Is the Freight Train of Responsibility Rerouting to Amazonia?

May 3, 2021

A Hoverboard Burst into Flames. It Could Change the Way Amazon Does Business” is from the consistently fascinating business wizards at the Los Angeles Times. (No, this is not a report about a new owner, newsroom turmoil, or the business school case of the future.) The newspaper reports that a three California “justices” decided that Amazon cannot pass the buck. I noted this statement in the write up:

“We are persuaded that Amazon’s own business practices make it a direct link in the vertical chain of distribution under California’s strict liability doctrine,” the justices ruled, rejecting Amazon’s claim that its site is merely a platform connecting buyers and sellers.

Yikes, do these legal professionals believe that a company, operating in an essentially unregulated environment, is responsible for the products it sells? The answer to this question seems to be “yes.” Remember, however, these factoids about modern legal practices:

  1. A company like Amazon lives and works in Amazonia. There are different rules and regulations in this digital country. As a result, the experts from Amazonia have considerable resources at their disposal. Legal processes will unfold in legal time, which is different from one click buyer time.
  2. Amazon has money and can hire individuals who can ensure that legal procedures are observed, considered, and subjected to applicable legal processes. That means drag out proceedings if possible.
  3. Amazon will keep on doing what has made the firm successful. Massive, quick change is possible, but in Amazonia there are Amazon time zones. California is just one time zone in the 24×7 world of the mom and pop online bookstore.

I want to be optimistic that after decades of ignoring the digital behemoths government may take meaningful action. But these are country-scale entities. Why not hire the lawyers working on this California matter and let them help shape Amazon’s response. The revolving door is effective when it delivers money, influence, and bonuses faster than the Great State of California loses population. Hopes for controlling Amazon could go up in flames too.

Stephen E Arnold, May 3, 2021

You Buy a Newspaper, and Then You Read This: Will the Bezos Bulldozer Change Direction?

April 27, 2021

Jeff Bezos (via assorted financial entities) gained control of the Washington Post. MBAs can quibble about “gained control”, the idea of buying a newspaper, and associating the publication with the mom-and-pop online store. That’s okay.

Navigate to “How Big Tech Got So Big: Hundreds of Acquisitions.” Now visualize yourself as the world’s richest man and an individual who may be the smartest person in any room into which he wanders. Then read this passage from your newspaper:

You may have recognized many of these acquired companies, like Zappos, IMDb, Twitch and Goodreads — all owned by Amazon.

Skip a few lines:

But the majority of acquisitions involved small start-ups with
valuable patents or talented engineers…

And this passage:

But now, as the tech giants grow more powerful, critics who accused these companies of using monopoly power to weaken competitors have also called for more scrutiny, saying the acquisitions are not rooted in innovation but total market control — part of a tactic known as “copy, acquire, kill” — to eliminate competition…

Continuing with:

To enter the grocery arena, the company acquired Whole Foods Market and its distribution channels and retail locations in one $13.7 billion-dollar gulp. Amazon wanted to be a bigger player in the “Internet of Things,” so it swallowed up several home security companies and the home router company Eero. And as the company dived into the autonomous vehicle industry, it chose start-ups in that space, too. [Want to borrow that e-book from the library? Sorry, Amazon won’t let you.] Amazon is everywhere: in your television with Prime Video, in your ears with its Echo smart speaker, and behind the websites and apps you use every day. In 2020, the company made $386 billion in revenue.  The company shows no signs of slowing, with additional acquisitions that included robotics companies to assist workers and artificial intelligence to grow the capabilities of its Alexa virtual assistant service. Amazon executives have said the company is just a small part of the overall retail industry.

In your hypothetical guise of the world’s richest person, what do you do?

[a] Ignore

[b] Make a call to someone who can talk to someone about the story

[c] Pull a lever on the bulldozer and change direction

[d] Other? Explain: _______________________________

Business strategies with examples from one’s employer can be interesting.

Stephen E Arnold, April 27, 2021

Do Tech Monopolies Have to Create Enforcement Units?

April 26, 2021

Two online enforcement articles struck me as thought provoking.

The first was the Amazon announcement that it would kick creators (people who stream on the Twitch service) off the service for missteps off the platform. This is an interesting statement, and you can get some color in “Twitch to Boot Users for Transgressions Elsewhere.” In my discussion with my research team about final changes to my Amazon policeware lecture, I asked the group about Twitch banning individuals who create video streams and push them to the Twitch platform.

There were several points of view. Here’s a summary of the comments:

  • Yep, definitely
  • No, free country
  • This has been an informal policy for a long time. (Example: SweetSaltyPeach, a streamer from South Africa who garnered attention by assembling toys whilst wearing interesting clothing. Note: She morphed into the more tractable persona RachelKay.

There’s may be a problem for Twitch, and I am not certain Amazon can solve it. Possibly Amazon – even with its robust policeware technology – cannot control certain activities off the platform. A good example is the persona on Twitch presented as iBabyRainbow. Here’s a snap of the Twitch personality providing baseball batting instructions to legions of fans by hitting eggs with her fans’ names on them:

baby 3 baseball

There is an interesting persona on the site NewRecs. It too features a persona which seems very similar to that of the Amazon persona. The colors are similar; the makeup conventions are similar; and the unicorn representation appears in both images. Even the swimming pool featured on Twitch appears in the NewRecs’ representation of the personal BabyRainbow.

baby newrecs filtered copy

What is different is that on NewRecs, the content creator is named “BabyRainbow.” Exploration of the BabyRainbow persona reveals some online lines which might raise some eyebrows in Okoboji, Iowa. One example is the link between BabyRainbow and the site Chaturbate.

My research team spotted the similarity quickly. Amazon, if it does know about the coincidence, has not taken action for the persona’s Twitch versus NewRecs versus Chaturbate and some other “interesting” services which exist.

So either Twitch enforcement is ignoring certain behavior whilst punishing other types of behavior. Neither Amazon or Twitch is talking much about iBabyRainbow or other parental or law enforcement-type of actions.

The second development is the article “Will YouTube Ever Properly Deal with Its Abusive Stars?” The write up states:

YouTube has long had a problem with acknowledging and dealing with the behavior of the celebrities it helped to create… YouTube is but one of many major platforms eager to distance themselves from the responsibility of their position by claiming that their hands-off approach and frequent ignorance over what they host is a free speech issue. Even though sites like YouTube, Twitter, Substack, and so on have rules of conduct and claim to be tough on harassment, the evidence speaks to the contrary.

The essay points out that YouTube has taken action against certain individuals whose off YouTube behavior was interesting, possibly inappropriate, and maybe in violation of certain government laws. But, the essay, asserts about a YouTuber who pranked people and allegedly bullied people:

Dobrik’s channel was eventually demonetized by YouTube, but actions like this feel too little too late given how much wealth he’s accumulated over the years. Jake Paul is still pulling in big bucks from his channel. Charles was recently demonetized, but his follower count remains pretty unscathed. And that doesn’t even include all the right-wing creeps pulling in big bucks from YouTube. Like with any good teary apology video, the notion of true accountability seems unreachable.

To what do these two example sum? The Big Tech companies may have to add law enforcement duties to their checklist of nation state behavior. When a government takes an action, there are individuals with whom one can speak. What rights does talent on an ad-based platform have. Generate money and get a free pass. Behave in a manner which might lead to a death penalty in some countries? Keep on truckin’? The online ad outfit struggles to make clear exactly what it is doing with censorship and other activities like changing the rules for APIs. It will be interesting to see what the GOOG tries to do.

Consider this: What if Mr. Dobrik and iBabyRainbow team up and do a podcast? Would Apple and Spotify bid for rights? How would the tech giants Amazon and Google respond? These are questions unthinkable prior to the unregulated, ethics free online world of 2021.

Stephen E Arnold, April 26, 2021

Email Marketers Get a Wake Up Call from Amazon

April 26, 2021

Email marketing. Decent business. Not too exciting. Wrong.

Amazon Is Loosening Its Grip on Customers and Letting Some Sellers Reach Out to Them” suggests that some email marketing agencies either have a challenge or an opportunity. The write up states:

Amazon began piloting a tool that enables U.S. companies that are part of its Brand Registry program to email marketing materials to shoppers who have opted to “follow” their brands. These companies can then notify those shoppers when they launch a new product or promotion.

A small and logical start. However, a question not frequently asked is:

How many email addresses does Amazon have?

Amazon does not say, but it does have some information flows which can be filtered to provide email addresses. The metadata for each “object” can provide the type of hooks of interest to those needing to do direct marketing.

I will review some of Amazon’s sources of data in my lecture on April 28, 2021, at the National Cyber Crime Conference. I have a diagram assembled from open source information. Combined with the AWS cross correlation capability, Amazon’s email baby step could lead to a marathon runner’s stride. I offer a for fee, non law enforcement/intelligence professional version of this lecture. You can inquire about the information by writing benkent2020 at yahoo dot com. Just put Amazon in the subject line.

Stephen E Arnold, April 26, 2021

Amazon Tactics: Entanglement at a Distance or the New Physics of Ecommerce?

April 15, 2021

Just a thought: Are two distant, seemingly unrelated events entangled? It depends on which physicist one believes and what one knows about the forces exerted by the Bezos bulldozer. I will talk about one facet of this strange influence in my Amazon lecture at the National Cyber Crime Conference. There are some attendance requirements, but I want to outline what I call the Bezos bulldozer’s strange force. This is hypothetical because like Dark Matter, no one knows exactly how to monetize it beyond snagging tenure. Nevertheless, it is an amusing notion to explore.

Here’s the first allegedly true factoid: The Wall Street Journal reports what to its intrepid “real” journalists is news. What is the nub  of “How Amazon Strong-Arms Partners Using Its Power Across Multiple Businesses.” You will have to snag a dead tree version of the newspaper or pay Mr. Murdoch for some “real news.” The friendly mom and pop bookstore are allegedly using the collective presence of multiple Amazon businesses to alter the behavior of some vendors, partners, and other mostly unconnected pools of people bouncing off the blade of the Bezos bulldozer. As Mr. Murdoch’s stellar professionals have discerned:

A heavyweight in retail, cloud computing, digital advertising, streaming and smart speakers, the tech giant [Amazon] compels vendors in one market to engage with it in others.

Now shift to chilly Canada. This story is about a company touted by a media personality, NYU professor, and podcaster. “Senior Execs Forsyth, Frasca and Lemieux leaving Shopify” reports:

The departures will leave a significant gap in Shopify’s C-suite as the Ottawa firm ?– which surpassed RBC last year to become Canada’s most valuable publicly traded company ?– continues to stake its claim as a global e-commerce software leader.

What’s the connection between these two stories? One possibility is:

“Each one of them has their individual reasons but what was unanimous with all three was that this was the best for them and the best for Shopify,” Lütke said in the announcement obtained by OBJ.

Another possibility is that the vibrations or the Dark Force of the Bezos bulldozer has been sensed by those who recognize a power greater than themselves.

Connection or not? My thought is that one doesn’t need a yoda with French bulldog ears and nose to sense strange action at a  distance.

As Yoda noted:

When you look at the dark side, careful you must be. For the dark side looks back.

Words to ponder?

Stephen E Arnold, April 15, 2021

An Amazon Easter Egg: Ethical Waste Inside a Plastic Shell

April 5, 2021

I read a “real news” story called “Amazon Apologizes for Lying about Pee — And Attempts to Shift the Blame.” The main point of the article is that a large, essentially unregulated company creates working conditions which deny employees the right to deal with bodily functions. You can plug in the words which would get an ordinary person banned by smart software designed to protect one’s sensibilities.

The write up, however, focuses on Amazon’s mendacious behavior. Is it a surprise that a giant corporation distorts information so that it can continue to behave in a way that would make the author of Nicomachean Ethics slug down hemlock before finishing research for his revered tome? [Note: I included the MIT version because MIT is so darned ethical in its willingness to accept Jeffrey Epstein’s blandishments and cash.] “Gimme that cup of poison. There’s no hope,” he might have said.

The write up states:

Amazon only apologizes for not being “accurate” enough, too — not for actually creating and contributing to situations where workers [censored] in bottles. In fact, Amazon goes so far as to suggest the whole pee bottle thing is simply a regrettable status quo, pointing out a handful of times when other companies’ delivery drivers were also caught peeing in bottles, as well as embedding a handful of random comments on Twitter that happen to support Amazon’s views. You can almost hear Jeff Bezos saying “Why aren’t these people blaming UPS and FedEx? Let’s get more people thinking about them instead.”

There are several issues within this Amazon Easter egg; for example:

  1. The ethical posture of exploitation. The US makes a big deal about China’s alleged exploitation of ethnic groups, yet seems okay with the Amazon and other US entities’ behavior. Interesting or hypocrisy?
  2. The failure of regulation. Is Amazon the exception or the norm? The answer is that Amazon like other big tech outfits is the norm. I want to suggest that the norm applies to sugar cane workers in Brazil as well as to street vendors in Zagreb. Look behind the day-to-day misery and there is a Boss type, probably with an MBA. Governments have failed to protect workers. In fact large companies are the government just as Boss types are the forces which matter in many countries. No elections, lobbyists, or education needed.
  3. Slow response to abuse. Many large tech companies have been chugging along for more than 20 years. Suddenly people care? What’s this say about journalists, union organizers, and non government organizations allegedly “into” fair and equal treatment?

Dropping the Amazon Easter egg on a Friday of a holiday weekend produces what?

Here’s my answer: Visible evidence that the Easter egg is made of the same indestructible plastic in which many Amazon products are packaged. Those eggs are unbreakable, and the behaviors are going to continue.

My suggestion? Stock up on large mouth plastic bottles or start innovating with modifying a Rocket Man beverage pack so it can be used as a Porta Potties using an indwelling urinary catheter instead of an outdwelling beer nozzle. Less hassle and an opportunity to become an entrepreneur selling the “innovation” on Etsy.

Stephen E Arnold, April 5, 2021

No Joke: Amazon and Social Media

April 1, 2021

A change at the top and Amazon gets wonky. Coincidence or just a new crew of social media advisors? Who knows. “Amazon Wanted Twitter Warriors with Great Sense of Humor, Leaked Doc Shows” reveals some allegedly accurate information about the humble online bookseller.

The write up states:

Amazon sought out warehouse staffers with a “great sense of humor” to build a squad of Twitter warriors to knock down criticism of its fulfillment centers, a leaked document reveals.

Yep, warehouse workers with the skills of a tweet master like the real Borat.

The story adds:

While Amazon wanted the workers to speak for themselves, the memo shows company officials wanted a standardized format for their Twitter handles and usernames. They mulled adding an emoji to the username to “give personality, for example a small box emoji…

bulldozer small

A happy Amazon worker surrounded with positive tweets is running with an “emergency necessary bottle” from the automated Bezos bulldozer and its business processes.

The write up includes what may be an April Fool joke:

“| work for Amazon and not sure about other facilities but I’ve never felt pressured to pee in a trash can,” one trainee wrote in a draft tweet. “My managers understand when you gotta’ go you gotta’ go.”

You can read the allegedly accurate document at this link.

Stephen E Arnold, April 1, 2021

Amazon and Personnel Wizardry?

March 11, 2021

Amazon likes to say it successfully promotes diversity and inclusion in its company, and some of the numbers it touts do represent a measure of success. However, there appears to be a lot of work left to do and not enough will to do it from the powerful “S Team.” Recode discusses “Bias, Disrespect and Demotions: Black Employees Say Amazon Has a Race Problem.” The extensive article begins with the story of former employee Chanin Kelly-Rae, a former global manager of diversity for AWS. She began the position with high hopes, but quit in dismay 10 months later. Reporter Meron Menghistab writes:

“Kelly-Rae, who is Black, is one of more than a dozen former and current Amazon corporate employees — 10 of whom are Black — who told Recode in interviews over the past few months that they felt the company has failed to create a corporate-wide environment where all Black employees feel welcomed and respected. Instead, they told Recode that, in their experience, Black employees at the company often face both direct and insidious bias that harms their careers and personal lives. All of the current and former employees, other than Kelly-Rae, spoke on condition of anonymity either because of the terms of their employment with Amazon or because they fear retribution from Amazon for speaking out about their experiences. Current and former Amazon diversity and inclusion professionals — employees whose work focuses on helping Amazon create and maintain an equitable workplace and products — told Recode that internal data shows that Amazon’s review and promotion systems have created an unlevel playing field. Black employees receive ‘least effective’ marks more often than all other colleagues and are promoted at a lower rate than non-Black peers. Recode reviewed some of this data for the Amazon Web Services division of the company, and it shows large disparities in performance review ratings between Black and white employees.”

Amazon, of course, disagrees with this characterization, but it is difficult to argue with all the points Menghistab considers: the many unsettling comments made to and about Black employees by higher-ups; the reluctance of management to embrace best practices suggested by their own diversity experts; the fact that diversity goals do not extend to top management positions; the rampant “down-leveling” of employees of color, its long-term effects on each worker, and the low chances of promotion; a hesitation to hire from historically Black colleges; and the problematic “Earns Trust” evaluation metric. We suggest interested readers navigate to the article to learn more about each of these and other factors.

Some minority employees say they have reason to hope. For one thing, the problems do not pervade the entire company—many teams happily hum along without any of these problems. The company is making a few small steps in the right direction, like requiring workers undergo diversity and inclusion training, participating in the Management Leadership of Tomorrow’s Black Equity at Work Certification, and holding a virtual career-enrichment summit for Black, Latinx, and Native American prospective employees. There will never be a quick and easy fix for the tech behemoth, but as Kelly-Rae observes:

“Amazon is really good at things it wants to be good at, and if Amazon decided it really wanted to be good at this, I have no doubt it can be.”

Time to step it up, Amazon.

Cynthia Murrell, March 11, 2021

India and Amazon Tie Contrived Knots

March 8, 2021

Small businesses in India have been accusing Amazon of shady business practices for some time. Now, a report from Reuters has exposed the company’s strategy to circumvent Indian regulators. Fossbytes discusses the report in, “The Great Amazon India Document Leak: All You Need to Know.” We’re told one internal presentation obtained by Reuters blatantly urged workers to “test the boundaries of what is allowed by law.” Not a good look, Amazon. Journalist Manik Berry writes:

“According to the report by Reuters, Amazon has been bending rules just enough to not get into legal trouble in India. For instance, the Indian FDI (foreign direct investment) rules prevent Amazon or other e-commerce retailers to control inventory in India. This means Amazon can be the platform where buyers meet sellers but it cannot control how the sellers sell things. However, the report says Amazon found a way to control the inventory. …
“Amazon’s internal documents reveal the creation of a ‘Special Merchant (SM)’ in 2014. This special merchant, namely Cloudtail, is one of the biggest sellers on Amazon, accounting for over 40% of the platform’s sales. Cloudtail was created as a collaboration between Amazon and the Infosys founder, N.R. Narayana Murthy. Amazon wanted it to control more than 40% of sales on Amazon India. This would’ve made it a $1 billion business, whose profit would, indirectly, go to Amazon. What’s alarming is that Cloudtail is created and controlled by Amazon, which means it directly flouted the Indian FDI rules.”

The report also reveals that about a third of Amazon India’s sales come from only 33 sellers. It seems the company has been providing those select few with support and promotion, giving them an unfair advantage. The leaked docs suggest this practice is resulting in losses for the other 66%. For more details, we direct readers to the extensive Reuters article.

Amazon is still the Bezos bulldozer. Perhaps the new driver is a streak of cleverness lacking when Mr. Bezos pulled the levers?

Cynthia Murrell, March 8, 2021

Amazon: Putting Eyes on Humans

February 17, 2021

Amazon may have a new driver at the controls of the Bezos bulldozer, but the big orange machine keeps pushing monitoring technology. “Amazon’s Driver Monitoring App Is an Invasive Nightmare” does not like the system the online bookstore uses to keep an eye on human delivery drivers. The write up states:

Mentor is made by eDriving, which describes the app on its website as a “smartphone-based solution that collects and analyzes driver behaviors most predictive of crash risk and helps remediate risky behavior by providing engaging, interactive micro-training modules delivered directly to the driver in the smartphone app.”

From my tumble down shack in rural Kentucky, the Bezos bulldozer seems to be using technology from an outfit called eDriving. There are several options available to the online bookstore. Amazon can continue to pay eDriving. Amazon can clone the system. Amazon can acquire the company, people, or technology.

Based on my on-going research into Amazon’s surveillance capabilities, the enhanced cameras, the online hook to the AWS mothership, and the use of third-parties to nudge monitoring forward is still in its early days. Amazon moves slowly and in a low profile way. Most law enforcement and intelligence organizations observe Amazon the way a tourist does a turtle in the Galapagos: Check out where the turtle is after breakfast and then note that the darned thing moved behind a rock a few fee away by noon. No big deal. Turtles move, right? Turtles are not gazelles, right?

Several observations:

  1. Amazon chugs along in a sprightly manner behind the curtain separating public use of a system like Mentor
  2. Amazon time makes it difficult for some observers to note significant change in a system or technology
  3. The trick to figuring out where Amazon is headed in surveillance systems is to step back and observe the suite of systems.

What does one learn?

How about Amazon as the plumbing for many of the widely used policeware and intelware systems? Who knew that Palantir Technologies is a good Amazon customer? Maybe not IBM which inked a deal with the chipper Denver based “ride ‘em cowboy” policeware firm.

How useful would Amazon’s monitoring technology be if connected to a Palantir content intake system? My guess is that it would be quite useful, and it would require the Amazon cloud to work. What’s that mean for cloud competitors like Google, IBM, and Microsoft?

Amazon’s policeware and intelware approach is a lock in dream. Where could a Mentor-type system be useful to investigators?

Sorry. I can’t think of a single use case. Ho ho ho.

Stephen E Arnold, February 17, 2021

Next Page »

  • Archives

  • Recent Posts

  • Meta