“Astro is terrible and will almost certainly throw itself down a flight of stairs if presented the opportunity. The person detection is unreliable at best, making the in-home security proposition laughable,” a source who worked on the project said. “The device feels fragile for something with an absurd cost. The mast has broken on several devices, locking itself in the extended or retracted position, and there’s no way to ship it to Amazon when that happens.”
“They’re also pushing it as an accessibility device but with the masts breaking and the possibility that at any given moment it’ll commit suicide on a flight of stairs, it’s, at best, absurdist nonsense and marketing and, at worst, potentially dangerous for anyone who’d actually rely on it for accessibility purposes,” the source said.
Pennies to dollars. Some people get pennies; other people get dollars. Amazon makes dollars every time it saves pennies. In this situation, the company’s neither good, nor bad — okay, the working conditions in the warehouses are pretty bad — but neither are they neutral. Just like technology itself, they warp the gravitational field of everything they touch. And we are, all of us — cities, states, companies, and nations — caught in its well.
When the world’s largest tech companies are dangling “cheap” useful devices in front of us, it’s worth keeping in mind that the true cost of smart speakers is our data, privacy, and loyalty.
In a scenario as dire as that, Amazon’s moves this week could prove presciently symbolic for a permanent transfer of traditional jobs at local small businesses to unreliable, part-time work for tech giants that distribute products and services through online platforms — the “Amazonification” of our economy.
This Amazonification is already underway. The consumer shift to online retailers away from meatspace malls and boutique shops has been the subject of hand-wringing and prognostication for years, and, if anything, the evolution was moving slower than many feared. Walmart, after all, remained the world’s largest retailer long after fears of Amazon’s dominance had become mainstream. Warehouse automation, a key goal of Amazon, was advancing but not yet leaving humans out in the cold by any stretch of the imagination. Yet Amazon caught up in 2019, and if anything, this coronavirus-fueled surge may accelerate its supremacy over the retail market.
While 100,000 new Amazon jobs will have a minuscule impact on a soaring unemployment rate, it’s what the shift symbolizes that’s of note.
The great trick of online retail has been to get us to shop more and think less about how our purchases reach our homes
No one wakes up in the morning hoping to be as vapid as possible. But eventually you internalize the squeeze. Everyone down the chain adjusts their individual decisions to the whim of the retailer, or to their best guess at the whim of the retailer. If it’s Barnes & Noble, you may hear that a cover doesn’t work, that the store won’t carry the title unless you change it. If it’s Amazon, you may not hear anything at all. You go back and adjust your list of wildly optimistic comparative titles — it’s The Big Short, but . . . for meteorology!
All in all, Amazon Ignite is encouraging teachers to see themselves as empowered and branded-up personal edubusinesses operating inside Amazon’s commerce platform. It is easy to see the attraction in the context of underfunded schools and low teacher pay. But it also brings teachers into the precarious conditions of the gig economy. These educators are gig workers and small-scale edu-startup businesses who will need to compete to turn a profit. Rather than making select teachers into brand ambassadors for its platform, Amazon is bringing teacher-producers and education startups on to its platform as content producers doing the labour of making, uploading and marketing resources for royalty payments. It expands platform capitalism to the production, circulation and provision of classroom resources, and positions Amazon as an intermediary between the producers and consumers in a new educational market.
A lawyer friend corrects my impression that GDPR does not apply. The Information Commissioner’s Office is clear that cameras should not be pointed at other people’s property or shared spaces, and under GDPR my neighbor is now a data controller. My friends can make subject access requests. Even so: do I want to pick a fight with people who can make my life unpleasant? All over the country, millions of people are up against the reality that no matter how carefully they think through their privacy choices they are exposed by the insouciance of other people and robbed of agency not by police or government action but by their intimate connections – their neighbors, friends, and family..
Yes, I mind. And unless my neighbor chooses to care, there’s nothing I can practically do about it.
Politicians want to rein in the retail giant. But Jeff Bezos, the master of cutthroat capitalism, is ready to fight back.
Bezos explained, “If you have a really good idea, stick to it, but be flexible on how you get there. Be stubborn on your vision but flexible on the details.” Executives at other companies tended to lay out definitive plans. But Bezos urged his people to be adaptable. “People who are right a lot change their mind,” he once said. “They have the same data set that they had at the beginning, but they wake up, and they re-analyze things all the time, and they come to a new conclusion, and then they change their mind.”
This is something that reminds me of Angus Hervey’s call to ‘Hold on tightly and let go lightly’.
In addition to this, there is a ‘Day One Thinking’ when it comes to leadership:
A willingness to treat every morning as if it were the first day of business, to constantly reëxamine even the most closely held beliefs. “Day Two is stasis,” Bezos wrote, in a 2017 letter to shareholders. “Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day One.”
An example of such relentless mentality is where the failure of the Fire Phone is pivoted to the success of the Echo voice activated devices.
On the flipside of all this is the reality of working within it, especially as a warehouse worker or a delivery driver. As well as the problem of ‘process’ with the many of the challenges that come with this:
Amazon is the shopping mall now, and, normally, if you open a store in a shopping mall, you can expect certain things—like the mall operator will clean the hallways, and they’ll make sure Foot Locker isn’t right next door to Payless, and if someone sets up a kiosk in front of your store and starts selling fake Air Jordans, they’ll kick them off the property.” He continued, “But Amazon is the Wild West. There’s hardly any rules, except everyone has to pay Amazon a percentage, and you have to swallow what they give you and you can’t complain.”
One criticism is that the company is able to track which products are successful and is then produces copies sold under the Amazon Prime brand. They also fail to properly regulate manufacturers selling forgeries.
This seems to be all coming to head, with many questioning the current anti-trust laws. For Duhigg, this is similar to rise of General Motors in the 1930’s and the challenges that they also faced. However, the company is pushing back.
Interestingly, although the piece mentions Amazon Web Services, there is little mention of ICE or home surveillance. However, it offers a great starting point for considering the place of Amazon in our lives today.
The battery becomes less trackable the further it progresses down the chain. This is overwhelmingly due to U.S. shipping rules that allow companies to move product virtually in secret. And as Amazon expands into all modes of transport — cars, trucks, air and ocean freight — its logistics will likely become even more invisible.
It takes more than 100 times the energy to manufacture an alkaline battery than is available during its use phase.” And when the entirety of a battery’s emissions are added up — including sourcing, production, and shipping — its greenhouse gas emissions are 30 times that of the average coal-fired power plant, per watt-hour.
Other than the problem that companies are not required to log such informed, Emerson also highlights that the impact is often only focued on the disposal of the item.
Consumer surveillance cameras are everywhere now, and they’re capturing moments we otherwise would never have known happened.
Deaths and devastating injuries. A litany of labor violations. Drivers forced to urinate in their vans. Here is how Amazon’s gigantic, decentralized, next-day delivery network brought chaos, exploitation, and danger to communities across America.
“You’ve got people chomping at the bit because all they think and see is dollar signs,” said Bythewood, who currently isn’t working. It was hard to say no, she said, because if “you don’t want to do it, someone else will.”
This is Amazon’s greatest existential threat right now, and its greatest market opportunity. If it can turn itself into the world’s biggest market of authenticated goods, selling everything from books to cosmetics to electronics to luxury apparel and more, then its potential is limitless. The seedier it gets, the more limited it stays.
Amazon’s Ring doorbells are surveillance devices that conduct round-the-clock video surveillance of your neighborhood, automatically flagging “suspicious” faces and bombarding you and your neighbors with alerts using an app called “Neighbors”; it’s a marriage of Amazon’s Internet of Things platform with its “Rekognition” facial recognition tool, which it has marketed aggressively to cities, law enforcement, ICE, businesses and everyday customers as a security measure that can help ID bad guys, despite the absence of a database identifying which faces belong to good people and which faces belong to bad people.
The open question, I think, is whether Amazon ever really wanted to build a headquarters anywhere else, or whether this was all a shell game designed to extract the largest possible subsidies from its targets of choice (New York City and Arlington, Virginia) while also gaining insight into the development plans of (and smaller growth opportunities in) dozens of other cities across North America.
There’s a certain novelty, after decades at a legacy media company, in playing for the team that’s winning big.
Corporate America is getting all the help it doesn’t need. You and I may not like it. But executives such as Jeff Bezos have no reason to care. They are winning by the rules of a broken game.