Amazon and Counterfeit Products: Are They Really Are Here to Stay?

June 9, 2022

Counterfeit products once took some effort to locate. A quick trip to Orchard Street in lower Manhattan might yield some interesting finds. How about a $10 Rolex. A jaunt through a side street in Wuhan? A visit to a certain store in a shopping center in Bangkok? A journey to a jeweler located in a suburb of San Antonio?

But the Disneyland of counterfeits is the wonderful, clickable world of ecommerce. And who is the ageing Big Daddy of ecommerce?

Yep, Amazon, it seems to me, adopts the policy of Big Daddy Pollitt in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof: “I don’t want to talk about that.”

However, “Amazon Sees Dip in Sellers Signing Up to Sell Counterfeits” makes it clear that Amazon is talking or possibly PR’ing.

The article states:

Amazon said it ramped up investments in 2021 to keep counterfeit products off its retail site and saw signs its efforts are working, according to an annual brand protection report it released Wednesday [June 8, 2022].  The company spent more than $900 million on its anti-counterfeit programs and employed over 12,000 people focused on the problem in 2021. That’s up from $700 million and 10,000 people in the prior year.

But the important point in my opinion appears in this statement:

The increasing investment of money and manpower from Amazon is necessary, said Mary Beth Westmoreland, vice president of technology at Amazon.  “That unfortunately speaks to the fact the problem of counterfeit isn’t going away,” Westmoreland said, adding, “it’s an industry-wide problem.”

The PR-ish write up explains that Amazon is using smart software and lines of communication so bad actors can be … what? … Well, Amazon sues and it relies on Chinese authorities to raid a warehouse with fraudulent good.

Does Amazon’s posture indicate that persistent crime is now part of the Amazon experience. I recall the fascinating process of explaining to Amazon that one of its “merchants” shipped me a pair of big red panties instead of an AMD 5900x cpu. Yep, lines of communication. Fraud.

Perhaps Amazon should step away from its third party merchants with made up words, vendors identified by customers as shipping interesting but mostly faux products, and deals with aggregating merchants working from apartments in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and other exotic locations?

Just a thought because the PR’ing seems to be similar to certain big tech companies’ thanking senators for a question.

Stephen E Arnold, June 9, 2022

Amazon Artifice: Can Clever Become Cunning and Then Crime?

June 7, 2022

I spotted about 250 comments on Hacker News in response to this question: Anyone else quickly losing confidence in Amazon?

The answer is, “Yep.”

What’s interesting is that a number of comments address governance issues; that is, Amazon appears to some people to be allowing third party sellers to market products which create perceived and real problems. Examples range from pet supplies that cause owners and beasties problems to products which are unlikely to receive the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval (huh, what’s that?)

The comments contain some interesting assertions or accusations. I noted these:

  • lt1970: It’s against Amazon policy to let others know that sellers are buying reviews.
  • taurath: The resellers are more important customers than the buyers are.
  • dcchambers: The [Amazon] number crunchers have determined actually dealing with the fraud isn’t yet worth it financially.
  • KVFinn: The [Amazon ecommerce] search feels actively hostile.

Another write up dated June 3, 2022) was “Amazon Urges Consultant to Push Message from Minority Groups.”

The subject? The narrative that regulation would harm “communities of color.”

Okay, is this weaponized information?

The point of view I am taking in my forthcoming book for law enforcement, analysts, and intelligence professionals would identify this “shaped info payload” is designed to benefit corporate interests, not those individuals who fit into the euphemistic phrase “communities of color.”

Stephen E Arnold, June 7, 2022

One Click Fires: An Amazon Drone Delivers

June 3, 2022

I read another one of those “aren’t big tech outfits more important than the government” stories. “When Amazon Drones Crashed, the Company Told the FAA to Go Fly a Kite” reports:

Amazon’s Prime Air autonomous drone delivery program has tried to put off federal investigations into some of its drone crashes by claiming that the company has the authority to investigate its own crashes, according to federal documents obtained through a public records request. The company has also been slow to turn over data related to crashes, the documents show.

The FAA does has an interesting track record. Boeing 737 Max, anyone?

The write up states:

At least eight Amazon drones crashed during testing in the past year, Insider previously reported, including one that sparked a 20-acre brush fire in eastern Oregon last June after the drone’s motors failed.

Fire?

I found this statement fascinating, the Boeing DNA, I suppose:

Prime Air VP David Carbon, a former Boeing executive, has spent the past two years pushing the division to complete testing needed to obtain regulatory approval for its autonomous drones. But changing goals, frequent delays, and a shifting culture has led to low morale, employee burnout, and an attrition rate as high as 70% on the company’s test team, Insider previously reported. Some employees have left amid concerns about Prime Air’s safety culture…

Governments just don’t get it. Certain big tech companies operate on a higher plane or is it plain?

Stephen E Arnold, June 3, 2022

New York Takes Amazon to Task for Treatment of Pregnant, Disabled Employees

May 31, 2022

New York state is proving to be a challenging environment for Amazon’s middle management overlords. Yahoo Finance shares, “Amazon Discriminates Against Pregnant and Disabled Workers, New York Alleges.” Ah Amazon, always striving to be a kind and gentle company that puts its employees first. Reuters reporter Jonathan Stempel writes:

“A New York state agency has accused Amazon.com Inc in a complaint of discriminating against pregnant and disabled workers at its worksites, Governor Kathy Hochul said on Wednesday. Amazon was also accused of having policies requiring workers to take unpaid leaves of absence, even if they are capable of working, instead of providing reasonable accommodations. The New York State Division of Human Rights faulted Amazon for giving worksite managers the power to ignore the company’s in-house ‘accommodation consultants’ who recommended that workers receive modified schedules or job responsibilities. State law requires employers provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant and disabled workers who ask. It also treats pregnancy-related medical conditions as disabilities. ‘My administration will hold any employer accountable, regardless of how big or small, if they do not treat their workers with the dignity and respect they deserve,’ Hochul said in a statement.”

An Amazon spokesperson projected virtuous bewilderment at the accusations, insisting the company had been working closely with New York regulators. She also claimed workers’ comfort and safety were paramount to Amazon, but with over 1.6 million employees how can it be expected to get it right every time? Perhaps it could seek suggestions from the six US senators who asked the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to investigate Amazon’s treatment of pregnant warehouse workers.

These developments arise just as the company has batted aside New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit charging it failed to protect workers from exposure to Covid and retaliated against those who protested early pandemic conditions. Details of the Division of Human Rights’ complaint are confidential, but the article states it seeks certain fines and penalties as well as improved training and reasonable accommodation policies. We also learn penalties can run up to $100,000. That sounds like a lot to most of us, but for Amazon it would make nary a dent in its profits, which were $33.4 billion in 2021 alone.

Cynthia Murrell, May 31, 2022

Google Responds to Amazon Product Search Growth

April 20, 2022

Here is a new feature from Google, dubbed Lens, we suspect was designed to win back product-search share from Amazon. TechCrunch reveals, “Google’s New ‘Multisearch’ Feature Lets You Search Using Text and Images at the Same Time.” The mobile-app feature, now running as a beta in the US, is available on Android and iOS. As one would expect, it allows one to ask questions or refine search results for a photo or other image. Writer Aisha Malik reports:

“Google told TechCrunch that the new feature currently has the best results for shopping searches, with more use cases to come in the future. With this initial beta launch, you can also do things beyond shopping, but it won’t be perfect for every search. In practice, this is how the new feature could work. Say you found a dress that you like but aren’t a fan of the color it’s available in. You could pull up a photo of the dress and then add the text ‘green’ in your search query to find it in your desired color. In another example, you’re looking for new furniture, but want to make sure it complements your current furniture. You can take a photo of your dining set and add the text ‘coffee table’ in your search query to find a matching table. Or, say you got a new plant and aren’t sure how to properly take care of it. You could take a picture of the plant and add the text ‘care instructions’ in your search to learn more about it.”

Malik notes this feature is great for times when neither an image nor words by themselves produce great Google results—a problem the platform has wrestled with. Lens employs the company’s latest ready-for-prime-time AI tech, but the developers hope to go further and incorporate their budding Multitask Unified Model (MUM). See the write up for more information, including a few screenshots of Lens at work.

Cynthia Murrell, April 20, 2022

Amazon: Is the Company Losing Control of Essentials?

April 11, 2022

Here’s a test question? Which is the computer product in the image below?

[a]

[b]

panty on table cpu

If you picked [a], you qualify for work at TopCharm, an Amazon service located in lovely Brooklyn at 3912 New Utrecht Avenue, zip 11219. Item [b] is the Ryzen cpu I ordered, paid for, and expected to arrive. TopCharm delivered: Panties, not the CPU. Is it easy to confuse a Ryzen 5900X with these really big, lacy, red “unmentionables”? One of my team asked me, “Do you want me to connect the red lace cpu to the ASUS motherboard?”

Ho ho ho.

What does Clustrmaps.com say about this location””?

This address has been used for business registration by Express Repair & Towing Inc. The property belongs to Lelah Inc. [Maybe these are Lelah’s underwear? And Express Repair & Towing? Yep, that sounds like a vendor of digital panties, red and see-through at that.]

One of my team suggested I wear the garment for my lecture in April 2021 at the National Cyber Crime Conference? My wife wanted to know if Don (one of my technical team) likes red panties? A neighbor’s college-attending son asked, “Who is the babe who wears that? Can I have her contact info?”

My sense of humor about this matter is officially exhausted.

Several observations about this Amazon transaction:

  1. Does the phrase “too big to manage” apply in this situation to Amazon’s ecommerce business?
  2. What type of stocking clerk confuses a high end CPU with cheap red underwear?
  3. What quality assurance methods are in place to protect a consumer from cheap jokes and embarrassment when this type of misstep occurs?

Has Amazon lost control of the basics of online commerce? If one confuses CPUs with panties, how is Amazon going to ensure that its Government Cloud services for the public sector stay online? Quite a misstep in my opinion. Is this cyber fraud, an example of management lapses, a screwed up inventory system, or a perverse sense of humor?

Stephen E Arnold, April 11, 2022

Do Amazon and Google Shape Information to Advance Their Legislative Agenda?

March 31, 2022

The meeting in which it was decided to fund the Connected Commerce Council must have been fun: High fives, snorts of laughter, and derogatory comments perhaps? CNBC, a most interesting source of real 21st century news, published “How Google and Amazon Bankrolled a Grassroots’ Activist Group of Small Business Owners to Lobby Against Big Tech Oversight.” This is not a high school essay about “How to Make a Taco.” Nope. If true, the write up explains how two companies funded an information management campaign. I would describe this a weaponized propaganda, but I live in rural Kentucky and I am luck if I can remember where I left my bicycle. (Answer: in the garage.)

The write up explains:

The Connected Commerce Council, which pitches itself as a grassroots movement representing small business owners, is actually a well-financed advocacy group funded by tech heavy hitters Google and Amazon.

Interesting.

Here’s the newsy bit:

Lobbying watchdog group the Campaign for Accountability called 3C an “Astroturf” lobbying organization, thanks to the tech giants’ financial support. That’s a bit of Washington slang for a group that claims to represent grassroots entities, but in reality serves as an advocate for big industry. It’s a tactic used in Washington to push for specific legislative or regulatory goals using the sympathetic face of mom and pop organizations. The Campaign for Accountability described 3C in a 2019 report as an “Astroturf-style front group for the nation’s largest technology companies.”

Let’s think about the meeting or meetings which made it possible for two big outfits conclude that weaponizing content was a peachy keen idea. Some questions:

  1. When will the regulators emulate their European brothers, sisters, and thems and make meaningful steps to deal with cute weaponizing plays like this one?
  2. Why do executives sign off on such content manipulation — excuse me, I mean public interest messaging? Confidence in their ability to let loose flocks of legal eagles, a “hey, why not” attitude, or a belief in their own infallibility. (CNBC is not exactly Bellingcat, right?)
  3. Is it a disconnect between ethical behavior and high school science club insouciance?

These are good questions, and I don’t have answers.

The write up includes this remarkable quotation from a Connected Commerce big wheel:

In a statement to CNBC, Connected Commerce Council Executive Director Rob Retzlaff said all of the group’s members “affirmatively sign up – at events, online, or through a personal connection – and thousands have opened emails, responded to surveys, attended meetings and events, and communicated with legislators.” Retzlaff said, “I sincerely hope you do not (a) mischaracterize our efforts or the views of small businesses by suggesting we are an astroturf organization that puts words in people’s mouths, or (b) use outdated membership information to distract readers from legitimate concerns of small businesses and their engagement with policymakers.”

I like the “sincerely hope.”

Read the original. I think the article is a thought starter.

Oh, one more question:

Why didn’t Google just filter search results to add sauce to the Max Miller recreation of Genghis Khan’s fave little meat cakes? Low profile and the perfect explanation: The algorithm makes its own decisions.

Sure, just like the people in the meeting that concluded disinformation and propaganda to preserve the nifty cash machines that make astroturfing useful.

Stephen E Arnold, March 31, 2022

TikTok: Search and Advertising

March 29, 2022

If life were not tricky enough for Amazon, Facebook, and Google, excitement is racing down the information highway. I read “TikTok Search Ads Tool Is Being Tested Out.” I learned:

This week, the famous short video application began beta testing for TikTok search ads in search results, allowing marketers to reach the audience utilizing the keywords they use.

Yep, a test, complete with sponsored listings at the top of the search result page.

Will this have an impact on most adults over the age of 65? The answer in my opinion, “Is not right away, but down the road, oh, baby, yes.”

Let’s think about the Big Boys:

  1. Amazon gets many clicks from its product search. The Google once dominated this function, but the Bezos bulldozer has been grinding away.
  2. Facebook or as I like to call it “zuckbook.” The combined social empire of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp has quite a bit of product information. Don’t you follow Soph Mosca’s fashion snaps on Instagram? Will TikTok search offer a better experience with search, ads, and those nifty videos? Yep.
  3. And Google. Now the GOOG faces competition for product search ads from the China linked TikTok. How will the company respond? Publish a book on managing a diverse work force or put out a news release about quantum supremacy.

The write up explains that the ads, the search angle, and the experience is in beta. Will TikTok sell ads? Okay, let me think. Wow. Tough question. My answer, “Does President Gi take an interest in the Internet?”

The write up includes a link to a Twitter post which shows the beta format. You can view it at this link.

I want to point out that TikTok is a useful source of open source intelligence, captures information of interest to those who want to pinpoint susceptible individuals, and generates high value data about users interested in a specific type of content and the creators of that content.

Now TikTok will be on the agenda of meetings at three of the world’s most loved companies. Yep, Amazon, Facebook, and Google. Who loves these outfits the most? Advertisers!

Stephen E Arnold, March 29, 2022

Twitch to Ban Agents of False Information

March 18, 2022

Amazon, proud owner of streaming platform Twitch, wades into a swamp in which there are snakes and other dangerous creatures. IGN reports, “Twitch Introducing New Rules to Stop Misinformation Spreaders.” The brief write-up describes the new policy:

“The policy update will target streamers who consistently make false claims, on or off Twitch, regarding protected groups, health issues including COVID-19, public emergencies, and misinformation that promotes violence or diminishes civic systems such as election results. Angela Hession, Twitch’s vice president of trust and safety, said the website is ‘taking this precautionary step and updating our policies to ensure that these misinformation superspreaders won’t find a home on our service,’ per the New York Times. … all misinformation spreaders will be targeted by the new policy even if they don’t make false claims while streaming. Sharing the misinformation on other platforms such as Twitter is enough to warrant action against their Twitch account.”

We are guessing many users will object to this cross-platform policing. Vigorously. The company, however, must believe the threat of misinformation warrants the crackdown. The audience for streaming gamers has grown rapidly over the last several years, and the invasion in Ukraine has magnified the problem. Video games can look so real that some in-game footage has been presented as actual footage of the conflict. One developer is pleading with people not to use their software in this way. We are glad to see Amazon taking a stand even as it faces other Twitch-related problems.

Cynthia Murrell, March 18, 2022

Amazon: Does the Online Bookstore Sell Petards?

March 14, 2022

What happens when an Amazon wizard says something that allows a real news outfit to write:

In 2020, Jeff Bezos, then the company’s CEO, told the committee Amazon doesn’t allow staff to use data from individual sellers to make competing products, but couldn’t guarantee “that policy has never been violated.” Executives also said in testimony that the company doesn’t use seller data to copy products and then promote its versions in search results, despite reports to the contrary. Source: “DOJ Asked to Investigate Amazon over Possible Obstruction of Congress”?

What’s a petard? A search of Amazon reveals that it thinks it is a way to find a book in French which seems like to inflame Tennessee local school board officials. See “Peanut Butter: The Journal de Molly Fredickson”.

The petard of which I am thinking is “hoist by your own petard.” It means, according to the Free Dictionary:

Injured, ruined, or defeated by one’s own action, device, or plot that was intended to harm another; having fallen victim to one’s own trap or schemes. (“Hoist” in this instance is the past participle of the archaic verb “hoist,” meaning to be raised or lifted up. A “petard” was a bell-shaped explosive used to breach walls, doors, and so on.)

Saying one thing under oath and having elected officials learn facts that suggest otherwise is not a credibility booster.

Would senior wizards for the online bookstore dissemble?

Yep, just like some other executives when they say, “Senator, thank you for that question. I don’t know, but I will get back to you.”

Stephen E Arnold, March 14, 2022

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