Amazon: Big Bucks from Bogus Books

May 3, 2024

Vea4_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_tNote: This essay is the work of a real and still-alive dinobaby. No smart software involved, just a dumb humanoid.

Anyone who shops for books on Amazon should proceed with caution now that “Fake AI-Generated Books Swarm Amazon.” Good e-Reader’s Navkiran Dhaliwal cites an article from Wired as she describes one author’s somewhat ironic experience:

“In 2019, AI researcher Melanie Mitchell wrote a book called ‘Artificial Intelligence: A Guide for Thinking Humans’. The book explains how AI affects us. ChatGPT sparked a new interest in AI a few years later, but something unexpected happened. A fake version of Melanie’s book showed up on Amazon. People were trying to make money by copying her work. … Melanie Mitchell found out that when she looked for her book on Amazon, another ebook with the same title was released last September. This other book was much shorter, only 45 pages. This book copied Melanie’s ideas but in a weird and not-so-good way. The author listed was ‘Shumaila Majid,’ but there was no information about them – no bio, picture, or anything online. You’ll see many similar books summarizing recently published titles when you click on that name. The worst part is she could not find a solution to this problem.”

It took intervention from WIRED to get Amazon to remove the algorithmic copycat. The magazine had Reality Defender confirm there was a 99% chance it was fake then contacted Amazon. That finally did the trick. Still, it is unclear whether it is illegal to vend AI-generated “summaries” of existing works and sell them under the original title. Regardless, asserts Mitchell, Amazon should take steps to prevent the practice. Seems reasonable.

And Amazon cares. No, really. Really it does.

Cynthia Murrell, April 29, 2024

Ho-Hum Write Up with Some Golden Nuggets

January 30, 2024

green-dino_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb dinobaby. No smart software required.

I read “Anthropic Confirms It Suffered a Data Leak.” I know. I know. Another security breach involving an outfit working with the Bezos bulldozer and Googzilla. Snore. But in the write up, tucked away were a couple of statements I found interesting.

image

“Hey, pardner, I found an inconsistency.” Two tries for a prospector and a horse. Good enough, MSFT Copilot Bing thing. I won’t ask about your secure email.

Here these items are:

  1. Microsoft, Amazon and others are being asked by a US government agency “to provide agreements and rationale for collaborations and their implications; analysis of competitive impact; and information on any other government entities requesting information or performing investigations.” Regulatory scrutiny of the techno feudal champions?
  2. The write up asserts: “Anthropic has made a “long-term commitment” to provide AWS customers with “future generations” of its models through Amazon Bedrock, and will allow them early access to unique features for model customization and fine-tuning purposes.” Love at first sight?
  3. And a fascinating quote from a Googler. Note: I have put in bold some key words which I found interesting:

“Anthropic and Google Cloud share the same values when it comes to developing AI–it needs to be done in both a bold and responsible way,” Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian said in a statement on their relationship. “This expanded partnership with Anthropic, built on years of working together, will bring AI to more people safely and securely, and provides another example of how the most innovative and fastest growing AI startups are building on Google Cloud.”

Yeah, but the article is called “Anthropic Confirms It Suffered a Data Leak.” What’s with the securely?

Ah, regulatory scrutiny and obvious inconsistency. Ho-hum with a good enough tossed in for spice.

Stephen E Arnold, January 30, 2024

Amazon: A Secret of Success Revealed

January 15, 2024

green-dino_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb dinobaby. No smart software required.

I read “Jeff Bezos Reportedly Told His Team to Attack Small Publishers Like a Cheetah Would Pursue a Sickly Gazelle in Amazon’s Early Days — 3 Ruthless Strategies He’s Used to Build His Empire.” The inspirational story make clear why so many companies, managers, and financial managers find the Bezos Bulldozer a slick vehicle. Who needs a better role model for the Information Superhighway?

image

Although this machine-generated cheetah is chubby, the big predator looks quite content after consuming a herd of sickly gazelles. No wonder so many admire the beast. Can the chubby creature catch up to the robotic wizards at OpenAI-type firms? Thanks, MSFT Copilot Bing thing. It was a struggle to get this fat beast but good enough.

The write up is not so much news but a summing up of what I think of as Bezos brainwaves. For example, the write up describes either the creator of the Bezos Bulldozer as “sadistic” or a “godfather.” Another facet of Mr. Bezos’ approach to business is an aggressive price strategy. The third tool in the bulldozer’s toolbox is creating an “adversarial” environment. That sounds delightful: “Constant friction.”

But I think there are other techniques in play. For example, we ordered a $600 dollar CPU. Amazon or one of its “trusted partners” shipped red panties in an AMD Ryzen box. [a] The CPU and [b] its official box. Fashionable, right?

image

This image appeared in my April 2022 Beyond Search. Amazon customer support insisted that I received a CPU, not panties in an AMB box. The customer support process made it crystal clear that I was trying the cheat them. Yeah, nice accusation and a big laugh when I included the anecdote in one of my online fraud lectures at a cyber crime conference.

More recently, I received a smashed package with a plastic bag displaying this message: “We care.” When I posted a review of the shoddy packaging and the impossibility of contacting Amazon, I received several email messages asking me to go to the Amazon site and report the problem. Oh, the merchant in question is named Meta Bosem:

image

Amazon asks me to answer this question before getting a resolution to this predatory action. Amazon pleads, “Did this solve my problem?” No, I will survive being the victim of what seems to a way to down a sickly gazelle. (I am just old, not sickly.)

The somewhat poorly assembled article cited above includes one interesting statement which either a robot or an underpaid humanoid presented as a factoid about Amazon:

Malcolm Gladwell’s research has led him to believe that innovative entrepreneurs are often disagreeable. Businesses and society may have a lot to gain from individuals who “change up the status quo and introduce an element of friction,” he says. A disagreeable personality — which Gladwell defines as someone who follows through even in the face of social approval — has some merits, according to his theory.

Yep, the benefits of Amazon. Let me identify the ones I experienced with the panties and the smashed product in the “We care” wrapper:

  1. Quality control and quality assurance. Hmmm. Similar to aircraft manufacturer’s whose planes feature self removing doors at 14,000 feet
  2. Customer service. I love the question before the problem is addressed which asks, “Did this solve your problem?” (The answer is, “No.”)
  3. Reliable vendors. I wonder if the Meta Bosum folks would like my pair of large red female undergarments for one of their computers?
  4. Business integrity. What?

But what does one expect from a techno feudal outfit which presents products named by smart software. For details of this recent flub, navigate to “Amazon Product Name Is an OpenAI Error Message.” This article states:

We’re accustomed to the uncanny random brand names used by factories to sell directly to the consumer. But now the listings themselves are being generated by AI, a fact revealed by furniture maker FOPEAS, which now offers its delightfully modern yet affordable I’m sorry but I cannot fulfill this request it goes against OpenAI use policy. My purpose is to provide helpful and respectful information to users in brown.

Isn’t Amazon a delightful organization? Sickly gazelles, be cautious when you hear the rumble of the Bezos Bulldozer. It does not move fast and break things. The company has weaponized its pursuit of revenue. Neither, publishers, dinobabies, or humanoids can be anything other than prey if the cheetah assertion is accurate. And the government regulatory authorities in the US? Great job, folks.

Stephen E Arnold, January 15, 2024

Does Amazon Do Questionable Stuff? Sponsored Listings? Hmmm.

January 4, 2024

green-dino_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb dinobaby. No smart software required.

Amazon, eBay, other selling platforms allow vendors to buy sponsored ads or listings. Sponsored ads or listings promote products and services to the top of search results. It’s similar to how Google sells ads. Unfortunately Google’s search results are polluted with more sponsored ads than organic results. Sponsored ads might not be a wise investment. Pluralistic explains that sponsored ads are really a huge waste of money: “Sponsored Listings Are A Ripoff For Sellers.”

Amazon relies on a payola sponsored ad system, where sellers bid to be the top-ranked in listings even if their products don’t apply to a search query. Payola systems are illegal but Amazon makes $31 billion annually from its system. The problem is that the $31 billion is taken from Amazon sellers who pay it in fees for the privilege to sell on the platform. Sellers then recoup that money from consumers and prices are raised across all the markets. Amazon controls pricing on the Internet.

Another huge part of a seller’s budget is for Amazon advertising. If sellers don’t buy ads in searches that correspond to their products, they’re kicked off the first page. The Amazon payola system only benefits the company and sellers who pay into the payola. Three business-school researchers Vibhanshu Abhishek, Jiaqi Shi and Mingyu Joo studied the harmful effects of payolas:

“After doing a lot of impressive quantitative work, the authors conclude that for good sellers, showing up as a sponsored listing makes buyers trust their products less than if they floated to the top of the results "organically." This means that buying an ad makes your product less attractive than not buying an ad. The exception is sellers who have bad products – products that wouldn’t rise to the top of the results on their own merits. The study finds that if you buy your mediocre product’s way to the top of the results, buyers trust it more than they would if they found it buried deep on page eleventy-million, to which its poor reviews, quality or price would normally banish it. But of course, if you’re one of those good sellers, you can’t simply opt not to buy an ad, even though seeing it with the little "AD" marker in the thumbnail makes your product less attractive to shoppers. If you don’t pay the danegeld, your product will be pushed down by the inferior products whose sellers are only too happy to pay ransom.”

It’s getting harder to compete and make a living on online selling platforms. It would be great if Amazon sided with the indy sellers and quit the payola system. That will never happen.

Whitney Grace, January 4, 2024

Amazon and the US Government: Doing Just Fine, Thanks

December 26, 2023

green-dino_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb dinobaby. No smart software required.

OSHA was established to protect workers from unsafe conditions. Big technology barons like Jeff Bezos with Amazon don’t give rat’s hind quarters about employee safety. They might project an image of caring and kindness but that’s from Amazon’s PR department. Amazon is charged with innumerable workplace violations, including micromanaging yawning to poor compensation. The Washington Posts details one of Amazon’s latest scandals, “A 20-Year-Old Amazon Employee Died At Work. Indiana Issued A $7000 Fine.”

Twenty-year old Caes Gruesbeck was clearing a blockage on an overhead conveyor belt at the Amazon distribution center in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He needed to use an elevated lift to reach the blockage. His head collided with the conveyor and became trapped. Gruesbeck later died from blunt force trauma.

Indiana safety officials investigated for eleven weeks and found that Amazon failed to ensure a safe work environment. Amazon was only cited and fined $7000. Amazon employees continue to be injured and the country’s second largest private employer is constantly scrutinized, but state and federal safety regulators are failing to enforce policies. They are failing because Amazon is a powerful corporation with a hefty legal department.

“‘Seven thousand dollars for the death of a 20-year-old? What’s that going to do to Amazon?’ said Stephen Wagner, an Indiana attorney who has advocated for more worker-friendly laws in the state. ‘There’s no real financial incentive for an employer like Amazon to change their working environment to make it more safe.’”

Federal and state governments are trying to make Amazon take responsibility through the current system but it’s slow. Safety regulators can’t inspect every Amazon complaint and building. They are instead working towards a sweeping company approach like the Family Dollar and Dollar Tree investigations about blocked fire exits. It took six years, resulting in $15 million in fines and a $1.35 million settlement.

Once companies are hit with large fines it changes how they do business. Amazon probably will be brought to justice but it will take a long time.

Whitney Grace, December 26, 2023

Interesting Factoid about Money and Injury Reduction Payoff of Robots at Amazon

December 12, 2023

green-dino_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb dinobaby. No smart software required.

Who know if the data in “Amazon’s Humanoid Warehouse Robots Will Eventually Cost Only $3 Per Hour to Operate. That Won’t Calm Workers’ Fears of Being Replaced” are accurate. Anyone who has watch a video clip about the Musky gigapress or the Toyota auto assembly process understands one thing: Robots don’t take breaks, require vacations, or baloney promises that taking a college class will result in a promotion.

image

An unknown worker speaks with a hypothetical robot. The robot allegedly stepped on a worker named “John.” My hunch is that the firm’s PR firm will make clear that John is doing just fine. No more golf or mountain climbing but otherwise just super. Thanks MSFT Copilot. Good enough.

The headline item is the most important; that is, the idea of $3 per hour cost. That’s why automation even if the initial robots are lousy will continue apace. Once an outfit like Amazon figures out how to get “good enough” work from non-humans, it will be hasta la vista time.

However, the write up includes a statement which is fascinating in its vagueness. The context is that automation may mistake a humanoid for a box or a piece of equipment. The box is unlikely to file a law suit if the robot crushes it. The humanoid, on the other hand, will quickly surrounded by a flock of legal eagles.

Here’s the passage which either says a great deal about Amazon or about the research effort invested in the article:

And it’s still not clear whether robots will truly improve worker safety. One whistleblower report in 2020 from investigative journalism site Reveal included leaked internal data that showed that Amazon’s robotic warehouses had higher injury rates than warehouses that don’t use robots — Amazon strongly refuted the report at the time, saying that the reporter was "misinterpreting data." "Company data shows that, in 2022, recordable incident rates and lost-time incident rates were 15% and 18% lower, respectively, at Amazon Robotics sites than non-robotics sites," Amazon says on its website.

I understand the importance of the $3 per hour cost. But the major item of interest is the incidence of accidents when humanoids and robots interact in a fast-paced picking and shipping set up. The information provided about injuries is thin and warrants closer analysis in my opinion. I loved the absence of numeric context for the assertion of a “lower” injury rate. Very precise.

Stephen E Arnold, December 12, 2023

Amazon Customer Service: Let Many Flowers Bloom and Die on the Vine

November 29, 2023

green-dino_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb dinobaby. No smart software required.

Amazon has been outputting artificial intelligence “assertions” at a furious pace. What’s clear is that Amazon is “into” the volume and variety business in my opinion. The logic of offering multiple “works in progress” and getting them to work reasonably well is going to have three characteristics: The first is that deploying and operating different smart software systems is going to be expensive. The second is that tuning and maintaining high levels of accuracy in the outputs will be expensive. The third is that supporting the users, partners, customers, and integrators is going to be expensive. If we use a bit of freshman in high school algebra, the common factor is expensive. Amazon’s remarkable assertion that no one wants to bet a business on just one model strikes me as a bit out of step with the world in which bean counters scuttle and scurry in green eyeshades and sleeve protectors. (See. I am a dinobaby. Sleeve protectors. I bet none of the OpenAI type outfits have accountants who use these fashion accessories!)

Let’s focus on just one facet of the expensive burdens I touched upon above— customer service. Navigate to the remarkable and stunningly uncritical write up called “How to Reach Amazon Customer Service: A Complete Guide.” The write up is an earthworm list of the “options” Amazon provides. As Amazon was announcing its new new big big things, I was trying to figure out why an order for an $18 product was rejected. The item in question was one part of a multipart order. The other, more costly items were approved and billed to my Amazon credit card.

image

Thanks MSFT Copilot. You do a nice broken bulldozer or at least a good enough one.

But the dog treats?

I systematically worked through the Amazon customer service options. As a Prime customer, I assumed one of them would work. Here’s my report card:

  • Amazon’s automated help. A loop. See Help pages which suggested I navigate too the customer service page. Cute. A first year comp sci student’s programming error. A loop right out of the box. Nifty.
  • The customer service page. Well, that page sent me to Help and Help sent me to the automation loop. Cool Zero for two.
  • Access through the Amazon app. Nope. I don’t install “apps” on my computing devices unless I have zero choice. (Yes, I am thinking about Apple and Google.) Too bad Amazon, I reject your app the way I reject QR codes used by restaurants. (Do these hash slingers know that QR codes are a fave of some bad actors?)
  • Live chat with Amazon customer service was not live. It was a bot. The suggestion? Get back in the loop. Maybe the chat staff was at the Amazon AI announcement or just severely overstaffed or simply did not care. Another loser.
  • Request a call from Amazon customer service. Yeah, I got to that after I call Amazon customer service. Another loser.

I repeated the “call Amazon customer service” twice and I finally worked through the automated system and got a person who barely spoke English. I explained the problem. One product rejected because my Amazon credit card was rejected. I learned that this particular customer service expert did not understand how that could have happened. Yeah, great work.

How did I resolve the rejected credit card. I called the Chase Bank customer service number. I told a person my card was manipulated and I suspected fraud. I was escalated to someone who understood the word “fr4aud.” After about five minutes of “’Will you please hold”, the Chase person told me, “The problem is at Amazon, not your card and not Chase.”

What was the fix? Chase said, “Cancel the order.” I did and went to another vendor.

Now what’s that experience suggest about Amazon’s ability (willingness) to provide effective, efficient customer support to users of its purported multiple large language models, AI systems, and assorted marketing baloney output during Amazon’s “we are into AI” week?

My answer? The Bezos bulldozer has an engine belching black smoke, making a lot of noise because the muffler has a hole in it, and the thumpity thump of the engine reveals that something is out of tune.

Yeah, AI and customer support. Just one of the “expensive” things Amazon may not be able to deliver. The troubling thing is that Amazon’s AI may have been powering the multiple customer support systems. Yikes.

Stephen E Arnold, November 29, 2023

Amazon Alexa Factoids: A Look Behind the Storefront Curtains

November 24, 2023

green-dino_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb dinobaby. No smart software required.

Hey, Amazon admirers, I noted some interesting (allegedly accurate factoids) in “Amazon Alexa to Lose $10 Billion This Year.” No, I was not pulled by interesting puddle of red ink.

image

Alexa loves to sidestep certain questions. Thanks, MSFT Copilot. Nice work even though you are making life difficult for Google’s senior management today.

Let me share four items which I thought interesting. Please, navigate to the original write up to get the full monte. (I support the tailor selling civvies, not the card game.)

  1. “Just about every plan to monetize Alexa has failed, with one former employee calling Alexa ‘a colossal failure of imagination,’ and ‘a wasted opportunity.’” [I noted the word colossal.]
  2. “Amazon can’t make money from Alexa telling you the weather”
  3. “I worked in the Amazon Alexa division. The level of incompetence coupled with arrogance was astounding.”
  4. “FAANG has gotten so large that the stock bump that comes from narrative outpaces actual revenue from working products.”

Now how about the management philosophy behind these allegedly accurate statements? It sounds like the consequences of doing high school science club field trip planning. Not sure how those precepts work? Just do a bit of reading about the OpenAI – Sam AI-Man hootenanny.

Stephen E Arnold, November 24, 2023

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

A New Union or Just a Let’s Have Lunch Moment for Two Tech Giants

November 10, 2023

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

There is nothing like titans of technology and revenue generation discovering a common interest. The thrill is the consummation and reaping the subsequent rewards. “Meta Lets Amazon Shoppers Buy Products on Facebook and Instagram without Leaving the Apps” explains:

Meta doesn’t want you to leave its popular mobile apps when making that impulse Amazon purchase. The company debuted a new feature allowing users to link their Facebook and Instagram accounts to Amazon so they can buy goods by clicking on promotions in their feeds.

11 10 23 hugging bros

Two amped up, big time tech bros discover that each has something the other wants. What is that? An opportunity to extend and exploit perhaps? Thanks, Microsoft Bing, you do get the drift of my text prompt, don’t you?

The Zuckbook’s properties touch billions of people. Some of those people want to buy “stuff.” Legitimate stuff has required the user to click away and navigate to the online bookstore to purchase a copy of the complete works of Francis Bacon. Now, the Instagram user can buy without leaving the comforting arms of the Zuck.

Does anyone have a problem with that tie up? I don’t. It is definitely a benefit for the teen who must have the latest lip gloss. It is good for Amazon because the hope is that Zucksters will buy from the online bookstore. The Meta outfit probably benefits with some sort of inducement. Maybe it is just a hug from Amazon executives? Maybe it is an opportunity to mud wrestle with Mr. Bezos if he decides to get down and dirty to show his physical prowess?

Will US regulators care? Will EU regulators care? Will anyone care?

I am not sure how to answer these questions. For decades the high tech outfits have been able to emulate the captains of industry in the golden age without much cause for concern. Continuity is good.

Will teens buy copies of Novum Organum? Absolutely.

Stephen E Arnold, November 10, 2023

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