2018/12/12: a patent application from Amazon became public that would pair face surveillance — like Rekognition, the product that the company is aggressively marketing to police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement — with Ring, a doorbell camera company that Amazon bought earlier this year.
2018/11/30: An Amazon patent application sheds light on a way to monitor neighborhoods with a doorbell camera that could alert homeowners and police of suspicious activities and people.
The patent application, which was made public on the United States Patent and Trademark Office website Thursday, describes how a network of cameras could work together with facial recognition technology to identify people, and respond accordingly.
Amazon's application says the process leads to safer, more connected neighborhoods, as well as better informed homeowners and law enforcement.
The application describes creating a database of suspicious persons.
2018/11/29: An Amazon revolt could be brewing as the tech giant exerts more control over brands. In the last few months, Amazon has applied intense pressure to consumer brands across different product categories — seizing more control over what, where and how they can sell their goods. Amazon is telling brands — like PopSockets — that neither they nor their distributors can sell directly to customers as an independent seller on the platform for third-party merchants known as the Amazon Marketplace. The power move is believed to be a prelude to a new internal system that Amazon has yet to launch called One Vendor. ”I don’t think Amazon understands how close they are to blowing themselves up,” one analyst warned.
2018/11/27: Dropshippers are online sellers who don’t keep any products in stock. Instead, they advertise a product and, if it is purchased, they buy the item from overseas and ship it directly to the customer.
I was not prepared for the way a simple question about some mysterious packages would spiral into a dizzying network of Amazon storefronts, web domains and badly written “About us” pages. But the more I looked into it, the more it seemed they were being run by a handful of people, each operating in different capacities depending on the needs of the moment. More surreal was how these websites were linked to the physical world.
In this case, it seemed that Valley Fountain LLC and other companies were posing as traditional retailers — usually by setting up Amazon storefronts like Sendai Book Store — and were just reselling items from other Amazon storefronts at inflated prices. It sounds confusing, but ultimately, it’s pretty similar to scalping concert tickets: A middleman makes money by ratcheting up the price.
The items in many of the storefronts associated with 235 Montgomery, Suite 350 had an unusually long shipping time and consistently low stock, so it made sense that items purchased from them might be coming from elsewhere.
Thinking about that one office at 235 Montgomery Street, I pictured 141 Olivet alumni, each at a tiny desk, carefully minding his or her Amazon storefront. After all, a 2011 Olivet University news bulletin stated that students from the Olivet Institute of Technology and Olivet College of Business were collaborating “to explore features in E-Commerce websites.” Or maybe it was Jonathan Park, the registered officer of many of these stores, alone in there with a laptop? Or no one at all — just a humming, automated system trawling retail sites to make listings of random products on Amazon pages?
2018/11/23: Data breaches at Facebook and Google—and along with Amazon, those firms' online dominance—crest a growing wave of anxiety around the internet's evolving structure and its impact on humanity. Three keys to the decades-long global expansion of the internet and the World Wide Web are breaking down.
The first key is the “procrastination principle,” a propensity to “set it and forget it” without attempting to predict and avert every imaginable problem. The networks' framers established a set of simple and freely available protocols for communicating over the internet, then stepped back to let competitive markets and cooperative pursuits work their magic.
The second key is the networks' layered architecture. For the internet, this meant that people could concern themselves with, say, writing applications to read and send email without having to know anything about what happens “below,” such as how bits find their way from sender to recipient. By the same token, those rolling out physical infrastructure didn't need to know or predict anything about how it would be used by the applications “above.”
The third key flows from the first two: decentralization. The internet and the web were designed not to create new gatekeepers, in part because regulatory bodies had little awareness of these protocols, let alone a hand in structuring them. A website hosted in Romania would still be just a click away for a user in Canada, without authorization by some centralized party.
Today, the principles of layers and decentralization are badly fraying, which risks transforming the principle of procrastination into one of abdication.
First, the issue of centralization. Surfing the web can now mean simply jumping among Amazon Web Services' hosting servers. If such a major network of servers—or one of the top domain name resolution providers—were to stop working, whole swaths of the internet would go down with it.
Second, formerly separate layers of the internet's architecture are blurring. The runaway success of a few startups has created new, proprietized one-stop platforms. Many people are not really using the web at all, but rather flitting among a small handful of totalizing apps like Facebook and Google. And those application-layer providers have dabbled in providing physical-layer internet access. Facebook's Free Basics program has been one of several experiments that use broadband data cap exceptions to promote some sites and services over others.
What to do? Columbia University law professor Tim Wu has called upon regulators to break up giants like Facebook, but more subtle interventions should be tried first. Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee's Contract for the Web offers a set of principles for governments, companies, and individuals, focusing on internet accessibility, user privacy, and a form of “re-decentralization” to revitalize one key to the network's success. On the technical side, he has launched Solid, a “relayerizing” separation of data from application: Users can maintain their own data (whether in a server in their living room or in the hands of a trusted proxy), and application providers would have to negotiate access rather than hoard the data themselves. And as Yale University law professor Jack Balkin and I have argued, those firms that do leverage users' data should be “information fiduciaries,” obliged to use what they learn in ways that reflect a loyalty to users' interests. These interventions represent meaningful action, while procrastinating a bit longer on the stronger medicine of forced corporate breakup.
The internet was designed to be resilient and flexible, without need for drastic intervention. But its trends toward centralization, and exploitation of its users, call for action.
2018/11/15: At the beginning of October, Amazon was quietly issued a patent that would allow its virtual assistant Alexa to decipher a user’s physical characteristics and emotional state based on their voice. Characteristics, or “voice features,” like language accent, ethnic origin, emotion, gender, age, and background noise would be immediately extracted and tagged to the user’s data file to help deliver more targeted advertising.
The algorithm would also consider a customer’s physical location — based on their IP address, primary shipping address, and browser settings — to help determine their accent. Should Amazon’s patent become a reality, or if accent detection is already possible, it would introduce questions of surveillance and privacy violations, as well as possible discriminatory advertising, experts said.
Like facial recognition, voice analysis underlines how existing laws and privacy safeguards simply aren’t capable of protecting users from new categories of data collection — or government spying, for that matter. Unlike facial recognition, voice analysis relies not on cameras in public spaces, but microphones inside smart speakers in our homes. It also raises its own thorny issues around advertising that targets or excludes certain groups of people based on derived characteristics like nationality, native language, and so on.
voice-based accent detection can determine a person’s ethnic background, it opens up a new category of information that is incredibly interesting to the government.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, makes it possible for the government to covertly demand such data.
Fake review factories that run on Facebook and manufacture misleading five-star reviews that are then posted on Amazon have been uncovered by investigators from Which?
The consumer group said two large Facebook groups – Amazon Deals Group and Amazon UK Reviewers – were behind the unscrupulous practice, along with smaller groups. Together they may have up to 87,000 members potentially engaged in writing fake reviews.
Inside the Facebook groups, companies post details of products for which they are seeking positive reviews. The reviewers have to pay for the items – so that Amazon believes the buyer is genuine – but after leaving a glowing review, the company refunds the purchase price through PayPal, and sometimes pays an additional fee.
Undercover researchers for Which? set up dedicated Amazon and Facebook accounts and requested to join several of the “rewards for reviews” groups.
“They were instructed to order a specified item through Amazon, write a review and share a link to the review once it was published. Following the successful publication of the review, a refund for the cost of the item would then be paid via PayPal,” said Which?
But the Which? investigators turned the tables on the fake review factories by posting their honest opinion on the product.
2018/10/09: In a world where so much is now controlled by so few — there are five big book publishers left, five Hollywood studios, five large health insurers, four phone providers and four cable companies — and this summer AT&T bought Time Warner — Amazon’s reach is terrifying.
Its ostensible search for the next city to house its second headquarters has become “the Olympics on steroids,” Galloway says, with state and local governments promising tax breaks that would starve funding for schools, police and fire departments. We have a new national holiday, Amazon Prime Day. Alexa and Echo, Amazon’s cloud-based voice-operated systems, sit in an estimated 40 million homes and spy on us, reporting our moods, tastes, wants, needs and fears back to HQ.
Yet we don’t fear Alexa.
Bezos has even greater ambitions.
2018/10/10: There is a "machine learning is hard" angle to this: while the flawed outcomes from the flawed training data was totally predictable, the system's self-generated discriminatory criteria were surprising and unpredictable. No one told it to downrank resumes containing "women's" -- it arrived at that conclusion on its own, by noticing that this was a word that rarely appeared on the resumes of previous Amazon hires.
The group created 500 computer models focused on specific job functions and locations. They taught each to recognize some 50,000 terms that showed up on past candidates’ resumes. The algorithms learned to assign little significance to skills that were common across IT applicants, such as the ability to write various computer codes, the people said.
Instead, the technology favored candidates who described themselves using verbs more commonly found on male engineers’ resumes, such as “executed” and “captured,” one person said.
Gender bias was not the only issue. Problems with the data that underpinned the models’ judgments meant that unqualified candidates were often recommended for all manner of jobs, the people said. With the technology returning results almost at random, Amazon shut down the project, they said.
2018/10/04: The story, which has been a year in the making and covers events it says happened three years ago, had a huge impact on the markets: the company at the center of the story, San Jose-based Super Micro, saw its share price drop by nearly 50 per cent; likewise Apple's share price dropped by just under two per cent, and Amazon's dropped by more than two per cent.
But the article has been strongly denied by the three main companies involved: Apple, Amazon, and Super Micro. Each has issued strong and seemingly unambiguous statements denying the existence and discovery of such chips or any investigation by the US intelligence services into the surveillance implants.
These statements will have gone through layers of lawyers to make sure they do not open these publicly traded corporations to lawsuits and securities fraud claims down the line. Similarly, Bloomberg employs veteran reporters and layers of editors, who check and refine stories, and has a zero tolerance for inaccuracies.
So which is true: did the Chinese government succeed in infiltrating the hardware supply chain and install spy chips in highly sensitive US systems; or did Bloomberg's journalists go too far in their assertions?
2018/10/08: That Businessweek decided to run a story accusing the country of espionage may be a reaction to those accusations, or it may speak to how solid its editors felt about the reporting.
admission of guilt here about failing to either detect the hack or proactively tell the public about it would be pretty damaging to the reputations of all the victims. It has since emerged that Businessweek’s report had some questionable elements, including a chart that took pretty broad artistic license with how the hack would have worked, but Bloomberg stands by its reporting. Who is right?
Maybe the most important thing to remember here is not the strict truth of what happened, but that the story resonates because — not to be a conspiracy theorist — it is eminently plausible.
It already appears from the story that these companies may have done significant work to quietly settle the issue with the government directly.
All that said, it also seems plausible that Businessweek’s sources (the people working for the respective companies and government divisions at the time the story was reported) have no fucking idea what they are talking about (security authorities are divided on whether this hack would work, why anyone would even do it this way, and whether Businessweek is fully, accurately describing it).
it’s not hard to imagine someone “with knowledge of the situation” overhearing a conversation about a malfunctioning chip, which is how both Apple and Amazon explained the story away, and misunderstanding it to mean willful surveillance by whatever political interest might have supplied it.
2018/10/03: sellers gain exposure to an enormous audience and higher sales. But they lose some of their ability to maintain their profit margins, putting downward pressure on wages and driving less-efficient companies out of business entirely.
In terms of the economics, which is concerned more with aggregate welfare than equity or fairness to certain individuals, that's not necessarily a bad thing. But it causes pain for those on the the losing end — especially brick-and-mortar businesses that can't compete with Amazon's fast online deliveries, hard-to-beat prices and near-infinite variety. And having created a portal through which so much commerce must flow, Amazon enriches itself by charging a toll along the way.
That's the Amazon Effect.
In a way, Amazon is doing the same thing in its search for a location for its new headquarters. It's treating prospective host cities as if they were sellers on Amazon, drawing them into a bidding war. Those cities are offering up tax breaks and subsidies, even if doing so jeopardizes their future tax revenue and drives up the price of housing for everyone else.
Amazon, and e-commerce more generally, is also disrupting the labor market. Brick and mortar retail jobs are quickly falling behind employment growth for the rest of the economy. It's not yet clear whether all the warehouse pickers and delivery drivers Amazon is hiring to support its ever growing shipping commitments will totally close that gap — especially as Amazon perfects fulfillment center robots and delivery drones in order to reduce its personnel needs in the future.
Although Amazon this week announced a new $15 minimum wage for all its employees, some research suggests that consolidating jobs under fewer large employers tends to reduce wages, not raise them.
2018/10/02: Do airlines use these cost factors to calculate a rational price for my ticket? No. That is determined by Rudy the Fare Chicken, who decides the price of each ticket individually by pecking on a computer keyboard sprinkled with corn.
How might we best research this from our side—the one where humans use browsers and actually buy stuff? Is it possible to figure out how we're being profiled, if at all—and how might we do that? Are there shortcuts to finding the cheapest Amazon price for a given product, among all the different prices it presents at different times and ways on different browsers, to persons logged in or not? Is this whole thing so opaque that we'll never know much more than a damn thing, and we're simply at the mercy of machines probing and manipulating us constantly?
2018/09/30: The push into Indian languages could be the key to capturing the country's hundreds of millions of new internet users over the next several years.
A study last year by Google and KPMG forecast that by 2021, around 536 million Indians will access the internet in their native languages compared to 199 million English-speaking users.
2017/04/24: At its peak, Google had a massive and loyal user-base across a staggering number of products, but advertising revenue was the glue that held everything together. As the numbers waned, Google’s core began to buckle under the weight of its vast empire.
Google was a driving force in the technology industry ever since its disruptive entry in 1998. But in a world where people despised ads, Google’s business model was not innovation-friendly, and they missed several opportunities to pivot, ultimately rendering their numerous grand and ambitious projects unsustainable. Innovation costs money, and Google’s main stream of revenue had started to dry up.
In a few short years, Google had gone from a fun, commonplace verb to a reminder of how quickly a giant can fall.
2018-09-24: Google parent Alphabet and the other four dominant U.S. technology companies -- Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook -- are fast becoming industrial giants. They spent a combined $80 billion in the last year on big-ticket physical assets, including manufacturing equipment and specialized tools for assembling iPhones and the powerful computers and undersea internet cables Facebook needs to fire up Instagram videos in a flash.
Thanks to this surge in spending -- up from $40 billion in 2015 -- they've joined the ranks of automakers, telephone companies, and oil drillers as the country's biggest spenders on capital goods, items including factories, heavy equipment, and real estate that are considered long-term investments.
Their combined outlay is about 10 times what GM spends annually on its plants, vehicle-assembly robots, and other materials. The splurge by tech companies is behind an upswing in capital-goods spending among big U.S. companies, which is seeing its fastest growth in years, according to a Credit Suisse analysis. The $80 billion tab also is a snapshot of why it's tough to unseat the tech giants.
How can a company hope to compete with Google's driverless cars when it spends $20 billion a year to ensure it has the best laser-guided sensors and computer chips? There are a lot of physical assets behind all those internet clouds.
2018/06/27: We are witnessing a massive transition in Value Creation from the means of production to the means of Market Production and Curation.
Take for example Uber – here the taxi driver is a bare transitionary commodity and interchangeable. The real value creation instrument is Uber which creates, curates the market – this process now extends from Retail – Amazon – to Manufacturing, AliBaba. This reality signals a great transfer of value creation from the relatively distributed means of production to the massively globally centralised & privatised means of market making & marker curation. The implications of this are massive for inequality and scaling of precarious citizenship.
what is being disrupted is not the plumber or craftsmen but the middle classes – the management, administrative and intermediary skills.
Our Governance model is broken, we live in a ‘systemocracy’ – a world of massive inter-dependency yet we are holding on to 19th century versions of governance. This creates the illusion of sovereignty & supremacy – acting as a denial of the complexity we must confront.
2018/08/14: none of this is inevitable, and one of the main barriers between us and a stable planet - one that isn’t actively hostile to human civilization over the long term - our economic system.
dramatically reimagine sectors like transportation and agriculture “at very fast rates.”
humans have to create their own negative feedback mechanisms so the Earth can maintain a stable level of carbon in the atmosphere. That means expanding and repairing the Earth’s natural “carbon sinks,” like big forests that can effectively suck emissions out of the atmosphere and store them naturally.
For high-emitting countries like the U.S., Steffen says the first step to avoiding planetary apocalypse is basically self-evident: “absolutely no new fossil fuel developments. None. That means no new coal mines, no new oil wells, no new gas fields, no new unconventional gas fracking. Nothing new. Second, you need to have a rapid phase-out plan for existing fossil fuels,” starting with coal
2018/09/12: This is not the first time tech overlords have made digital content rights inconsistent with any person’s normal understanding of what a “purchase” is. Back in 2009, Amazon customers noticed that their copies of 1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell were suddenly missing. It turned out the copies were created by a seller that did not have the rights to the books, and when Amazon found this out, it pulled the books directly off of all the Kindles that had downloaded them. Later, the company acknowledged this was maybe not the best course of action.
2018/09/13: Amazon chief Jeff Bezos is launching a $2bn fund to help homeless families and build a network of preschools, saying the “child will be the customer” in his philanthropy announcement.
The tech founder and the world’s richest man unveiled the Bezos Day One Fund on Thursday. He said he would fund existing organizations that aid homeless people and pledged to build new not-for-profit schools to serve low-income communities.
“We’ll use the same set of principles that have driven Amazon. Most important among those will be genuine, intense customer obsession,” he wrote on Twitter. “The child will be the customer.”