazon Sins and Their Fixes

November 14, 2023

green-dino_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb humanoid. No smart software required.

Sci-fi author and Pluralistic blogger Cory Doctorow is not a fan of Amazon. In fact, he declares, “Amazon Is a Ripoff.” His article references several sources to support this assertion, beginning with Lina Khan’s 2017 cautionary paper published in the Yale Law Journal. Now head of the FTC, Khan is bringing her expertise to bear in a lawsuit against the monopoly. We are reminded how tech companies have been able to get away with monopolistic practices thus far:

“There’s a cheat-code in US antitrust law, one that’s been increasingly used since the Reagan administration, when the ‘consumer welfare’ theory (‘monopolies are fine, so long as the lower prices’) shoved aside the long-established idea that antitrust law existed to prevent monopolies from forming at all. The idea that a company can do anything to create or perpetuate a monopoly so long as its prices go down and/or its quality goes up is directly to blame for the rise of Big Tech.”

But what, exactly, is shady about Amazon’s practices? From confusing consumers through complexity and gouging them with “drip pricing” to holding vendors over a barrel, Doctorow describes the company’s sins in this long, specific, and heavily linked diatribe. He then pulls three rules to hold Amazon accountable from a paper by researchers Tim O’Reilly, Ilan Strauss, and Mariana Mazzucato: Force the company to halt its most deceptive practices, mandate interoperability between it and comparison shopping sites, and create legal safe harbors for the scraping that underpins such interoperability. The invective concludes:

“I was struck by how much convergence there is among different kinds of practitioners, working against the digital sins of very different kinds of businesses. From the CFPB using mandates and privacy rules to fight bank rip-offs to behavioral economists thinking about Amazon’s manipulative search results. This kind of convergence is exciting as hell. After years of pretending that Big Tech was good for ‘consumers,’ we’ve not only woken up to how destructive these companies are, but we’re also all increasingly in accord about what to do about it. Hot damn!”

He sounds so optimistic. Are big changes ahead? Don’t forget to sign up for Prime.

Cynthia Murrell, November 14, 2023


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