The Bezos Bulldozer Heads to Academia

May 13, 2020

Oxford University and AWS have teamed up for cloud based research.

Does this strike anyone else as an interesting and perhaps improbable combination? On its News and Events page, Oxford University announces, “Oxford University and Amazon Web Services Create a Test-Bed for Cloud-Based Research.” The post reveals:

“Today the University of Oxford is delighted to announce a new strategic collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS). The collaboration will focus on building a portfolio of new research projects relating to AI, robotics, cyber-physical systems, human-centered computing, and support to the University’s new ‘Lighthouse’ Doctoral Scholarships. This new university- industry collaboration, supported by a £7 million [about $8.7 million] gift from AWS to the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division, will accelerate advances in AI and Data Science across the entire research portfolio of the University. Professor Patrick Grant, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) University of Oxford, said: ‘Cloud computing is an essential part of modern research. A streamlined operating model for using cloud services will benefit all of our researchers. The Oxford Robotics Institute, the Cyber Physical Systems Group, and the Human Centered Computing group are leading the initial projects in the short term, but I look forward to growing the collaboration to bring research benefits across our research work more broadly.’”

For its part, AWS is happy to demonstrate how its products can help academia. That is, after all, one more sector it can add to its collection of those becoming dependent on its platform. The press release quotes members of each Oxford department involved: the Applied AI Lab, the Robotics Institute, Human-Centered Computing, and the Cyber Physical Systems group. See the post for each of those perspectives. I am particularly curious about the Human-Centered Computing professor’s vision for an Institute of Responsible Technology, but details are not provided.

As for that Lighthouse Doctoral Scholarship program, it will fund 25 PhD students for the years 2020-2022 “who are applying to the Centre for Doctoral Training in Autonomous Intelligent Machines and Systems, or to the research laboratories of the supervisors in the human-machine collaboration initiative.” This will help the university toward its existing goal of adding 300 graduate scholarships between 2018 and 2023.

Between the funding, the scholarships, and the technology, both AWS and Oxford have high hopes for an advanced, multi-national, “cloud-first” research initiative.

Like IBM, tie ups with big name universities may payoff in useful ways: Recruitment, research, virtue signaling, etc.

Too bad for the University of Washington maybe?

Cynthia Murrell, May 12, 2020

An Amazon AWS Would You Believe…

May 6, 2020

I am not sure if this is content marketing, PR, or horse feathers. IndiaTV published “At Over $40 billion Annual Run Rate, Amazon Web Services Growing Faster Than Ever.” Here are some factoids from the “real news” write up:

  • Amazon will have a “super annual run rate of more than $40 billion” from AWS
  • AWS now spans 76 Availability Zones within 24 geographic regions, with announced plans for nine more Availability Zones and three more AWS Regions in Indonesia, Japan, and Spain.
  • Amazon does cyber security: “Amazon Detective automatically collects log data from a customer’s resources and uses machine learning, statistical analysis, and graph theory to build interactive visualizations that help customers analyze, investigate, and quickly identify the root cause of potential security issues or suspicious activities.”
  • “AWS has also announced the general availability of Amazon Augmented Artificial Intelligence (Amazon A2I), a fully managed service that makes it easy to add human review to machine learning predictions to enhance model and application accuracy by continuously identifying and improving low confidence predictions.”

And the biggie:

AWS helped power the NFL’s first ever remote draft — the most watched ever, reaching more than 55 million viewers total.

Will IBM and HP get the message? Google and Microsoft have.

Stephen E Arnold, May 6, 2020

The Bulldozer and Bray: Amazon and Its People Policies in Action

May 4, 2020

I read “Bye, Amazon.” The author is Tim Bray. Some may remember him as one of the spark plugs of Open Text. He did some nifty visualization work. He did the Google thing until 2014. From 2014 until a couple of days ago he worked at Amazon, the Bezos bulldozer, the online bookstore, and all-around economic engine of Covid America.

The write up states:

I quit in dismay at Amazon firing whistleblowers who were making noise about warehouse employees frightened of Covid-19.

When Amazon terminated with prejudice the Amazonians protesting.

Mr. Bray’s reaction was


Mr. Bray was upset, went through Amazon channels, and resigned.

He states about the warehouse worker action:

It’s not just workers who are upset. Here are Attorneys-general from 14 states speaking out. Here’s the New York State Attorney-general with more detailed complaints. Here’s Amazon losing in French courts, twice.

On the other hand, he points out:

Amazon Web Services (the “Cloud Computing” arm of the company), where I worked, is a different story. It treats its workers humanely, strives for work/life balance, struggles to move the diversity needle (and mostly fails, but so does everyone else), and is by and large an ethical organization. I genuinely admire its leadership.

In his penultimate paragraph he offers:

At the end of the day, it’s all about power balances. The warehouse workers are weak and getting weaker, what with mass unemployment and (in the US) job-linked health insurance. So they’re gonna get treated like crap, because capitalism. Any plausible solution has to start with increasing their collective strength.

Several observations:

  • Mr. Bray has a moral compass. DarkCyber finds that of value.
  • Amazon’s “power” has been largely unchecked since the mid 1990s, and only now are actions building like storm clouds on the horizon.
  • Mr. Bray was able to continue working for the Google but he could not continue working at Amazon. That’s interesting in itself.

Net net: Will Amazon take steps to deal with what seems to be the Tim Bray situation? Do Prime customers get orders delivered on time? Not if warehouse employees put sand in the Bezos bulldozer’s differential.

Stephen E Arnold, May 4, 2020

Amazon: Zooming Toward Google Hangouts?

April 28, 2020

DarkCyber spotted this Thomson Reuters’ story: “Amazon Tests Screening New Merchants for Fraud via Video Calls in Pandemic.” The news story reveals that yes, indeed, Amazon has its own Zoom-type service. What struck DarkCyber as peculiar was that the focus was Covid fraud, not the Amazon video conference service or the Amazon video technology. You can learn about the AWS pay-for-what-you-use service on the Amazon Chime information page. Amazon says:

AWS will offer free use of all Amazon Chime Pro features for online meetings and video conferencing from March 4, 2020 to June 30, 2020 for all customers that start using Amazon Chime for the first time during this period from their AWS account. This does not include PSTN services or charges related to PSTN services, such as Amazon Chime Voice Connector, call-me or meeting dial-in. Customers who are already using Amazon Chime can also contact their AWS account managers to see if they are eligible for credits for Amazon Chime usage during this period.

There are a number of interesting Amazon patents related to video communications. These range from facial recognition to active overlays.

Most of the DarkCyber research time said, “Who knew?” Marketing is not Job One at the online bookstore at this time. Maybe that will change once Mr. Bezos settles into his favorite seat: Driving the Bezos bulldozer.

Stephen E Arnold, April 29, 2020

The JEDI Knight Wounds Amazon

April 17, 2020

The Bezos bulldozer has stalled against a bureaucratic stone wall. The overheated engine is idling in outside the Pentagon Metro stop. DarkCyber was informed by a couple of helpful readers that the US government is going Microsoft for the significant Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure Project. A representative summary of the review of the contract process appeared in “Pentagon: $10B Cloud Contract That Snubbed Amazon Was Legal.” The write up reported:

“We could not review this matter fully because of the assertion of a ‘presidential communications privilege,’ which resulted in several DOD witnesses being instructed by the DOD Office of General Counsel not to answer our questions about potential communications between White House and DOD officials about JEDI,” the report said.

“As a result, we could not be certain whether there were any White House communications with some DOD officials which may have affected the JEDI procurement,” it said.

“However, we believe the evidence we received showed that the DOD personnel who evaluated the contract proposals and awarded Microsoft the JEDI cloud contract were not pressured … by any DOD leaders more senior to them, who may have communicated with the White House,” the report said.

Clear enough. Amazon’s bulldozer may have to reverse and head over to other Executive Branch agencies. Copies of the Bezos bulldozer have been spotted in Australia pushing insurance data and in United Arab Emirates moving digital sand for the government.

The problem for Amazon is that displacing PowerPoint is a very, very tough mountain to move. Just ask Google. Palantir’s baby forklift moved some paperwork while forming a relationship with a certain figure of note in Washington, DC.

Maybe Amazon should wear a fashionable Azure T shirt and wear a Dwarven Ring of Power from The Lord of the Rings available on Etsy?

Stephen E Arnold, April 17, 2020

AWS Glacier: Understanding Where Your Cold Cash Goes for Cloudy Storage

April 17, 2020

If you are into AWS, you may be interested in this quite interesting write up about the AWS allegedly lower-cost storage option. “How tricky is to save 20x with AWS Glaciers?” explains what some individuals have learned via trial and error.

The write up states that Amazon offers three kinds of Glacier services:

S3 object storage class “Glacier” (accessible via S3 API)

S3 object storage class “Glacier Deep Archive” (accessible via S3 API)

S3 Glacier Service (accessible via Glacier API)

The names, according to the source, are somewhat confusing. An alternative naming convention might be:

S3 Glacier

S3 Deep Glacier

Glacier Service

Okay, is that helpful?

The key point in the write up is that each type of services has its own conventions and pricing. The write up provides these suggestions for optimal use of Glacier’s variants:

  • Backups
  • Logs
  • Lossless versions of media files for (possible) future usage
  • Replacement of in-house magnetic tape archiving.

Amazon is working overtime to provide options. Presumably those who attend one or more of the training classes Amazon offers will understand the nuances.

DarkCyber thinks that Amazon has modified some of the telecommunications pricing tables popular among the Baby Bells when online was becoming a thing; namely, a question worthy of a Google engineer interview. Oh, wait. Google prices more transparently, right?

Stephen E Arnold, April 17, 2020

Amazonia for April 16, 2020

April 16, 2020

A brief edition of our Amazonia today. (Amazonia was our test of a run down of Amazon-related news.) The feature has returned in an abbreviated format today.

First, “Amazon Fires at Least 3 Employees Who Criticized Workplace Conditions” makes it clear that one should not criticize the Bezos bulldozer. DarkCyber noted this statement in the source article:

An Amazon representative told the Post the employees were fired for “repeatedly violating internal policies,” saying, “We support every employee’s right to criticize their employer’s working conditions, but that does not come with blanket immunity against any and all internal policies.”

Sounds ideal.

Second, “An Amazon Warehouse Worker Has Died of Coronavirus.” The story notes:

The company alleges the employee contracted the disease while on vacation and had not been in contact with other DLA8 workers since March 6. Amazon told Gizmodo in an email that the company notified all DLA8 employees on March 31.

It is trivial for Amazon to know where an employee was exposed to a virus. Amazing ability has Amazon.

Finally “Amazon Is Slashing Commission Rates for Its Affiliate Program” makes clear that the online bookstore is rejiggling its payout deals. The article asserts:

The changes are quite significant in some cases: The furniture and home improvement category’s affiliate cut fell from 8 percent to 3 percent, for instance, while grocery items’ commission rate is now down to 1 percent from 5 percent. As you can tell, it could have a huge impact on websites, including media outlets, that rely heavily on Amazon’s affiliate program to make money.

Sure, DarkCyber can tell.

Stephen E Arnold, April 16, 2020

Amazon Security in the News: AWS Documentation

January 29, 2020

Curious about Amazon’s security features? Navigate to this link and review AWS Security Documentation by Category. In order to make sense of the information, one needs to speak Amazonia; for example, Glacier, Snowball, ECR, ECS, and SQS plus another bulldozer blade of product and service nomenclature. Because an Amazon phone breach allegedly took place, DarkCyber entered the query “mobile” into the AWS Security Documentation search function. Here’s the result:


There were 138 pages of results, numbering 1,379 results.

A somewhat cursory review of the information provided zero guidance related to the security issue encountered by Mr. Bezos. Perhaps if he had used an Amazon phone, the documentation would have provided some guidance? Perhaps.

Stephen E Arnold, January 29, 2020

Amazon Ads Frustrate Shoppers

December 10, 2019

Is it wise for Amazon to put advertising revenue above customer satisfaction? The Washington Times reports, “Ad Business a Boon for Amazon but a Turn-Off for Shoppers.” Amazon now intersperses its organic search results with paid ads, distinguishable only by a small gray “Sponsored” label. Those that appear at the top of the results can be misleading—they are not actually the top results.

Amazon started mixing its shopping platform with its ad service in 2014 and has since beat out Microsoft to become the third-largest online ad platform (after Google and Facebook). It has a peculiar advantage—many shoppers have become accustomed to starting their product searches at Amazon, bypassing search engines like Google and Bing altogether. However, will that change as it gets harder and harder for users to find what they are actually looking for on the site? Reporter Joseph Pisani writes:

“Advertising is one of Amazon’s fastest-growing businesses, helping to offset some of its more expensive endeavors like one-day delivery, which is hugely popular with customers but also a drain on the company. Amazon hasn’t said exactly how much it makes from ads, but its ‘other’ business is mostly made up of advertising, which brought in $9.3 billion in the first nine months of this year, up 38% from the same period the year before. Amazon launched its auction-like ad platform in 2014. Advertisers bid for specific keywords, similar to what search giant Google does. Skippy, for example, can bid to show up when someone searches for ‘peanut butter’ or its rival, ‘Jif.’ Some keywords can cost under a buck. Sought-after ones could cost much more. Amazon gets paid only when someone clicks on the ad, even if the product isn’t purchased. The company said its sponsored ads are a way for customers to find products they may be interested in. And it uses machine-learning technology to try and show ads that are relevant to shoppers. But that doesn’t always happen.”

For example, the author of a recent book about human lifespan and aging felt compelled to warn his followers—supplement makers had pegged his readership as potential customers and paid to have their ads show up whenever someone searched for his book. Not only did it make it harder for readers to find the book, it kind of looked like the author endorsed the supplements; he most certainly did not. Though Amazon removed those ads after the Associated Press got involved, the potential for such tactics remains.

Cynthia Murrell, December 10, 2019

Amazonia for September 9, 2019

September 9, 2019

At the airport. Waiting. Here are a few nuggets the Bezos bulldozer left in its wake last week.

Arrests at Amazon

Forward reported that “hundreds of protesters organized by the Jewish group Never Again Action” were making their voices heard. The scene was Boston. Allegedly 12 activist were arrested after entering the Amazon facility and refusing to leave. DarkCyber thinks that protesting ICE is likely to get one put on ICE in the local lock up. The key point in the write up:

Amazon does not provide services directly to ICE, but does provide cloud hosting services to ICE’s subcontractors, according to the tech website The Verge. Amazon Web Services also hosts Department of Homeland Security databases that allow officials from numerous agencies to track immigrants.

Amazon Wants in Your Auto

Google landed General Motors. Amazon wants to go along on your rides. “Alexa, Roll Down the Windows!” Inside Amazon’s Quest to Get in Your Car” explains:

Amazon has been working hard on Alexa Auto for the past two years. Now it hopes to convince automakers to embed the platform into their new cars.

A revised auto SDK is forthcoming. We learned:

Amazon is set to announce the second version of the Alexa Auto SDK. This update will allow Alexa to do more things when the car’s internet connection is interrupted, by switching to to a mobile phone (connected to the car via Bluetooth or USB) for the connection needed to call, message, or stream music from services such as Amazon Music and Pandora. The new SDK also enables a couple of new offline car-control features, including the ability to turn on defrost and in-cabin lighting. However, Alexa Auto SDK still does not support the ability to control the ignition, door locks, or headlights using voice commands, whether the car has an internet connection or not.

DarkCyber assumes that the Bezos bulldozer is already equipped with these capabilities.

Amazon Personnel Management Gets the Evil Eye

We spotted “The Human Cost of Amazon’s Fast, Free Shipping” in the New York Times and then on the Web site. The write up appears to be a research summary with the original work done by Pro Publica. In short, Microsoft was keen to get this tabloid-esque exposé in front of Azure tinted eyeballs. Our take: Amazon is a bad personnel management outfit. Boo.

The main point is simple:

In its relentless push for e-commerce dominance, Amazon has built a huge logistics operation in recent years to get more goods to customers’ homes in less and less time. As it moves to reduce its reliance on legacy carriers like United Parcel Service, the retailer has created a network of contractors across the country that allows the company to expand and shrink the delivery force as needed, while avoiding the costs of taking on permanent employees.

Efficiency is okay. Efficiency which harms employees is not okay. But the human factor is likely to be shaped. Amazon wants robots. A capital investment is a two-fer: Lower taxes, no overworked humanoids burdening the online bookstore with benefits, health care, and on the job incidents.

Harsh Words for AWS

DarkCyber does not know if these assertions in this Reddit post are accurate. However, one may want to apprise oneself of these issues. Check out this Reddit post.

Summer Sale

If you use AWS EFS infrequent access, you get a deal. Silicon Angle reported that Amazon has cut prices AWS EFS Infrequent Access. How much of a price chop? For some customers, a $1.00 charge could become $0.08. Storage is just $0.08 per gigabyte. Also, Lifecycle Management service for EFS have been trimmed as well. Why? DarkCyber is hypothesizing but grousing about the “hidden” costs of AWS seem to be cropping up in online discussion groups. Plus, there’s some bad publicity about AWS reliability. Team Azure keeps pecking at AWS. Will more price cuts follow? Tough to predict the future.

Partners, Resellers, Integrators

Accenture. The accounting/consulting/billing machine has team with Amazon to offer managed blockchain services for “small scale producers into the value chain.” No we don’t know what this means. Source: Forbes

Baffle. This cyber security firm is now an “AWS Database Ready Technology Partner.” Source: Help Net Security

Esono. This consultant provides a VMware cloud on AWS. The function is “the new manager of cloud environment. Source: CIO Review

ICL. This global specialty minerals and specialty chemicals company will use AWS to deliver its digital services to agricultural professionals. ICL is based in Israel. Source: MarketWatch

Mobvista. The company is now part of the Amazon partner network. Source: Yahoo

NRGene. This AI and genomic outfit is not an Amazon advanced technology partner. Source: Digital Journal

Privo. This AWS consulting firm is now a premier consulting partner. Source: Marketwatch

Pureport. This multi cloud networking provider said that its Multi cloud Fabric platform now supports AWS Transit Gateway over AWS Direct Connect. Source: Capacity Media

Verimatrix. The Paris-based service provider has announced “interoperability between the Verimatrix Multi-DRM solution and the Secure Packager Encoder Key Exchange (SPEKE) API developed by Amazon Web Services (AWS)”. Bloomberg

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