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Amazon as a surveillance company

What people do not realize is the Amazon is a surveillance company too. In some way they are even more dangerous than Google: if you are a "Prime" customer you have huge dossier on you.

If you buy "almost everything" on Amazon you provide pretty complete picture of your preferences and your activities in time. Those records are never erased, even formally, like is possible in Google. That's pretty disgusting to be under microscope.

Of cause, you can try to get Amazon "off-track" by browsing items that in no way represent you shopping "preferences" (for a man that might be cookware, woman clothing and jewelry ;-) . Results are pretty interesting if you try.

So using variety of Internet stores is just a common sense. Wal Mart is an obvious alternative (pick-up in stores is pretty convenient). Buy.com is another.

If you buy electronics Amazon prices are never good. You usually can find a better deals either directly (from Dell) or specialized stores (Fry, etc)


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[Jun 01, 2021] NSA Spied on European Politicians Through Danish Telecommunications Hub - Slashdot

May 31, 2021 | yro.slashdot.org

Denmark's foreign secret service allowed the US National Security Agency to tap into a crucial internet and telecommunications hub in Denmark and spy on the communications of European politicians , a joint investigation by some of Europe's biggest news agencies revealed on Sunday. From a report: The covert spying operation, called Operation Dunhammer, took place between 2012 and 2014, based on a secret partnership signed by the two agencies. The secret pact, signed between the NSA and the Danish Defense Intelligence Service (Danish: Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste, FE) allowed US spies to deploy a data interception system named XKeyscore on the network of Sandagergardan, an important internet and communications hub in the city of Dragor, near Copenhagen, where several key submarine cables connected Denmark (and continental Europe) to the Scandinavian peninsula.

The NSA allegedly used XKeyscore to mass-sniff internet and mobile traffic and intercept communications such as emails, phone calls, SMS texts, and chat messages sent to the phone numbers and email addresses of European politicians. The covert operation abruptly stopped in 2014 after Danish government officials learned of the NSA-FE collaboration following the Snowden leaks. Danish officials put a stop to the operation after they learned that the NSA had also spied on Danish government members.

Denmark Has a History of This Behaviour ( Score: 1 ) by theshowmecanuck ( 703852 ) on Monday May 31, 2021 @04:31PM ( #61440512 ) Journal As long as you don't invade or try to cut their politicians out of the loop, they will bend over for you. For example WWII. Any sanctions on the NSA and Denmark? see Huawei ( Score: 1 ) by tekram ( 8023518 ) on Monday May 31, 2021 @05:03PM ( #61440618 ) Seems like Huawei has been convicted of spying with less evidence than the NSA and Denmark and yet US and EU sanctions were swift and deliberate when it comes to convenient targets. Reply to This
Comparisons ( Score: 5 , Insightful) by JBMcB ( 73720 ) on Monday May 31, 2021 @03:43PM ( #61440360 )

I regularly buy one pound bags of citric acid. It's handy to clean out the dishwasher, clothes washer, and to make various cordials and mixed drinks. It's $8 shipped from Amazon. The only place remotely near me that sells one pound bags of citric acid is a restaurant supply store on the other side of town. The grocery store near me will sell me a small bottle of citric acid for $5. The restaurant supply store is only $1 or $2 cheaper, and Amazon saves me an hour trip across town. So, Amazon wins.

I was in the market for a new sprinkler controller, and Amazon's price was $40 more than the retail price directly from the manufacturer. I bought it from the manufacturer. So, Amazon looses.

Amazon's price on the shampoo I like is ridiculous, I buy that from the grocery store. Amazon's price on the furnace air filters I like is fantastic, compared to the home improvement stores I go to, so I buy those from Amazon.

It's not rocket science. Some stuff is just easier to buy and/or cheaper on Amazon. Some stuff isn't. It's not hard, nor a lot of work, to find out. Reply to This Free, you say? ( Score: 4 , Informative) by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Monday May 31, 2021 @03:51PM ( #61440394 ) Journal

The problem isn't really the free shipping. The suit seems more concerned with price-fixing across multiple platforms, an indicator of a forming monopoly.

"It's a longstanding claim by some of the independent merchants who sell on Amazon's digital mall that the company punishes them if they list their products for less on their own websites or other shopping sites like Walmart.com. Those sellers are effectively saying that Amazon dictates what happens on shopping sites all over the internet, and in doing so makes products more expensive for all of us."

Interesting one-off:

I priced a particular set of headphones for my son's birthday earlier today... same retail price on Amazon, Best Buy, and Walmart online. Reply to This
Price plus ( Score: 4 , Interesting) by Jerry ( 6400 ) on Monday May 31, 2021 @07:00PM ( #61441020 )

I WAS an Amazon Prime member until I started comparing Amazon's "prime" price with those of other vendors on Amazon selling the same product. The other vendor's prices plus shipping were very close or equal to Amazon's "prime" price with "free" shipping. So, Amazon's Prime's $120/yr membership charge isn't worth it. (And I don't watch their movies)

I can also get "free" shipping by going through the checkout process (not the automatic checkout). Somewhere along the way I get the opportunity to choose a delivery date. Next day always includes an expensive charge for shipping, but usually one of the options is for shipping free on a specific day, a week or so in the future. I use that when I shop Amazon, which I do with less and less frequency these days. Reply to This

[Jan 15, 2021] A Message To Anyone Who Feels Like 'Winston' In Orwell's 1984 by Simon Black

Jan 15, 2021 | www.zerohedge.com

Authored by Simon Black via SovereignMan.com,

"The ideal set up by the Party was something huge, terrible, and glittering... all thinking the same thoughts and shouting the same slogans, perpetually working, fighting, triumphing, persecuting - three hundred million people all with the same face."

That was a quote from George Orwell's seminal work 1984 - a masterpiece that describes life in a totalitarian state that demands blind obedience.

The 'Party' controlled everything - the economy, daily life, and even the truth. In Orwell's 1984 , "the heresy of heresies was common sense."

"Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered."

"And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right."

If you were ever caught committing a thoughtcrime -- dissenting from the Party for even an instant– then "your name was removed from the registers, every record of everything you had ever done was wiped out, your one-time existence was denied and then forgotten."

Now, our world obviously hasn't become quite as extreme as Orwell's dystopian vision. But Big Tech, Big Media, and Big Government certainly seem to be giving it their best effort.

70,000 thought criminals have already been purged from Twitter. Facebook and Reddit are feverishly removing user content. Apple, Google, and Amazon have banned entire apps and platforms.

Undoubtedly there is plenty of wacky content all over the Internet– misinformation, ignorance, rage, hate, violence, and just plain stupidity.

But these moves by the Big Tech companies aren't about violence. If they were, they would have deleted tens of thousands of accounts over the last few years– like the mostly peaceful BLM activist who Tweeted "white people may have to die".

Or the countless others who have advocated for violent uprisings against the police

Then, of course, there's the #assassinatetrump and #killtrump hashtags that has Twitter has allowed since at least 2016. Or the #killallmen hashtag that's allowed on Twitter and Instagram.

This is not about violence. It's about ideology. If you hold different beliefs than the 'Party', then you risk being canceled or 'de-platformed' by Big Tech.

Icons like Ron Paul– who spent years criticizing the current administration's monetary and national defense policies, and had nothing to do with the Capitol, have been suspended or locked out of their Facebook pages.

The hammer has dropped, and it is now obvious, beyond any doubt, that you better watch what you say– your livelihood, your social life, and your safety may just depend on it.

Or else, you will be purged, canceled, deleted from the Internet, denied payment processing by Visa, PayPal, and Stripe, and expelled from domain registrars like GoDaddy.

The message is clear: behave and think exactly as we tell you, or you will lose everything you have worked for, in the blink of an eye.

Sure, the 'Party' may give lip service to tolerance and unity. As long as you fall in line. Otherwise it's more rage and ridicule.

They act like you're a crazy person because you have completely legitimate questions and concerns– whether about Covid lockdowns, censorship, media misinformation, etc.

It's extraordinary that after so much deliberate misinformation and bias, the media still expects people to take them seriously. CNN seems to believe that think anyone who doubts their credibility is a 'conspiracy theorist.'

All of these trends are probably making a lot of people very nervous. Even scared. Despair has undoubtedly set in, much like in Winston Smith, the main character in Orwell's 1984.

So, for all the Winstons out there, the most important thing right now is to remain rational. As human beings we tend to make terrible decisions when we're scared, sad, or angry.

Have confidence in knowing that you have MUCH more control over your own life, livelihood, and future than they want to you believe.

But you absolutely will have to make some deliberate, potentially difficult decisions.

For example, if you're fed up with Big Tech, you can de-Google your life. No one is holding a gun to your head to have a Facebook account or use gmail. There are plenty of other options out there that we'll discuss in future letters.

More importantly, you might find that your hometown isn't safe anymore– especially if you live in a big city controlled by politicians intoxicated on their Covid powers.

It's really time to consider your immediate environment – if the local schools are brainwashing your kids, the dictatorial health officials shutting down your business, or nosy neighbors ready to turn you into the Gestapo for having family over for the holidays, then you might think about moving.

That might simply mean moving a few miles to a new county. Or a new state/province. Or potentially overseas. We'll help provide you with information on plenty of options.

It might also be time to reconsider some of your business infrastructure– to have backup web servers and payment processors, for example, if you have an online business.

It might be time to consider some new financial options as well, lest the banks jump on the band wagon and start 'canceling' accounts for heretics.

But that's the silver lining: we've never had more alternatives than now. Everything– technology platforms, financial institutions, and even our personal residence– it's all replaceable. All of it.

We have never had more control over our own privacy, data, livelihood, and environment as long as you have the willingness to take action.


2banana 2 hours ago remove link

GAB and Brave browsers,

rumble and bitchute video,

Signal for voice and messaging,

Session for messaging,

Epoch times for news,

Fastmail and ProtonMail for email,

Duchduckgo and dogpile for search,

And use a paid VPN like private internet access

Leave the phone at home as often as you can and pay cash.

Southern_Boy 1 hour ago (Edited) remove link

Use https, not http exclusively and don't use any web site that won't take it.

Fastmail is owned by Opera and its mail servers are located in the US, so it will not protect you from subpoenas.

The GAB browser is called Dissenter.

Consider TOR for infrequent forays into the "dark web".

Don't forget that BitCoin (BTC) is traceable.

Use a free version of CCLEANER after every browser session to erase as much of your tracks as you can.

Signal is a suspect because of its controlled ownership community

Using the same vendor for VPN as Anti-Virus is against IT security best practices

Paying for anything with your bank card is a red flag. Whoever you give your credit card to now has your identity, including ZeroHedge. Consider creating an LLC or other identity (preferably offshore) to fund a "burner" credit card or get a refillable debit card that you can fill up using cash. Then you can pay for VPN, email and paid content subscription services using an assumed name or LLC cover name. Assume that any payment to any tech service with your personal card will be used for identification purposes.

Pay with money orders if possible.

Change cellular phone companies every 1 to two years. Avoid data usage on cellular phone, consider using multiple WiFi hotspots for calls.

Consider 2-3 cheap used phones with cheap, pay as you go services and swap them regularly and randomly.

Do not have contact lists on your cell phone and reset to factory settings every 6 months to wipeout any data.

Reload from bare metal your laptop or desktop PC OS every 6 months.

Send random gibberish as an encrypted email every month or so and check if it's unusually slow to be received or if any vendor calls or asks you about anything. If they do, you are being tracked. There are no coincidences.

Make infrequent but regular phone calls with your multiple phones to law enforcement, federal "three letter agency" main switchboards, politicians and random people. Just tell anyone who answers it was a mistake and an improperly dialed number. If you get hold music, then stay on as long as you can because traffic analysis will not know if your actually talking to someone or not. If anyone is investigating or tracking you, your signals traffic (CDR) will automatically confound them and involve unwanted parties that will confound and scare the hounds.

If you are technically competent, consider getting any open source product you use and then compile it yourself after reviewing the source. Check for hidden open doors or reporting communications that aren't needed.

Fateful Destiny the Book 2 hours ago

1984 was prophetic for its time, but Fateful Destiny is the new dystopian benchmark novel for what is to come. Get yours now: https://amzn.to/3owM5Sh

TheLastMan 1 hour ago

The media filter is dominant. Control the narrative, control the world. The official narratives are perpetually meshed into daily consciousness. You must know it is literally spellbinding.

Similar dangers exist on alt media sites like zh. Beware the narrative. Look for at least three sides to every story - his side her side and maybe the truth

OpenEyes 1 hour ago

As much as possible, now is the time to start 'going grey' (if you haven't already started).

One example: I see a lot of people, understandably, saying to delete your facebook account, gmail account, twitter account etc. My recommendation, DO NOT do this. You don't think "they" aren't keeping track of those who are doing this, especially right now? By taking those actions you are pinning a big red flag on yourself.

No, my advice, just simply abandon your account. Stop commenting, posting, reading, etc.. simply walk away and stop using those accounts. It will take some time for 'them' to notice that your account is inactive, if they even do. And, an inactive account will likely be treated far less seriously than an actively deleted or cancelled account.

Keep your heads down and your family safe. Best wishes to all.

Misesmissesme 3 hours ago (Edited) remove link

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face -- forever. - George Orwell: " An Instruction Guide for 2021 "

Cardinal Fang 2 hours ago (Edited)

Like that scene in The Graduate where the guy leans in and tells Dustin Hoffman 'One word...Plastics' I am going to lean in and say 'One word...Wearables'

So Google just completes their acquisition of 'FitBit'...even though the Justice Dept has not finished their anti-trust investigation...

Anyhow, it's all coming clear. The next stage in our Orwellian nightmare is Covid will be the excuse to make you 'wear' a device to prove you are Covid free in some way. It will be your permission slip, plus they can spy on you in real time even if you leave your phone home, because you will not be able to leave your home without your 'Wearable'...

Then, in short order, you will get tired of your 'wearable' and beg for the chip implant.

You will beg to be vaccinated and chipped like sheep.

They literally can't help themselves.

Jim in MN 2 hours ago

All new and improved ankle bracelets!

Only $299.99 and yes, it is required or else.

Batteries, monthly surveillance fees and random fines not included.

Dr.Strangelove 2 hours ago

I just watched 1984 and it is scary similar to the US political environment.

We are all Winston.

SullyLuther 1 hour ago remove link

Huxley will be proven correct. Z O G doesn't need a boot perpetually on our necks, when we are so passive and ignorant.

Workdove PREMIUM 1 hour ago

They just need to make narcotics and psychedelics free and his vision of the future will be complete. Orwell was correct too. We got both.

NIRP-BTFD 3 hours ago

Now, our world obviously hasn't become quite as extreme as Orwell's dystopian vision. But Big Tech, Big Media, and Big Government certainly seem to be giving it their best effort.

This is just the beginning. The technocrats at the WEF are planning to control your thought with chips and brain interfaces. Now tell me what is neuralink that Musk is workign on? I'm sure DARPA has technologcy that can allready do this.

seryanhoj 2 hours ago

It's hard to believe USA is now headed to a society like the worst days of the USSR.

Back in the fifties , paranoid Senator McCarthy used similar extreme methods to cancel all those who he considered to by stealth communist sympathizers, or anyone who had been within 100 feet of one. Ironically his methods resembled those of Joseph Stalin.

He was finally discredited by an outstanding and brave news man who took the risk of persecution by denouncing senator McCarthy's methods as unamerican .

So this kind of thing is not without precedent in USA.

[Sep 27, 2020] MSM brainwashing in quotes from Mark Twain and Goethe

Sep 27, 2020 | www.zerohedge.com

play_arrow


Freeman of the City , 39 seconds ago

"Life is hard, it's harder if your stupid" - John Wayne

Freeman of the City , 18 seconds ago

'It's Easier to Fool People Than to Convince Them That They Have Been Fooled'

- Mark Twain

palmereldritch , 49 seconds ago

And prior to Bezos/CIA ownership the paper was managed by heirs whose ownership stake was originally acquired through a bankruptcy sale by a board member/trustee of The Federal Reserve.

So maybe it was just a share transfer...

Freeman of the City , 1 minute ago

"None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free"

- Goethe

[Sep 02, 2020] Amazon spies on staff, fires them by text for not hitting secretive targets, workers 'feel forced to work through pain, injuries' report

Notable quotes:
"... workers are dehumanizingly treated by Amazon as if they are robots – persistently asked to accomplish task after task at an unforgiving rate." ..."
Sep 01, 2020 | www.theregister.com
I didn't get rich by signing checks // 10:30 UTC 141 Reg comments GOT TIPS? Kieren McCarthy in San Francisco BIO EMAIL TWITTER SHARE

Amazon is famous for its extreme efficiency yet behind the curtain is a crippling culture of surveillance and stress, according to a study by the Open Markets Institute.

The think tank and advocacy group that repeatedly takes companies like Google and Facebook to task warned in the report [PDF] that Amazon's retail side has gone far beyond promoting efficient working and has adopted an almost dystopian level of control over its warehouse workers, firing them if they fail to meet targets that are often kept a secret.

Among the practices it highlighted, the report said that workers are told to hit a target rate of packages to process per hour, though they are not told what exactly that target is. "We don't know what the rate is," one pseudonymous worker told the authors. "They change it behind the scenes. You'll know when you get a warning. They don't tell you what rate you have to hit at the beginning."

If they grow close to not meeting a target rate, or miss it, the worker receives an automated message warning them, the report said. Workers who fail to meet hidden targets can also receive a different type of electronic message; one that fires them.

"Amazon's electronic system analyzes an employee's electronic record and, after falling below productivity measures, 'automatically generates any warnings or terminations regarding quality or productivity without input from supervisors'," it stated. The data is also generated automatically: for example, those picking and packing are required to use a scanner that records every detail, including the time between scans, and feed it into a system that pushes out automated warnings.

Always watching

As with other companies, Amazon installs surveillance cameras in its workspaces to reduce theft. But the report claims Amazon has taken that approach to new lengths "with an extensive network of security cameras that tracks and monitors a worker's every move".

Bezos' bunch combines that level of surveillance with strict limits on behavior. "Upon entering the warehouse, Amazon requires workers to dispose of all of their personal belongings except a water bottle and a clear plastic bag of cash," the report noted.

For Amazon drivers, their location is constantly recorded and monitored and they are required to follow the exact route Amazon has mapped. They are required to deliver 999 out of every 1,000 packages on time or face the sack; something that the report argues has led to widespread speeding and a related increase in crashes.

The same tracking software ensures that workers only take 30 minutes for lunch and two separate 15-minute breaks during the day. The report also noted that the web goliath has patented a wristband that "can precisely track where warehouse employees are placing their hands and use vibrations to nudge them in a different direction".

Amazon also attempts to prevent efforts to unionize by actively tracking workers and breaking up any meetings of too many people, including identifying possible union organizers and moving them around the workplace to prevent them talking to the same group for too long, the report claimed.

It quoted a source named Mohamed as saying: "They spread the workers out you cannot talk to your colleagues The managers come to you and say they'll send you to a different station."

The combined effort of constant surveillance with the risk of being fired at any point has created, according to workers, a " Lord Of The Flies -esque environment where the perceived weakest links are culled every year".

Stress and quotas

The report said Amazon's workers "are under constant stress to make their quotas for collecting and organizing hundreds of packages per hour" resulting in "constant 'low-grade panic' to work. In this sense, workers are dehumanizingly treated by Amazon as if they are robots – persistently asked to accomplish task after task at an unforgiving rate."

At the end of the day, warehouse employees are required to go through mandatory screening to check they haven't stolen anything, which "requires waiting times that can range from 25 minutes to an hour" and is not compensated, the report said.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos 'I don't recognise Amazon as a bullying workplace' says Bezos READ MORE

Amazon also allegedly fails to account for any injuries, the report said, to the extent that "Amazon employees feel forced to work through the pain and injuries they incur on the job, as Amazon routinely fires employees who fall behind their quotas, without taking such injuries into account."

It quoted another piece of reporting that found Amazon's rate of severe injuries in its warehouses is, in some cases, more than five times the industry average. It also noted that the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health listed Amazon as one of the "dirty dozen" on its list of the most dangerous places to work in the United States in 2018.

The report concluded that "Amazon's practices exacerbate the inequality between employees and management by keeping employees in a constant state of precariousness, with the threat of being fired for even the slightest deviation, which ensures full compliance with employer-demanded standards and limits worker freedom."

Being a think tank, the Open Markets Institute listed a series of policy and legal changes that would help alleviate the work issues. It proposed a complete ban on "invasive forms of worker surveillance" and a rule against any forms of surveillance that "preemptively interfere with unionization efforts".

It also wants a law that allows independent contractors to unionize and the legalization of secondary boycotts, as well as better enforcement of the rules against companies by government departments including America's trade watchdog the FTC and Department of Justice, as well as a ban on non-compete agreements and class action waivers.

In response to the allegations in the report, a spokesperson for Amazon told us: "Like most companies, we have performance expectations for every Amazonian – be it corporate employee or fulfillment center associate and we measure actual performance against those expectations.

"Associate performance is measured and evaluated over a long period of time as we know that a variety of things could impact the ability to meet expectations in any given day or hour. We support people who are not performing to the levels expected with dedicated coaching to help them improve." ®

[Jul 26, 2020] Big Tech Wants to Own You by JEFFREY WERNICK

Notable quotes:
"... Jeffrey Wernick is strategic investor in Parler. He is also an early bitcoin adopter, advocate and acquirer. Additionally he is a seed investor and an angel investor. Wernick is a frequently invited lecturer and speaker including at his alma mater, the University of Chicago. ..."
Jul 25, 2020 | www.theamericanconservative.com

How major social media companies threaten our most basic freedoms.

It is no secret that the dominant social media companies now monetize what is not theirs: our personal data. In none of the agreements between social media users and these companies is there a transfer of property. Yes, users (and consumers in general) often agree to relinquish some privacy in exchange for a service or a good. But privacy and property are completely different. They should not be conflated.

Privacy is at the core of who we are as free and sovereign individuals. An individual is composed of many attributes. Some are public and open, others we keep to ourselves. All of them define who we are.

https://lockerdome.com/lad/13045197114175078?pubid=ld-dfp-ad-13045197114175078-0&pubo=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.theamericanconservative.com&rid=www.theamericanconservative.com&width=838

Apparently, there is great commercial value in understanding our attributes and then using what is learned. Sometimes this is in our interest, but many times it is not.

In the digital world, companies dissect us and package us for commercial gain without compensating us -- and too often without our consent. That is not merely an invasion of our privacy, but in actuality is a theft of our personal property.

In any free society, respect for the individual is predicated upon his or her sovereignty. Our most important property right is our right to ourselves. If we lose ownership of ourselves, we become the property of others.

Social media companies, and other platforms that sell or monetize our data without permission are appropriating aspects of the sovereign individuals who are their users, and it is a violation of our rights.

me title=

https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.398.1_en.html#goog_1683085215 Ad ends in 8s Next Video × Next Video J.d. Vance Remarks On A New Direction For Pro-worker, Pro-family Conservatism, Tac Gala, 5-2019 Cancel Autoplay is paused

But selling or monetizing your personal information isn't the only way tyrannical tech seeks to own you.

In 2019, Facebook's Mark Zuckerbe rg explicitly said, "We are a tech company, not a media company."

He later gave Congress a more nuanced answer:

"I view us as a tech company because the primary thing we do is build technology and products," Zuckerberg testified. "I agree that we're responsible for the content, but we don't produce the content. I think when people ask us if we're a media company or a publisher, my understanding of what they're really getting at is do we feel responsible for the content on our platform."

"The answer to that, I think, is clearly yes," he continued. "But I don't think that's incompatible with fundamentally at our core being a technology company."

Zuckerberg's view of his company raises a crucial question: is Facebook a technology company that promotes free speech and exists as a public forum that should be held exempt from liability in connection with the content posted on its platform? Or is it a publisher with the right to edit content at its discretion, whatever the methodology -- but must then assume responsibility and liability for that content?

To say you assume responsibility for content, and then declare yourself exempt from liability in connection with it is an absurd contradiction. An assumption of liability is an indispensable component of statement of responsibility. It is the price one pays for being able to take credit for something, or to exercise control over it.

As troubled as I am regarding Zuckerberg's hypocri sy, as shown by the contradictions between his words and Facebook's policies and practices, it is even more troubling to me that many of my fellow Zuckerberg critics -- both in the technology community and in the progressive movement–hold a very different conception of free speech than I do. Their view of the range of speech that should be protected is, unfortunately, much narrower.

Essentially, many of them believe technology should be used to censor content, accord ing to criteria established by whoever controls the technology company. And today, most of the technology companies handling our content have decided to develop these criteria in partnership with those operating on a kind of mob mentality that sees dissent as something that is dangerous, something to be repressed.

A mere platform or "tech company" would not take it upon itself to do this. But publishers would and do, usually in the name of being "responsible." Unfortunately, almost all of today's technology is developed under the auspices of a controlling authority acting as a censor.

This would be acceptable -- if they acknowledged themselves as publishers. But Zuckerberg, during his congressional testimony, walked that not-even-remotely-fine line for a reason. Many of today's tech companies, doing the bidding of the various mobs that want to dictate what speech is allowed, wield the power they have according to their own perspective on what is right, just, and moral. They anoint themselves as the modern version of Torquemada. Yes, I said it: It is an Inquisition. These tech companies, and the mobs whose favor they curry, seek a strategy to dehumanize, delegitimize, and digitally exterminate those with whom they disagree.

Those in academia are often told they must "publish or perish." If platforms like Google, Facebook, Twitter and others dared to verbalize what they were doing in the form of an expression, an appropriate expression might be: "If we decide not to publish you, you will virtually perish. You will be erased."

These companies really aren't "social media." They are not public forums. An actual public forum respects the First Amendment, in spirit, and does not monetize content or personal data. Google, Facebook, Twitter and other tyrannical tech giants are private companies operating opaquely in the digital domain, exempt from discovery or accountability, gifted by Congress with a liability exemption that allows them to do whatever they want. Including deplatforming you.

Rabbi Hillel said, "that which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow."

If you want the right to speak, to express your ideas and opinions, it would be despicable to you if someone prevented you from doing so. You would not want someone else to persecute, dehumanize, deplatform or digitally exterminate you.

Such behavior is abhorrent to the ideal of free speech. It is unfathomable that, in the twenty-first century, "I wholly disapprove of what you say and will defend to the death your right to say it," has, somehow mutated into, "I wholly disapprove of what you say and will digitally exterminate you if you dare try to say it."

A true public forum eschews censorship of any kind. Freedom of expression, and the exchange of knowledge that goes along with it, can flourish only in an environment where there is no authoritative entity or controlling party, where one speaks by right, not by permission.

Jeffrey Wernick is strategic investor in Parler. He is also an early bitcoin adopter, advocate and acquirer. Additionally he is a seed investor and an angel investor. Wernick is a frequently invited lecturer and speaker including at his alma mater, the University of Chicago.

[Jun 26, 2020] Is Bezos going the way of Biden: Amazon boss and world's richest man Jeff Bezos has bought the naming rights to Seattle's KeyArena complex, and will rename it Climate Pledge Arena

Notable quotes:
"... "as a regular reminder of the urgent need for climate action." ..."
"... "be the first net-zero-carbon-certified arena in the world," ..."
Jun 26, 2020 | www.rt.com

Bezos announced the purchase in an Instagram post on Thursday, saying the name will serve "as a regular reminder of the urgent need for climate action." The e-commerce kingpin said that the National Hockey League (NHL) venue will "be the first net-zero-carbon-certified arena in the world," will generate no waste, and will use reclaimed rainwater in its ice system.

[May 05, 2020] Top engineer quits Amazon in protest over firings of Covid-19 whistleblower employees

Amazon "plantation slaves" business model used in warehouses is threatened by COVID-19 and Bezos wants to preserve it at any cost.
May 05, 2020 | www.rt.com

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

Bray wrote in an open letter titled 'Bye, Amazon' which he posted on his personal blog. His last day at the company was May 1.

Bray admitted working with Amazon was the "best job" he ever had, and said he will likely be losing "over a million (pre-tax) dollars" by leaving his position, but he took issue with the company's firings of employees who complained about safety conditions and fears in warehouses, which continue to operate during the current pandemic.

"The justifications [from the company] were laughable; it was clear to any reasonable observer that they were turfed for whistleblowing," Bray wrote of the axed employees, noting that the firings seem focused on minority workers.

"I'm sure it's a coincidence that every one of them is a person of color, a woman, or both. Right?" he wrote.

He called the firings "chickens**t" and said they were done to "create a climate of fear." Amazon has not yet publicly commented on Bray's accusations.

Two employees -- user-experience designer Emily Cunningham and her colleague Maren Costa -- were fired "on the spot," according to Bray, after trying to set up a video call to discuss work conditions and concerns last month. Cunningham tweeted Bray on Monday and thanked him for his support.

Amazon VP, @timbray resigns over #covid firings of me, @marencosta and others. Says Amazon "firing whistleblowers" is "evidence of a vein of toxicity running through the company culture. I choose neither to serve nor drink that poison. " Thank you, Tim. https://t.co/oShy4TQisN

-- Emily Cunningham (@emahlee) May 4, 2020

Other employees were reportedly fired after signing a petition asking for more workplace protections. Demands in the petition included hazard pay and warehouse closures if any employee tested positive for coronavirus.

Amazon has been quick to crack down on any employee organization at the warehouses, which have been working full steam during the pandemic to deliver both essential goods and consumer merchandise unavailable at physical stores shuttered by the lockdowns.

See also: Bezos ordered to testify in Congress, as Amazon accused of 'possibly criminally false' statements on business practices

[Apr 13, 2020] Chine social credit system vs Google and Facebook surveillance

Highly recommended!
If it is like Amazon review system, it is deeply flawed as you can manipulate reviews and bad reviews can be used as revenge for something unrelated. Chinese experiment also outline the danger of Amazon review system.
Notable quotes:
"... It ranks not only every citizen who chooses to participate, but every government official, cop, judge, department, corporation and shoeshine. It's truly universal. There's no privileged ..."
"... It's a popular initiative as much as a government initiative: the Chinese are the most trusting people on earth and they're tired of being scammed online for billions each year ..."
"... It's 90% carrot and 10% stick: the higher your score the easier your life becomes ..."
Apr 13, 2020 | www.moonofalabama.org

karlof1 , Apr 12 2020 17:04 utc | 17

At his FB, Pepe Escobar informs us about "THE CHINESE SOCIAL CREDIT SYSTEM – IN DETAIL"

"In my 'Who Profits from the Pandemic' essay – on Consortium News and republished in myriad places, The Saker, Global Research, Unz Review, ZeroHedge, etc. – unfortunately I did not have enough space to detail how the Chinese social credit system works (I had to edit out a lot of info, otherwise the final cut would have more than 5,000 words).

"The system is not Orwellian in a Western sense – or as Orwellian as people who know LESS THAN ZERO about China insist. China is a collectivist society. Yes, this can be used as a mechanism of control – in terms of political dissent - but mostly it aims to facilitate people's lives. It is a VOLUNTARY system.

"A very good academic analysis
is HERE . Keep it for reference

"Godfree Roberts, commenting on my essay on Consortium News, offered a VERY good explanation, which I reproduce here in full.

"1. It's essentially an Amazon Review of everyone by everyone they've ever dealt with. It's exactly like the 'reviews' we give friends (behind their backs?) constantly updated in the same ways.

"2. It ranks not only every citizen who chooses to participate, but every government official, cop, judge, department, corporation and shoeshine. It's truly universal. There's no privileged, hidden operator that's spared, and no one pulling the strings. Government departments, officials, cops, corporations, Supreme Court justices, Congresspeople–everyone gets social credit if they want it (participation is voluntary). Doesn't this sound better than our system, where private corporations rate us and sell the information to other private corporations and government agencies without our permission and with limited access–but offer no reciprocity? Ask TRW for a vendor rating and see how far you get.

"3. It's a popular initiative as much as a government initiative: the Chinese are the most trusting people on earth and they're tired of being scammed online for billions each year. (They're especially trusting of their government which 86% of people say works for everybody and not just for a fortunate few).

"4. It's 90% carrot and 10% stick: the higher your score the easier your life becomes. Japan and the Netherlands, for example, now offer expedited visa processing for Chinese travelers with scores above 750. Landlords waive deposits if you're over 800 and so on.

"5. It's part of China's 2,000-year-old plan to create a datong society in which (to be brief) everybody is taken care of and nobody needs to lock their doors at night–a goal that every Chinese supports and which the government hopes to deliver by 2049.

" In short, our media are interpreting yet another Chinese policy in Western terms. China is nothing like us. Nothing. It's a different civilization and it does things differently ." [My Emphasis]

At his FB, Pepe has also posted a 4-part "Analysis by Alexander Dugin, Edited by Pepe Escobar" that I'll copy/paste in my next comment.

WHERE WE ARE NOW – PART 1 OF 4

Analysis by Alexander Dugin
Edited by Pepe Escobar

"I have read virtually EVERYTHING, East and West, in terms of detailed analysis of our current, game-changing, global stage of siege – not to mention private conversations with top analysts and the tsunami of think tank reports I have to sift through in my inbox.

"The insights by my friend Dugin are right at the very top. I am publishing an edited version in 4 successive, condensed posts. I personally agree with 90% of his conceptualization – especially the notion of the state in mutation (like the virus) turning ever more dictatorial, and the collapse of the global liberal world.

"This is an effort to invite an informed discussion with you – a global audience. Any entity with zero informed comment to offer, or prone to debased ad hominem attacks stay away – and I'm being very polite about it. For now.

"Part 1:

"The coronavirus has already struck a blow from which neither politics, economics, nor ideology will recover. The pandemic would have to have been dealt with by the existing institutions, in normal mode without changing the basic rules:
- neither in politics (meaning no quarantine, no forced isolation, let alone a state of emergency);
- nor in the economy (no remote work, no stopping of production, exchanges and financial- industrial institutions or trading platforms, no vacation, etc.);
- nor in ideology (no restrictions, albeit temporary on essential civil rights, freedom of movement, the cancellation or postponement of elections, referenda, etc.).

"...but all of this has already happened on a global scale, including in Western countries, i.e., in the territory of the 'world government' itself. The very foundations of the global system have been suspended.

"For the 'world government' to take such a step, it had to be forced to do so. By whom?

Part-2:

"The state, mutating as fast as the virus:

"Everywhere in the world - whether openly or by default - a state of emergency has been declared. According to the classics of political thought, and in particular Carl Schmitt, this means the establishment of a regime of dictatorship. The sovereign, according to Schmitt, is he who makes the decision in an emergency situation (Ernstfall), and today this is the state. However, it should not be forgotten that today's state has until the altogether recent last moment been based on the principles of liberal democracy, capitalism, and the ideology of human rights.

"In other words, this state is, in some sense, deciding on the liquidation of its own philosophical and ideological basis (even if such are for now formalized, temporary measures, the Roman Empire still began with the temporary dictatorship of Caesar, which gradually became permanent). Thus, the state is rapidly mutating, just as the virus itself is mutating, and the state is following the coronavirus in this constantly evolving struggle, which is taking the situation ever further from the point of global liberal democracy. All the extant borders which until yesterday seemed to be erased or half-erased are once again gaining fundamental meaning."

Part-3

"New algorithms engendering a new dictatorial state:

"Over the course of this epidemic, a new state is emerging which is beginning to function with new rules. It is very likely that in the process of the state of emergency there will be a shift of power from formal rulers to technical and technological functionaries, e.g., the military, epidemiologists, and institutions especially created for such extreme circumstances.

"As legal norms are suspended, new algorithms of behavior and new practices are beginning to be deployed. Thus is born the dictatorial state, which, unlike the liberal-democratic state, has completely different goals, foundations, principles and axioms. In this case, the "world government" is dissolved, because any supranational strategy loses all meaning. Power is rapidly moving to an ever lower level - but not to society and not to citizens, but to the military-technological and medical-sanitary level. A radically new rationality is gaining force - not the rationale of democracy, freedom, the market and individualism, but that of pure survival, for which responsibility is assumed by a subject combining direct power and the possession of technical, technological, and medical logistics. Moreover, in the network society, such is based on a system of total surveillance excluding any kind of privacy.

"Thus, if at one end we have the virus as the subject of transformation, then at the other end we have military-medical surveillance and punitive dictatorship fundamentally differing in all parameters from the state that we knew until yesterday. It is not at all guaranteed that such a state, in its fight against the secular 'plague gods', will precisely coincide with the borders of existing national entities."

Part-4

"The state of emergency and the collapse of the global liberal order:

"Agamben has been more radical than others and opposed the measures taken against the coronavirus, preferring even death to the introduction of a state of emergency. He clearly saw that even a small step in this direction will change the entire structure of the world order. Entering the stage of dictatorship is easy, but exiting it is sometimes impossible.

"It is impossible to go back to the world order that existed only recently and which seemed so familiar and natural that no one thought about its ephemerality. Liberalism either did not reach its natural end and the establishment of a 'world government', or nihilistic collapse was its original goal, merely covered by an increasingly less convincing and increasingly perverse 'humanist' decor.

"The end of globalization will not mean, however, a simple transition to the Westphalian system, to realism and a system of closed trade states (Fichte). Such would require the well- defined ideology that existed in early Modernity, but which was completely eradicated in late Modernity, and especially in Postmodernity. The demonization of anything remotely resembling 'nationalism' or 'fascism' has led to the total rejection of national identities, and now the severity of the biological threat and its crude physiological nature makes national myths superfluous. The military-medical dictatorship does not need additional methods to motivate the masses.

"The global liberal world has collapsed before our very eyes, just as the USSR and the world socialist system fell in 1991. Our consciousness refuses to believe in such colossal shifts, and especially in their irreversibility. But we must. It is better to conceptualize and comprehend them in advance - now, as long as things have not yet become so acute."

Dugin does provoke the mind to think. I certainly have my own comments to make, but they'll need to wait for later after today's Easter program here at my hermitage on the shoreline where it's a superb Spring day and the grill will be lit to flame broil our small feast.

Posted by: karlof1 | Apr 12 2020 17:24 utc | 22

[Jan 19, 2020] Amazon and MIC

Jan 19, 2020 | www.moonofalabama.org

Sasha , Jan 18 2020 19:44 utc | 167

What if the real "rebellion" consist on the intertwinning of the Executive, Military and Corporate factions to all feed on profit while at the same time better control population and above all dissidents through the control of and proffitering from big data?

MILITARY-DIGITAL COMPLEX: Why Amazon is going to become the next US MIC giant

....And perhaps the ultimate goal is not just more government contracts, but influence over regulations that could affect Amazon. Today, some of its biggest threats aren't competitors, but lawmakers and politicians arguing for antitrust moves against tech giants. (Or, perhaps, a president arguing it should pay more taxes.) And Bezos clearly understands that operating in Washington requires access to, and influence on, whoever is in the White House; in 2015 he hired Obama's former press secretary, Jay Carney, as a senior executive, and earlier this year AWS enlisted Jeff Miller, a Trump fund-raiser, to lobby on its behalf.

....Steve Aftergood, who runs the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, has tracked intelligence spending and privacy issues for decades. I asked him if he has any concerns about Amazon's rapid expansion into national security. "We seem to be racing toward a new configuration of government and industry without having fully thought through all of the implications. And some of those implications may not be entirely foreseeable," he wrote in an email. "But any time you establish a new concentration of power and influence, you also need to create some countervailing structure that will have the authority and the ability to perform effective oversight. Up to now, that oversight structure doesn't seem to [be] getting the attention it deserves."

[Dec 21, 2019] How Jeff Bezos Became Santa and Changed Our Holidays Forever

Dec 21, 2019 | www.theamericanconservative.com

Around half of Americans surveyed this year said they are planning to buy their holiday gifts from Amazon and three quarters said they compare prices with Amazon before buying elsewhere. Approximately half of all the money spent online by Americans is estimated to have gone to Amazon products and services over the past few years. The company sells more toys, books, clothing, and electronics than any other business and its Amazon Prime service has more than half of all American households under its umbrella. There is evidence to suggest that Amazon intentionally delays shipping times for those who don't have Prime. And once customers do sign up, they rarely shop online elsewhere, leaving third parties a stark choice: close up shop or sell according to Amazon's rules and fees.

Of course, there's no law saying holiday shoppers are required to patronize Amazon. Nonetheless, most Americans continue to log on and load up on holiday gifts just like they did last year. This year's "Cyber Monday" saw the biggest sales in Amazon's history, as the company announced that it had shipped out "hundreds of millions" of products. These kinds of massive sales figures are the new normal for Amazon, as its predatory pricing scheme starts paying sky-high dividends. By holding Prime Day in the summer, Amazon also forces the Christmas and holiday shopping cycle to begin half a year early .

Of the more than 350 million products sold on Amazon, only around 12 million are sold directly by them ; many others are sold by third parties. Amazon is not primarily interested in being the biggest player in the market; rather, it wants to become the market . With increasing numbers of people searching for items to buy on Amazon directly rather than through a search engine, the site has moved closer to just that kind of dominance.

Transforming from a small internet start-up in the mid-1990s that ran on almost no profit for two decades into the booming behemoth it has become today, the Seattle-based giant is a true blue American success story. In fact, it's such a success story that there are serious concerns that it has become economically exploitative. Amazon artfully dodges corporate taxes and keeps expanding its reach into every nook and cranny of our lives (hello there, Alexa). By selling at a loss and then raising prices -- cushioned by the enormous profits from its Amazon Web Services (AWS) -- Amazon forces other companies to ride or die.

Although Amazon is not a legally defined monopoly according to the Department of Justice's cautious parameters, it falls right in line with any other historical monopoly, in that it stifles competition and significantly shapes the contours of its own market. In other words, it is a monopoly . President Trump appears to agree, having referred previously to the company's "huge antitrust problem," although ironically Amazon has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of Trump's corporate tax cuts. As the company begins gobbling up more of the market, traditional antitrust precedent may need to be expanded in order to take it on and protect consumers and workers. It may also be necessary to crack down on the profusion of counterfeit products and scams that use Amazon to hawk their wares.

There's a credible argument to be made that Amazon is also a monopsony, referring to an economic scenario in which one market-dominating buyer can artificially set prices to sellers because it is also their primary customer. This phenomenon can be seen in situations like Amazon's heavy influence on courier companies like FedEx, which might well be sleeping with the fishes without Bezos' business coming their way (and in fact, they could be history in any case, since their business is being supplanted by Amazon's private fleet of aircraft and bevy of drones and trucks). As the job provider par excellence, Amazon also creates various neo-feudalist fiefdoms in communities where it provides the vast majority of jobs, allowing it to push employee wages to the bottom of the barrel. Meanwhile the company has hundreds of employees working in artificial intelligence as it continues to phase in more advanced automation technology and expand its drone delivery services.

There are dozens of companies Amazon could well crush in just the near future, including auto parts stores, pharmacies, bookstores, food delivery services, courier services like UPS and FedEx, office supply stores, fabric stores, and various online platforms for gaming and streaming.

As figures on the left like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have pointed out, Amazon is getting away with way too much. Sanders wants Amazon to pay its fair share of taxes, while Warren wants to break them up. There has been significant criticism of Amazon on the right as well, by commentators like Fox News host Tucker Carlson , who has slammed the company for leeching off of the American economic system to the detriment of workers and communities.

None of this is subtle: Amazon hurts workers and small business. It hurts workers by creating a one-stop employment environment that leaves employees taking the scraps from Jeff Bezos' table. Amazon contract workers have sued the company, alleging it paid them less than minimum wage , while allegations of harsh worker conditions are rampant. Amazon workers might not be living in cardboard boxes (no guarantee) but they're certainly packing them with your orders for a depressingly low amount of compensation under major pressure. Amazon frequently uses "seasonal" contract labor and "permatemps," who are hired temporarily despite working full-time, so as to avoid paying benefits or giving raises.

Amazon pays low wages -- often below industry standards -- and had already indirectly caused the loss of 149,000 American retail jobs as of 2016, as well as 22,000 businesses. Same-day delivery has pushed Amazon's contract workers into such desperation that there have been numerous fatal crashes and pile-ups. Other drivers have had to urinate in their own vans in order to deliver packages on time.

Amazon's control also cuts into the experiences that surround holiday gift giving and browsing. Gift-buying is supposed to be fun , part of a day out with the family or a nice stroll downtown. Now it's become a stressful exercise in trying to click on all the right items while typing in a credit card number hunched in front of a glaring screen. Amazon is constantly gathering data on its consumers and using it to target them. It's been criticized for "surge pricing" where it raises prices algorithmically.

Limiting Amazon via antitrust law hasn't been tried yet, but there is no reason to think that lobbyists will have their way forever, particularly when a credible argument exists that Amazon has in fact provably and specifically broken antitrust law by disguising predatory pricing through revenue declaration loopholes.

It's time for legislators to act both to prevent Amazon from further excesses and to set a precedent. This Christmas, after eating a delicious turkey from Whole Foods (oops), we can hope that Casa Amazon also receives a special, glittering gift under the tree: antitrust action. Merry Christmas, Mr. Bezos.

Paul Brian is a freelance journalist. He has reported for the BBC, Reuters, and Foreign Policy , and contributed to The Week, The Federalist, and others. You can follow him on Twitter @paulrbrian or visit his website www.paulrbrian.com .

This article was supported by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The contents of this publication are solely the responsibility of the authors.

[Dec 14, 2019] An Amazon surveillance device in your child's bedroom, what could possibly go wrong?

Dec 14, 2019 | www.nakedcapitalism.com

notabanker , December 13, 2019 at 6:02 pm

An Amazon surveillance device in your child's bedroom, what could possibly go wrong?

I'm past the point of blaming big tech companies. If you are fool enough to pay money to do this, you deserve what you get. American Idiots.

[Jun 19, 2019] The fantasy of online privacy

Notable quotes:
"... The internet, as Yasha Levine showed us in an admirable and unfortunately neglected book last year, was always envisioned by the military industrial complex responsible for its creation as a tool for surveillance. ..."
"... It should come as no surprise that neoliberal capitalism, the only system with even more global reach than the American armed forces (with which big tech is increasingly allied anyway), would turn it to the very purpose for which it was designed. There was never going to be another way. ..."
"... We can insist on disclosure, but nobody is ever going to read through those terms of service documents. We can also attempt to limit the relationship between digital advertising and free social media services, but the latter could not exist without the former. Nor could the unlimited amount of "content" produced by wage slaves or unpaid amateurs. ..."
"... The fact that hundreds of companies know virtually everything about me because I use technologies that are all but unavoidable for anyone who participates in modern life is terrifying. ..."
"... I wonder how many other people now think that the old arrangement -- in which we took photos with real cameras and paid people at department stores to make prints of them and shared them in the privacy of our homes with people we really love, and had beautifully clear conversations on reliable pieces of hardware, and paid for newspapers that offered good wages to their writers and editors thanks to the existence of classified ads -- was so bad. ..."
Jun 19, 2019 | theweek.com

Nothing in our conversations about the pros and cons of the modern internet seems to me more naïve than our complaints about privacy.

... ... ...

The problem is that Facebook is not really a bookstore in this analogy -- at least not in any straightforward sense. To understand what they do you have to imagine a chain for whom selling books is not really the point; the books, which are rather enticingly free, are only there to give the store's owners a sense of what you might be interested in, information that they then sell to other companies that will in turn try to hawk everything from clothing to medicine to political candidates. If you think the neat blue website pays engineers hundreds of millions of dollars to let you share dog scrapbooks and spy on your old high-school classmates out of the goodness of its founders' hearts, you're delusional.

But the issues go well beyond any single platform or website. The internet, as Yasha Levine showed us in an admirable and unfortunately neglected book last year, was always envisioned by the military industrial complex responsible for its creation as a tool for surveillance.

It should come as no surprise that neoliberal capitalism, the only system with even more global reach than the American armed forces (with which big tech is increasingly allied anyway), would turn it to the very purpose for which it was designed. There was never going to be another way.

This doesn't necessarily mean that we have to live with the status quo. It is possible to imagine a future in which the moral hazard of putting all the information available from search engines and email use into the hands of private corporations disappeared. Instead of Google and Gmail we could have a massive Library of Congress search engine and a free -- with paid upgrades available for those who need additional storage -- Postal Service email platform. I for one would not mind entrusting Uncle Sam with the knowledge that the phrase beginning with "M" I am most likely to search for information about is "Michigan football recruiting."

The sad truth, though, is that these things have already been tried . Very few people remember now that the post office once attempted to get into the email business and made various attempts to keep digital commerce within the purview of the government rather than in the hands of private corporations. These efforts failed time and again, often due to Silicon Valley lobbying efforts. (Internal incompetence was also an issue: imagine paying $1.70 per email in 2002.)

This problem might be solved easily enough if those corporations had no say in the matter, like the coal companies under the post-war Labour government in Britain. But even if forcibly nationalizing search, email, and other basic internet services now seems like the ideal solution, it would involve the most radical use of government power since the New Deal. I doubt there is a single member of Congress who would even entertain the idea. What does that leave with us? A box of Band-Aids for some gaping wounds. We can insist on disclosure, but nobody is ever going to read through those terms of service documents. We can also attempt to limit the relationship between digital advertising and free social media services, but the latter could not exist without the former. Nor could the unlimited amount of "content" produced by wage slaves or unpaid amateurs.

I don't mean to sound unduly cynical. The fact that hundreds of companies know virtually everything about me because I use technologies that are all but unavoidable for anyone who participates in modern life is terrifying.

I wonder how many other people now think that the old arrangement -- in which we took photos with real cameras and paid people at department stores to make prints of them and shared them in the privacy of our homes with people we really love, and had beautifully clear conversations on reliable pieces of hardware, and paid for newspapers that offered good wages to their writers and editors thanks to the existence of classified ads -- was so bad.

In the future we should be more mindful of the power of technology to destroy things we value. But how many of those things are still left?

[Jun 05, 2019] Amazon, Uber and predatory pricing

Jun 05, 2019 | www.nakedcapitalism.com

cnchal , June 5, 2019 at 4:34 pm

> Transportation: "A new analysis suggests Uber Freight's growing role in shipping is coming at a heavy cost to the business . Morgan Stanley writes in a note initiating coverage of Uber Technologies Inc. that the Freight unit turns back some 99% of its revenue to trucking companies . an analysis suggesting Uber is undercutting its brokerage competitors as it gains market share"

This is how Uber is like Amazon. A short excerpt from a long read .

In particular, current law underappreciates the risk of predatory pricing and how integration across distinct business lines may prove anticompetitive. These concerns are heightened in the context of online platforms for two reasons. First, the economics of platform markets incentivize the pursuit of growth over profits, a strategy that investors have rewarded .

Under these conditions predatory pricing becomes highly rational -- even as existing doctrine treats it as irrational.

Second, because online platforms serve as critical intermediaries, integrating across business lines positions these platforms to control the essential infrastructure on which their rivals depend.

This dual role also enables a platform to exploit information collected on companies using its services to undermine them as competitors .

Transportation executives should be crapping their pants upon the realization that the nearly unlimited funds backing Uber won't run out before they get taken out.

[Jun 05, 2019] Amazon changed retail in the USA

Notable quotes:
"... India has tightened the noose on E-retailers and America should too. ..."
"... By far the worst abuser of the current e-commerce system here in America is Amazon which has developed strong ties with the government. Amazon has even incorporated a complacent United States Postal Service in expanding their advantage over businesses by delivering Amazon packages at a discount and even on Sunday. ..."
"... Amazon effectively put a halt on the big box store sprawl that was happening all across America from the late 1980's to the early 2010's. I'll take Amazon and a healthy competitor (Coke needs Pepsi) over a Walmart every 4.5 miles in every direction. ..."
Jun 05, 2019 | www.zerohedge.com

Let it Go , 2 hours ago link

India has tightened the noose on E-retailers and America should too. Understanding the value of brick and mortar stores to local communities India has placed several restrictions on E-retailers in order to level the playing field and make things fair.

By far the worst abuser of the current e-commerce system here in America is Amazon which has developed strong ties with the government. Amazon has even incorporated a complacent United States Postal Service in expanding their advantage over businesses by delivering Amazon packages at a discount and even on Sunday.

To make matters worse state and local governments have put special packages together with incentives aimed at luring Amazon to build in their areas oblivious to the damage it will cause in coming years. More about what India is doing and what we can do in the article below.

https://India Tightens Noose On E-retailers And We Should Too! html

Paralentor , 2 hours ago link

Amazon effectively put a halt on the big box store sprawl that was happening all across America from the late 1980's to the early 2010's. I'll take Amazon and a healthy competitor (Coke needs Pepsi) over a Walmart every 4.5 miles in every direction.

Teja , 1 hour ago link

Well, that replaced one evil with another. Both mean death of the Main Street, loss of jobs. But there is no simple solution, sure.

Paralentor

The malls killed mainstreet back in the 1980's. Walmart/Target killed the malls .

[Apr 24, 2019] The Amazon That You Don t Know

Images removed
Jan 02, 2019 | viableopposition.blogspot.com
While all of this may seem relatively mundane, one has to keep in mind that Amazon/Bezos has a connection to the U.S. government intelligence network. In 2013, Amazon signed a $600 million, ten year contract with the Central Intelligence Agency to develop a computing cloud service that would service all seventeen agencies that comprise the American intelligence community. In November 2017, Amazon Web Services made the following announcement :

The AWS Secret Region has the ability to work with and store government/intelligence data that is classified up to the Secret level. According to Amazon, AWS Secret Region is "readily available to the U.S. Intelligence Community through the intelligence community's Commercial Cloud Services contract with AWS". AWS touts itself as the first and only commercial cloud provider to offer regions to serve government data classified as Unclassified, Sensitive, Secret and Top Secret. Given that Amazon is a dominant cloud infrastructure vendor through AWS, it is highly likely that it will bid on the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure or JEDI Cloud, a $10 billion contract to develop a cloud infrastructure for the Department of Defense as shown here :

... ... ...

Bruce Wilds January 5, 2019 at 11:34 AM

Amazon is rotten to the core. Already no stranger to sweetheart deals, Amazon which has lined the pockets of its CEO Jeff Bezos at taxpayer expense is quietly moving in a direction that is destined to create even more controversy. Amazon through its lobbying efforts is on the verge of winning a multibillion-dollar advantage over rivals by taking over large swaths of federal procurement.

When you couple the voice of the Washington Post with a company so deeply involved with discovering and archiving detailed files and information about individuals and politicians across America you command a great deal of muscle and clout. The article below delves into why it is time to face the fact Amazon needs to be curtailed.

http://brucewilds.blogspot.com/2018/09/amazon-is-threat-to-our-democracy-and.html

[Apr 07, 2019] When you couple the voice of the Washington Post with a company so deeply involved with discovering and archiving detailed files and information about individuals and politicians across America you command a great deal of muscle and clout

Apr 07, 2019 | www.zerohedge.com

Let it Go , 13 hours ago link

Amazon is rotten to the core. Already no stranger to sweetheart deals, Amazon which has lined the pockets of its CEO Jeff Bezos at taxpayer expense is quietly moving in a direction that is destined to create even more controversy. Amazon through its lobbying efforts is on the verge of winning a multibillion-dollar advantage over rivals by taking over large swaths of federal procurement.

When you couple the voice of the Washington Post with a company so deeply involved with discovering and archiving detailed files and information about individuals and politicians across America you command a great deal of muscle and clout. The article below delves into why it is time to face the fact Amazon needs to be curtailed.

http://Amazon Has Become A Threat To Our Democracy And Capitalism html

[Jan 08, 2019] No, wealth isn t created at the top. It is merely devoured there by Rutger Bregman

Highly recommended!
Financialization is a new type of racket...
Notable quotes:
"... Bankers, pharmaceutical giants, Google, Facebook ... a new breed of rentiers are at the very top of the pyramid and they're sucking the rest of us dry @rcbregman ..."
"... 'A big part of the modern banking sector is essentially a giant tapeworm gorging on a sick body' ..."
"... This piece is about one of the biggest taboos of our times. About a truth that is seldom acknowledged, and yet – on reflection – cannot be denied. The truth that we are living in an inverse welfare state. These days, politicians from the left to the right assume that most wealth is created at the top. By the visionaries, by the job creators, and by the people who have "made it". By the go-getters oozing talent and entrepreneurialism that are helping to advance the whole world. ..."
"... To understand why, we need to recognise that there are two ways of making money. The first is what most of us do: work. That means tapping into our knowledge and know-how (our "human capital" in economic terms) to create something new, whether that's a takeout app, a wedding cake, a stylish updo, or a perfectly poured pint. To work is to create. Ergo, to work is to create new wealth. ..."
"... But there is also a second way to make money. That's the rentier way : by leveraging control over something that already exists, such as land, knowledge, or money, to increase your wealth. You produce nothing, yet profit nonetheless. By definition, the rentier makes his living at others' expense, using his power to claim economic benefit. ..."
"... For those who know their history, the term "rentier" conjures associations with heirs to estates, such as the 19th century's large class of useless rentiers, well-described by the French economist Thomas Piketty . These days, that class is making a comeback. (Ironically, however, conservative politicians adamantly defend the rentier's right to lounge around, deeming inheritance tax to be the height of unfairness.) But there are also other ways of rent-seeking. From Wall Street to Silicon Valley , from big pharma to the lobby machines in Washington and Westminster, zoom in and you'll see rentiers everywhere. ..."
"... It may take quite a mental leap to see our economy as a system that shows solidarity with the rich rather than the poor. So I'll start with the clearest illustration of modern freeloaders at the top: bankers. Studies conducted by the International Monetary Fund and the Bank for International Settlements – not exactly leftist thinktanks – have revealed that much of the financial sector has become downright parasitic. How instead of creating wealth, they gobble it up whole. ..."
"... In other words, a big part of the modern banking sector is essentially a giant tapeworm gorging on a sick body. It's not creating anything new, merely sucking others dry. Bankers have found a hundred and one ways to accomplish this. The basic mechanism, however, is always the same: offer loans like it's going out of style, which in turn inflates the price of things like houses and shares, then earn a tidy percentage off those overblown prices (in the form of interest, commissions, brokerage fees, or what have you), and if the shit hits the fan, let Uncle Sam mop it up. ..."
"... Bankers are the most obvious class of closet freeloaders, but they are certainly not alone. Many a lawyer and an accountant wields a similar revenue model. Take tax evasion . Untold hardworking, academically degreed professionals make a good living at the expense of the populations of other countries. Or take the tide of privatisations over the past three decades, which have been all but a carte blanche for rentiers. One of the richest people in the world, Carlos Slim , earned his millions by obtaining a monopoly of the Mexican telecom market and then hiking prices sky high. The same goes for the Russian oligarchs who rose after the Berlin Wall fell , who bought up valuable state-owned assets for song to live off the rent. ..."
"... Even paragons of modern progress like Apple, Amazon, Google , Facebook, Uber and Airbnb are woven from the fabric of rentierism. Firstly, because they owe their existence to government discoveries and inventions (every sliver of fundamental technology in the iPhone, from the internet to batteries and from touchscreens to voice recognition, was invented by researchers on the government payroll). And second, because they tie themselves into knots to avoid paying taxes, retaining countless bankers, lawyers, and lobbyists for this very purpose. ..."
"... Even more important, many of these companies function as "natural monopolies", operating in a positive feedback loop of increasing growth and value as more and more people contribute free content to their platforms. Companies like this are incredibly difficult to compete with, because as they grow bigger, they only get stronger. ..."
"... Most of Mark Zuckerberg's income is just rent collected off the millions of picture and video posts that we give away daily for free. And sure, we have fun doing it. But we also have no alternative – after all, everybody is on Facebook these days. Zuckerberg has a website that advertisers are clamouring to get onto, and that doesn't come cheap. Don't be fooled by endearing pilots with free internet in Zambia. Stripped down to essentials, it's an ordinary ad agency. In fact, in 2015 Google and Facebook pocketed an astounding 64% of all online ad revenue in the US. ..."
"... Rentierism is, in essence, a question of power. That the Sun King Louis XIV was able to exploit millions was purely because he had the biggest army in Europe. It's no different for the modern rentier. He's got the law, politicians and journalists squarely in his court. That's why bankers get fined peanuts for preposterous fraud, while a mother on government assistance gets penalised within an inch of her life if she checks the wrong box. ..."
"... The biggest tragedy of all, however, is that the rentier economy is gobbling up society's best and brightest. Where once upon a time Ivy League graduates chose careers in science, public service or education, these days they are more likely to opt for banks, law firms, or trumped up ad agencies like Google and Facebook. When you think about it, it's insane. We are forking over billions in taxes to help our brightest minds on and up the corporate ladder so they can learn how to score ever more outrageous handouts. ..."
"... One thing is certain: countries where rentiers gain the upper hand gradually fall into decline. Just look at the Roman Empire. Or Venice in the 15th century. Look at the Dutch Republic in the 18th century. Like a parasite stunts a child's growth, so the rentier drains a country of its vitality. ..."
Mar 30, 2017 | www.theguardian.com

Rutger Bregman

Bankers, pharmaceutical giants, Google, Facebook ... a new breed of rentiers are at the very top of the pyramid and they're sucking the rest of us dry @rcbregman

Comments 890

'A big part of the modern banking sector is essentially a giant tapeworm gorging on a sick body'.

This piece is about one of the biggest taboos of our times. About a truth that is seldom acknowledged, and yet – on reflection – cannot be denied. The truth that we are living in an inverse welfare state. These days, politicians from the left to the right assume that most wealth is created at the top. By the visionaries, by the job creators, and by the people who have "made it". By the go-getters oozing talent and entrepreneurialism that are helping to advance the whole world.

Now, we may disagree about the extent to which success deserves to be rewarded – the philosophy of the left is that the strongest shoulders should bear the heaviest burden, while the right fears high taxes will blunt enterprise – but across the spectrum virtually all agree that wealth is created primarily at the top.

So entrenched is this assumption that it's even embedded in our language. When economists talk about "productivity", what they really mean is the size of your paycheck. And when we use terms like " welfare state ", "redistribution" and "solidarity", we're implicitly subscribing to the view that there are two strata: the makers and the takers, the producers and the couch potatoes, the hardworking citizens – and everybody else.

In reality, it is precisely the other way around. In reality, it is the waste collectors, the nurses, and the cleaners whose shoulders are supporting the apex of the pyramid. They are the true mechanism of social solidarity. Meanwhile, a growing share of those we hail as "successful" and "innovative" are earning their wealth at the expense of others. The people getting the biggest handouts are not down around the bottom, but at the very top. Yet their perilous dependence on others goes unseen. Almost no one talks about it. Even for politicians on the left, it's a non-issue.

To understand why, we need to recognise that there are two ways of making money. The first is what most of us do: work. That means tapping into our knowledge and know-how (our "human capital" in economic terms) to create something new, whether that's a takeout app, a wedding cake, a stylish updo, or a perfectly poured pint. To work is to create. Ergo, to work is to create new wealth.

But there is also a second way to make money. That's the rentier way : by leveraging control over something that already exists, such as land, knowledge, or money, to increase your wealth. You produce nothing, yet profit nonetheless. By definition, the rentier makes his living at others' expense, using his power to claim economic benefit.

'From Wall Street to Silicon Valley, zoom in and you'll see rentiers everywhere.'

For those who know their history, the term "rentier" conjures associations with heirs to estates, such as the 19th century's large class of useless rentiers, well-described by the French economist Thomas Piketty . These days, that class is making a comeback. (Ironically, however, conservative politicians adamantly defend the rentier's right to lounge around, deeming inheritance tax to be the height of unfairness.) But there are also other ways of rent-seeking. From Wall Street to Silicon Valley , from big pharma to the lobby machines in Washington and Westminster, zoom in and you'll see rentiers everywhere.

There is no longer a sharp dividing line between working and rentiering. In fact, the modern-day rentier often works damn hard. Countless people in the financial sector, for example, apply great ingenuity and effort to amass "rent" on their wealth. Even the big innovations of our age – businesses like Facebook and Uber – are interested mainly in expanding the rentier economy. The problem with most rich people therefore is not that they are coach potatoes. Many a CEO toils 80 hours a week to multiply his allowance. It's hardly surprising, then, that they feel wholly entitled to their wealth.

It may take quite a mental leap to see our economy as a system that shows solidarity with the rich rather than the poor. So I'll start with the clearest illustration of modern freeloaders at the top: bankers. Studies conducted by the International Monetary Fund and the Bank for International Settlements – not exactly leftist thinktanks – have revealed that much of the financial sector has become downright parasitic. How instead of creating wealth, they gobble it up whole.

Don't get me wrong. Banks can help to gauge risks and get money where it is needed, both of which are vital to a well-functioning economy. But consider this: economists tell us that the optimum level of total private-sector debt is 100% of GDP. Based on this equation, if the financial sector only grows, it won't equal more wealth, but less. So here's the bad news. In the United Kingdom, private-sector debt is now at 157.5% . In the United States, the figure is 188.8% .

In other words, a big part of the modern banking sector is essentially a giant tapeworm gorging on a sick body. It's not creating anything new, merely sucking others dry. Bankers have found a hundred and one ways to accomplish this. The basic mechanism, however, is always the same: offer loans like it's going out of style, which in turn inflates the price of things like houses and shares, then earn a tidy percentage off those overblown prices (in the form of interest, commissions, brokerage fees, or what have you), and if the shit hits the fan, let Uncle Sam mop it up.

The financial innovation concocted by all the math whizzes working in modern banking (instead of at universities or companies that contribute to real prosperity) basically boils down to maximizing the total amount of debt. And debt, of course, is a means of earning rent. So for those who believe that pay ought to be proportionate to the value of work, the conclusion we have to draw is that many bankers should be earning a negative salary; a fine, if you will, for destroying more wealth than they create.

Bankers are the most obvious class of closet freeloaders, but they are certainly not alone. Many a lawyer and an accountant wields a similar revenue model. Take tax evasion . Untold hardworking, academically degreed professionals make a good living at the expense of the populations of other countries. Or take the tide of privatisations over the past three decades, which have been all but a carte blanche for rentiers. One of the richest people in the world, Carlos Slim , earned his millions by obtaining a monopoly of the Mexican telecom market and then hiking prices sky high. The same goes for the Russian oligarchs who rose after the Berlin Wall fell , who bought up valuable state-owned assets for song to live off the rent.

But here comes the rub. Most rentiers are not as easily identified as the greedy banker or manager. Many are disguised. On the face of it, they look like industrious folks, because for part of the time they really are doing something worthwhile. Precisely that makes us overlook their massive rent-seeking.

Take the pharmaceutical industry. Companies like GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer regularly unveil new drugs, yet most real medical breakthroughs are made quietly at government-subsidised labs. Private companies mostly manufacture medications that resemble what we've already got. They get it patented and, with a hefty dose of marketing, a legion of lawyers, and a strong lobby, can live off the profits for years. In other words, the vast revenues of the pharmaceutical industry are the result of a tiny pinch of innovation and fistfuls of rent.

Even paragons of modern progress like Apple, Amazon, Google , Facebook, Uber and Airbnb are woven from the fabric of rentierism. Firstly, because they owe their existence to government discoveries and inventions (every sliver of fundamental technology in the iPhone, from the internet to batteries and from touchscreens to voice recognition, was invented by researchers on the government payroll). And second, because they tie themselves into knots to avoid paying taxes, retaining countless bankers, lawyers, and lobbyists for this very purpose.

Even more important, many of these companies function as "natural monopolies", operating in a positive feedback loop of increasing growth and value as more and more people contribute free content to their platforms. Companies like this are incredibly difficult to compete with, because as they grow bigger, they only get stronger.

Aptly characterising this "platform capitalism" in an article, Tom Goodwin writes : "Uber, the world's largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world's most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world's largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate."

Facebook Twitter Pinterest 'Every sliver of fundamental technology in the iPhone, from the internet to batteries and from touchscreens to voice recognition, was invented by researchers on the government payroll.' Photograph: Regis Duvignau/Reuters

So what do these companies own? A platform. A platform that lots and lots of people want to use. Why? First and foremost, because they're cool and they're fun – and in that respect, they do offer something of value. However, the main reason why we're all happy to hand over free content to Facebook is because all of our friends are on Facebook too, because their friends are on Facebook because their friends are on Facebook.

Most of Mark Zuckerberg's income is just rent collected off the millions of picture and video posts that we give away daily for free. And sure, we have fun doing it. But we also have no alternative – after all, everybody is on Facebook these days. Zuckerberg has a website that advertisers are clamouring to get onto, and that doesn't come cheap. Don't be fooled by endearing pilots with free internet in Zambia. Stripped down to essentials, it's an ordinary ad agency. In fact, in 2015 Google and Facebook pocketed an astounding 64% of all online ad revenue in the US.

But don't Google and Facebook make anything useful at all? Sure they do. The irony, however, is that their best innovations only make the rentier economy even bigger. They employ scores of programmers to create new algorithms so that we'll all click on more and more ads. Uber has usurped the whole taxi sector just as Airbnb has upended the hotel industry and Amazon has overrun the book trade. The bigger such platforms grow the more powerful they become, enabling the lords of these digital feudalities to demand more and more rent.

Think back a minute to the definition of a rentier: someone who uses their control over something that already exists in order to increase their own wealth. The feudal lord of medieval times did that by building a tollgate along a road and making everybody who passed by pay. Today's tech giants are doing basically the same thing, but transposed to the digital highway. Using technology funded by taxpayers, they build tollgates between you and other people's free content and all the while pay almost no tax on their earnings.

This is the so-called innovation that has Silicon Valley gurus in raptures: ever bigger platforms that claim ever bigger handouts. So why do we accept this? Why does most of the population work itself to the bone to support these rentiers?

I think there are two answers. Firstly, the modern rentier knows to keep a low profile. There was a time when everybody knew who was freeloading. The king, the church, and the aristocrats controlled almost all the land and made peasants pay dearly to farm it. But in the modern economy, making rentierism work is a great deal more complicated. How many people can explain a credit default swap , or a collateralised debt obligation ? Or the revenue model behind those cute Google Doodles? And don't the folks on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley work themselves to the bone, too? Well then, they must be doing something useful, right?

Maybe not. The typical workday of Goldman Sachs' CEO may be worlds away from that of King Louis XIV, but their revenue models both essentially revolve around obtaining the biggest possible handouts. "The world's most powerful investment bank," wrote the journalist Matt Taibbi about Goldman Sachs , "is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money."

But far from squids and vampires, the average rich freeloader manages to masquerade quite successfully as a decent hard worker. He goes to great lengths to present himself as a "job creator" and an "investor" who "earns" his income by virtue of his high "productivity". Most economists, journalists, and politicians from left to right are quite happy to swallow this story. Time and again language is twisted around to cloak funneling and exploitation as creation and generation.

However, it would be wrong to think that all this is part of some ingenious conspiracy. Many modern rentiers have convinced even themselves that they are bona fide value creators. When current Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein was asked about the purpose of his job, his straight-faced answer was that he is " doing God's work ". The Sun King would have approved.

The second thing that keeps rentiers safe is even more insidious. We're all wannabe rentiers. They have made millions of people complicit in their revenue model. Consider this: What are our financial sector's two biggest cash cows? Answer: the housing market and pensions. Both are markets in which many of us are deeply invested.

Recent decades have seen more and more people contract debts to buy a home, and naturally it's in their interest if house prices continue to scale new heights (read: burst bubble upon bubble). The same goes for pensions. Over the past few decades we've all scrimped and saved up a mountainous pension piggy bank. Now pension funds are under immense pressure to ally with the biggest exploiters in order to ensure they pay out enough to please their investors.

The fact of the matter is that feudalism has been democratised. To a lesser or greater extent, we are all depending on handouts. En masse, we have been made complicit in this exploitation by the rentier elite, resulting in a political covenant between the rich rent-seekers and the homeowners and retirees.

Don't get me wrong, most homeowners and retirees are not benefiting from this situation. On the contrary, the banks are bleeding them far beyond the extent to which they themselves profit from their houses and pensions. Still, it's hard to point fingers at a kleptomaniac when you have sticky fingers too.

So why is this happening? The answer can be summed up in three little words: Because it can.

Rentierism is, in essence, a question of power. That the Sun King Louis XIV was able to exploit millions was purely because he had the biggest army in Europe. It's no different for the modern rentier. He's got the law, politicians and journalists squarely in his court. That's why bankers get fined peanuts for preposterous fraud, while a mother on government assistance gets penalised within an inch of her life if she checks the wrong box.

The biggest tragedy of all, however, is that the rentier economy is gobbling up society's best and brightest. Where once upon a time Ivy League graduates chose careers in science, public service or education, these days they are more likely to opt for banks, law firms, or trumped up ad agencies like Google and Facebook. When you think about it, it's insane. We are forking over billions in taxes to help our brightest minds on and up the corporate ladder so they can learn how to score ever more outrageous handouts.

One thing is certain: countries where rentiers gain the upper hand gradually fall into decline. Just look at the Roman Empire. Or Venice in the 15th century. Look at the Dutch Republic in the 18th century. Like a parasite stunts a child's growth, so the rentier drains a country of its vitality.

What innovation remains in a rentier economy is mostly just concerned with further bolstering that very same economy. This may explain why the big dreams of the 1970s, like flying cars, curing cancer, and colonising Mars, have yet to be realised, while bankers and ad-makers have at their fingertips technologies a thousand times more powerful.

Yet it doesn't have to be this way. Tollgates can be torn down, financial products can be banned, tax havens dismantled, lobbies tamed, and patents rejected. Higher taxes on the ultra-rich can make rentierism less attractive, precisely because society's biggest freeloaders are at the very top of the pyramid. And we can more fairly distribute our earnings on land, oil, and innovation through a system of, say, employee shares, or a universal basic income .

But such a revolution will require a wholly different narrative about the origins of our wealth. It will require ditching the old-fashioned faith in "solidarity" with a miserable underclass that deserves to be borne aloft on the market-level salaried shoulders of society's strongest. All we need to do is to give real hard-working people what they deserve.

And, yes, by that I mean the waste collectors, the nurses, the cleaners – theirs are the shoulders that carry us all.

• Pre-order Utopia for Realists and How Can We Get There by Rutger Bregman

• Translated from the original Dutch by Elizabeth Manton

See also:

[Nov 15, 2018] Amazon has so much power over our political economy that it can acquire government-like functions itself.

Nov 15, 2018 | www.nakedcapitalism.com

Retail: "This time, Amazon has gone too far: Jeff Bezos's company is profiting and taxpayers are paying the price" [Matt Stoller, New York Daily News ]. The conclusion: "Fundamentally, Amazon is simply too powerful. It isn't just about subsidies. It isn't that merchants, or local businesses, or warehouse workers, or communities are being mistreated or misled. It's that Amazon has so much power over our political economy that it can acquire government-like functions itself. It controls elected officials, acquired the power to tax, and works with government to avoid sunshine laws. It's time to recognize the truth about this company. Two-day shipping might be really convenient, but at least in its current form, Amazon and democracy are incompatible." • Very good to see Stoller in the New York Daily News!

Retail: "Amazon's Last Mile" [ Gizmodo ]. "Near the very bottom of Amazon's complicated machinery is a nearly invisible workforce over two years in the making tasked with getting those orders to your doorstep. It's a network of supposedly self-employed, utterly expendable couriers enrolled in an app-based program which some believe may violate labor laws. That program is called Amazon Flex, and it accomplishes Amazon's "last-mile" deliveries -- the final journey from a local facility to the customer . Flex is indicative of two alarming trends: the unwillingness of legislators to curb harmful practices of tech behemoths run amok, and a shift towards less protected, more precarious opportunities in a stagnant job market.' • Read for the detail. It sounds as hellish as Amazon's warehouses.

Retail: "Desperately Seeking Cities" [ n+1 ]. "It is beyond question that, in whatever city it chose to grace, Amazon would bring neither the jobs that that city needed, nor the public works that it needed. In his latest variation on the urbanist delusion, written for the Financial Times, the much-pilloried Richard Florida plaintively appealed to Amazon not to "accept any tax or financial incentives," but rather to pledge to "invest alongside cities to create better jobs, build more affordable housing, and develop better schools, transit, and other badly needed public goods, along with paying its fair share of taxes." The depths of Florida's naiveté cannot be overstated. Not only is Amazon categorically unlikely to pledge what he wants (or, even if it did, make even the slightest effort to deliver on such a pledge), but Florida openly expresses his desire to cede all urban political power and every human demand to the whims of the company. In this respect, too, the Amazon HQ2 contest has been clarifying."

[Oct 27, 2018] I very much want to stop using Amazon, but where's the alternative?

Notable quotes:
"... I buy less, and I buy better ..."
Oct 27, 2018 | www.nakedcapitalism.com

Are Wal-mart or ebay any better? Do they provide less information to the national security establishment? .

Seamus Padraig , October 27, 2018 at 7:45 am

I very much want to stop using Amazon, but where's the alternative? Does anybody here know of a good work-around? I already avoid Google by using DuckDuckGo, and I am in the process of shifting my Fakebook stuff to VK. But what alternative to Amazon exists?

Louis Fyne , October 27, 2018 at 9:14 am

there are alternatives, brick/mortars, ebay, jet.com, a brand's own website, etc. you could even go to alibaba and import all the stuff you need by the pallet.

The issue is alternatives that don't cost more. Acting on one's principles has a price.

Amazon's $25 free shipping (for non-Prime customers, free 2-day for Prime) on everything it sells/fulfills is really tough to be beat. Impossible on heavy and/or bulky items.

That's Amazon's secret weapon (anti-competitive monopolistic behavior).

Using its profits from its AWS cloud services arm to subsidize its retail arm.

Who would've predicted in 1999 that a bookseller would be one of the biggest players in internet infrastructure?

cnchal , October 27, 2018 at 9:40 am

> I very much want to stop using Amazon, . . . But what alternative to Amazon exists?

So helpless in the face of a totalitarian nightmare? Go to a store and use cash that you have never used a credit card at.

I see a facial recognition arms race in the making, where it starts off with the peasants wearing funny hats with dangly frills hanging down from the brim, with the end point being total face masks with sun glasses and putting a pebble into alternate shoes when in public.

Unless Bezos and the police decide doing that is illegal.

danpaco , October 27, 2018 at 11:49 am

The banning of the niqab/burka is the first step to making it illegal.

ChiGal in Carolina , October 27, 2018 at 3:01 pm

What's the pebble for?

lambert strether , October 27, 2018 at 3:27 pm

Gait can be used to identify you

Quanka , October 27, 2018 at 9:55 am

You have to go cold turkey. It will force you to find better retailers, but they exist and can be found. I dropped AMZ cold a couple years ago – I think its the only way. The way I think about it is that post-Amazon, I buy less, and I buy better . Most of the items I purchased on Amazon previously are gone now. The stuff I buy from other retailers directly is higher quality and lasts.

I live in a urban environment, so easier for me than someone in a rural area.

Scott1 , October 27, 2018 at 3:26 pm

You are right about that, that it is easier to not be using Amazon in an urban place. In the small town I live in places have been disappearing. Well I particularly miss Radio Shack.

Then I'm a hypocrite in that I self published using Amazon's KDP & Createspace. Createspace people on the phone were simply awesome. It is just gone now. I knew it was too good to last. My stuff is apparently still for sale, but I can't find in the system where everything was "migrated" the list of what I did and what may or may not have sold. I can't buy my own books in fact.

Amazon has become such a monopoly that they really can be lazy.
At various times in my life I have fit every damned profile, the "Shed Man" profile, yeah, I fit that one. But you know that laziness doesn't mean you are protected from them. Some political group becomes outraged at your group and BlamO, you and everyone else is rounded up and shot at the lip of a ditch. They know enough.

It is books from which the ideas come and collect evidence of your being so it is less the wonder that Amazon became so powerful. Sure you may know how to make arrows and be a great hunter for the tribe, but you are the ideas from being raised on the stories of the tribe more than just an arrow maker. If you read all the books in my reading list you'd think about things from the same viewpoint aye?

Old hippie? Well the thing is you discover who you are and want to declare it, for some reason, probably so you won't feel alone. I was truly shocked to discover I was a Beat, for instance.

Merf , October 27, 2018 at 9:57 am

We go to actual stores – remember them? Like people did for a couple of hundred plus years. Not chains or big box either. Many deliver even if they do not advertise it. An aquaintance is wheelchair bound and she asked our local natural foods store if they deliver and they said not rountinely but for people who cannot get out we certainly will. You must ask. If I cannot get it at a local store we generally do without. It's not that hard. If you are too busy you need to eliminate something you are doing. No one is forcing you online.

oh , October 27, 2018 at 9:59 am

If you do a search for any item you want to buy you will get many hits on other sellers, not just amazon. In many cases the prices at other sites are cheaper than amazon, Yes, there are so many alternatives but you just have to look for them.

One more thing, Amazon hangs on to your credit card details!

ChiGal in Carolina , October 27, 2018 at 2:47 pm

All online retailers do if you let them. Always check out as a guest, NEVER let them (or your browser, which will ask in a pop up) keep your payment info. I think you can't prevent them from knowing your unique device identifier but don't let them retain anything else.

Like not using Amazon, it's a little more inconvenient to have to enter your data every time, but remember, it's YOUR data and that's the only way to hang onto it.

Since Amazon dominates search results even on DDG, I may look at products on their site but then I go to the actual manufacturer or any other store but Walmart–also on my do not touch list for probably over a decade.

I don't have a lot of money and I do tend to buy "quality", but as someone above said, I just get less stuff!

We are not yet COMPLETELY helpless in the face of the surveillance state and once they freeze our accounts and declare cash worthless, we are all Handmaids, but until then the choice to value freedom or convenience lies entirely within our control.

ambrit , October 27, 2018 at 3:07 pm

Along with Handmaids, there are also Valkyries.
Be strong.

lyman alpha blob , October 27, 2018 at 10:54 am

If you are actually serious with this question, and it's kind of hard to believe that you are, then I will reiterate what others have said – they have these things called stores now.

lambert strether , October 27, 2018 at 3:30 pm

Four hour round trip to the mall, three hour round trip to the hardware store.

Of course, I don't own a car

kgw , October 27, 2018 at 8:25 am

All your portals belong to us!! The Über Portal!!

Hat tip to Admiral Poindexter -- all hail!

https://www.villagevoice.com/2002/12/17/the-death-of-operation-tips/

thoughtful person , October 27, 2018 at 8:36 am

It's more work, but you can find the same items from different vendors, in most cases at the same price. That's not counting the value to you of making the predictive data base on your future behavior a bit less accurate.

I've stopped using a kindle and never would take notes with one.

Used bookstores are highly recommended imo.

Linda Amick , October 27, 2018 at 8:54 am

I never use Amazon. When buying items online I google the item or description and perform comparison shopping. Over the years I have found that Amazon does NOT offer the best price AND many times the competitor also offers free shipping.

Annieb , October 27, 2018 at 8:55 am

Well, there are those weird old things, you know, stores. Sometimes not so convenient to be sure. Sometimes items are difficult to source, but Internet can be useful there! Also, second hand stores. And,libraries! I guess I'm lucky to live near a good one. In the broader picture, one can just stop buying it. Literally. I often look around my home and ask myself, how did I end up with all this stuff?

tegnost , October 27, 2018 at 9:41 am

and then there's this to add to the pile
https://www.seattletimes.com/business/microsoft/microsoft-president-brad-smith-defends-companys-work-with-u-s-military/
Seattle times commenters are some of the meanest people you'll ever encounter, particularly when talking about the homeless, but in this case it's all about money money money

Hepativore , October 27, 2018 at 10:51 am

I have found a work-around for Google Play for downloading apps to my device. It is called the Yalp Store. It works by tricking Google that you are "signed in" and so it lets you download apps that are free on the Google store through a generic account through a backdoor without handing Google any information whatsoever. You can get it on the F-Droid app repository for android devices.

I have tried to minimize my contact with Google, Amazon, and Facebook as possible. I have never had a Facebook account, and I buy several-year-old smartphones for cheap on eBay and then instal LineageOS on them to get rid of Google and its bloatware.

The trouble is, many apps that are useful are only available through Google play or Amazon. There is also the fact that buying things that are rare or foreign are not always easy to find in local brick and mortar stores, so you often have no choice. There is eBay, but I would rather buy the them outright rather than be forced to bid on it and wait for days only to be beaten by "snipers" who sneak in and place bids at the last minute.

ChiGal in Carolina , October 27, 2018 at 2:58 pm

Thanks for sharing!

One question: Where does the app send the data it gathers from you once it is on your device? You can use a generic login but still don't they recognize your unique device identifier?

William Hunter Duncan , October 27, 2018 at 11:27 am

I remember during the Obama era, wailing to my liberal friends about his facilitation of a total surveillance state, to the inevitable yawn or justification by way of His Elegance, he would never do anything to hurt us. Of course, my conservative friends were all assured Obama was going to enter their homes and take away their guns.

Then Trump was elected, and I stopped asking my liberal friends how they feel about such a total surveillance state now, they would get so worked up about .Russia? My conservative friends seemingly happy to have a total surveillance state to keep a check on the liberal mob.

Sometimes I think most Americans are totalitarian, insofar as we have forgotten the meaning of "Republic" and "Democracy", conflating capitalism and freedom, following the powerful unquestioning, excusing atrocity, as long as it appears partisan.

Well, i have maybe a million words online .but for awhile now, my only online footprint of opinion is here among the Naked Capitalism commentariat. But I don't worry about it too much, because the powerful don't care what I say unless a lot of people are listening.

griffen , October 27, 2018 at 11:33 am

Is it evil to be kinda glad that Amzn has traded lower this month ( equities can be volatile ?? )

The future may not be here but it's on the way. Skynet or the Weyland Corp may be fictional in name only it's appearing to me.

Jeremy Grimm , October 27, 2018 at 1:48 pm

Suppose government surveillance is more ubiquitous than your most paranoid imaginings -- in other words you're not being paranoid at all and you're simply not paranoid enough. It might be wise to avoid having no presence or limited presence in the surveillance data. The lack of data could also be detected and used as a measure for pre-crime inclinations. Perhaps it were better to maintain a carefully manicured and tended web and media persona. Maybe run a spider built to create that presence. Enough chaff in a false presence might confound even the best surveillance algorithms.

Hepativore , October 27, 2018 at 2:29 pm

There is an add-on you can download for Firefox and a few other web browsers called Adnauseum. It is based on uBlock. What it does is opens any ads it finds on web pages while blocking them at the same time to simulate a "click" on the ad. This way, it can potentially give headaches to data collectors because of all of the intentional data pollution it causes. Adnauseum angered Google so much that they blocked it from their Chrome store.

Then there is another idea I had for the tech companies intent on pushing spying devices like Echo and Alexa into people's homes. What if you got a bunch of them together or had a group of people buy them. Put said devices next to a radio on "scan" or some other broadcast to play random media. If enough people did this, I wonder if that would generate enough gobbledygook to throw off Amazon and Google from all of the worthless data it would generate.

It is just a thought. However, I would not put it past Silicone Valley to develop and start promoting GPS tracking microchips that companies could implant into their employees. I know that some places are trying to push RFID chips for people, so I fear that GPS tracking implants are not that far off.

ambrit , October 27, 2018 at 3:02 pm

RFID chips can function as tracking devices. Like cell phones 'shaking hands' with nearby cell towers. The unspoken eventuality is how these RFID chips will be activated; when, where and by who.
The Ur tracking chip reference. "The President's Analyst."
The 'Future' is Now: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uUa3np4CKC4

Bobby Gladd , October 27, 2018 at 3:50 pm

Yeah, Robert Scheer. His book is a must-read . Add digital exhaust analytics to the "ordinary" forensics that swiftly collared that hapless Cesar Sayoc "#MAGAbomber" dude, well

[Oct 07, 2018] Jeff Bezos, Skinflint

Oct 07, 2018 | www.theamericanconservative.com

Jeff Bezos, Skinflint By Rod DreherOctober 4, 2018, 7:39 AM

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Marina Linchevska/Shutterstock You see that Amazon established a minimum wage of $15 per hour for its workers? Great, right?

Here's the fine print:

Amazon.com Inc. is eliminating monthly bonuses and stock awards for warehouse workers and other hourly employees after the company pledged this week to raise pay to at least $15 an hour.

Warehouse workers for the e-commerce giant in the U.S. were eligible in the past for monthly bonuses that could total hundreds of dollars per month as well as stock awards, said two people familiar with Amazon's pay policies. The company informed those employees Wednesday that it's eliminating both of those compensation categories to help pay for the raises, the people said.

Amazon received plaudits when it announced Monday that the company would raise its minimum pay. The pay increase warded off criticism from politicians and activists, and put the company in a good position to recruit temporary workers for the important holiday shopping season.

Even after the elimination of bonuses and stock awards, hourly operations and customer-service workers will see their total compensation increase, the company said in a statement.

Some Amazon workers say they will be financially worse off under the new plan.

Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world, worth $160 billion. The second-richest man, Bill Gates, has $63 billion less.

UPDATE: Reader ADL comments:

I work at a Amazon fulfillment center. A couple of things:
1) Amazon didn't just decide to end the bonuses/"stock options" compensation. They surveyed warehouse workers and we voted for money up front. Bonuses only got paid if A) warehouses meet certain production numbers (a lot of people don't like having our compensation based on the work habits of OTHERS), and B) it was based on employee attendance record (if you were out or late a lot, you didn't get bonus). The stock we got awarded didn't "vest" for a year. Those who quit or got fired before their year was up never got to cash in their stock option.

2) Those of us who've worked in warehousing can tell you that working at Amazon is WAY better than other places. The benefits are excellent (we qualify for health care insurance the first month of employment; this insurance is good and cheap compared to other companies), plus other great benefits. The $15/hr is the icing on the cake.

Plus it's freakin' Amazon– there are opportunities to move up (one of the operations managers at my fulfillment center began as a temp at Amazon 4 years ago), or into other areas of logistics (if this is your professional field).

So don't knock Amazon. It's an amazing company– certainly compared to the competition.

Posted in Culture , Economics . Tagged Amazon , Jeff Bezos , minimum wage . MORE FROM THIS AUTHOR

29-0. Almost 8 PM Central Time The Charity of Our Saudi Pals Hide 72 comments 72 Responses to Jeff Bezos, Skinflint ← Older Comments

Some Wag October 4, 2018 at 2:21 pm

b. said:
"I am curious to see Sanders' next move. If he just "moves on", it would be an educational moment."

Link for those similarly curious: https://www.foxbusiness.com/retail/bernie-sanders-reacts-to-amazon-slashing-stock-incentive-bonuses-for-hourly-workers

JWJ , says: October 4, 2018 at 2:39 pm
"Jeff Bezos, Skinflint".

Let me be a little contrarian. And this from a person who is not particularly fond of the leftist propaganda coming from the Bezos/Amazon Washington Post

Why should Amazon pay any of their 300K plus employees significantly higher than the market wage for that particular job? Amazon is NOT a charity.
Now, Amazon might decide to pay a bit higher than the market in certain jobs due to the value of retaining employees. Avoiding employee turnover.

Also, NO PERSON is forced to work for Amazon. If an adult does NOT like the conditions/pay/benefits/hours at Amazon, they are free to leave.

Before you and other commenters slam Bezos as a skinflint or any other nasty name you want to throw out there from your mighty high-horse, why don't you go out and start a business and pay your workers greater than market.

Also, agree with Haigha at 10/4/18 9:46am

REJ , says: October 4, 2018 at 2:41 pm
I encourage people not to buy from Amazon and patronize brick and mortar businesses instead. Bezos is seeking to monopolize all retail transactions and the loss of local stores puts everyone at risk of eventually having to pay whatever price he decides to set. It is the WalMart model on uber steroids. Don't give this man your money.
Ryan W , says: October 4, 2018 at 3:01 pm
"Consumer welfare is maximized when a business keeps its costs, including labor costs, as low as possible. If a business pays its employees more than the lowest price the market will bear for the type of workers they want to attract, it will be (i) paying them more than their marginal product, (ii) screwing its customers, (iii) making itself vulnerable to competitors, and (iv) acting as a charity rather than as a business."

This is the "Economics 101" version. No serious economist would take it as a fair representation of the real economy. The idea that employees will be paid their marginal product only applies, even in theory, to perfectly competitive markets. The trouble is that labour markets are, on average, even further from the perfect competition model than other markets. Any time there's market power, which Amazon has in spades, the perfect competition model won't apply. Unless you're talking about the sale of oranges or toilet paper, any economic model derived from the perfect competition assumption has to be taken with a gallon of salt.

RH , says: October 4, 2018 at 3:26 pm
I've been working at Whole Foods for year, so I'm in the lucky bunch of people who will see a big impact from this raise.

The notion that Amazon is just giving money away is hogwash. When the Prime discount program started this summer, my cashier job got MUCH more complicated and continues to be.

We're tasked with educating customers about the program, educating the Prime members in how to access it, and serving as tech support for those who can't figure out the app, all without making the transaction take too long.

We've been open to abuse from customers who have Amazon and take it out on us. Of course they are all liberals (as am I) but somehow these folks don't have the decency to avoid beating up on working class people because they hate the company we now work for.

We deserve this raise for the work we're doing to bring the Prime members into Whole Foods, which was the point of the Amazon-Whole Foods deal. I know that's not why we're getting a raise, but we're a "charitable cause" for Amazon.

The corporations people work for, including and especially Amazon, are not charities. They can afford to pay us what we're worth.

RH , says: October 4, 2018 at 3:28 pm
I mean – we're open to abuse from customers who *hate* Amazon.
RH , says: October 4, 2018 at 3:29 pm
Geez. I also meant. We're *not* a charitable cause for Amazon.
WILLIAM HARRINGTON , says: October 4, 2018 at 3:47 pm
I've worked at Amazon a few times during the Christmas rush, but then they just up and left their Coffeeville Kansas location. They abandoned their employees, so I don't do business with them.
Haigha , says: October 4, 2018 at 4:25 pm
"Any time there's market power, which Amazon has in spades, the perfect competition model won't apply."

Nope. No one has anything close to market power for unskilled and semi-skilled labor. It's entirely fungible, and therefore it's very likely that wages are (or would be absent government interference) a close approximation of marginal product.

Haigha , says: October 4, 2018 at 4:38 pm
"What galls me is that by paying for food stamps for people who are actually working for WalMart, Amazon etc., we are effectively subsidizing the employers, not the employees."

This is false. Market wages are not equal to the minimum amount that will prevent the employee from starving. They're set by supply and demand. Government benefits make their recipients *less* desperate for work, ceteris paribus, and therefore tend to *increase*, not decrease, the market wage for low-skilled workers (less supply = higher equilibrium price).

" followed by typical Rand/Rothbard rhetoric. This attitude illustrates why the 'market uber alles' ethos is irreconcilable with Christian anthropology."

"Rand/Rothbard"? Try Sowell/Econ 101.

Business is business, charity is charity, and government welfare is government welfare. We've known at least since Adam Smith that *everyone* will be wealthier when charity is kept separate from business. Let businesses maximize profits, and then let individuals be generous with their use of those profits. There's nothing in Christian anthropology that says we all have to be poorer than necessary because we're too dumb or twisted to understand economics.

PeterK , says: October 4, 2018 at 4:40 pm
what Bezos and Amazon are doing is similar to what Henry Ford did early in the 20th when he raised his workers wages to $5 a day

"Workers who had taken pride in their labor were quickly bored by the more mundane assembly process. Some took to lateness and absenteeism. Many simply quit, and Ford found itself with a crippling labor turnover rate of 370 percent. The assembly line depended on a steady crew of employees to staff it, and training replacements was expensive. Ford reasoned that a bigger paycheck might make the factory's tedium more tolerable."

https://www.thehenryford.org/explore/blog/fords-five-dollar-day/

the warehouse business is competitive. retailers are ramping hiring for the Christmas season and Amazon increasing the starting wage to $15/hr is a direct challenge to Target, WalMart and others. also his call for increasing the minimum wage to 7.25/hr is designed to hurt his competitors. one of his warehouses (I think) in China operates with only 4 employees a highly automated warehouse.

PeterK , says: October 4, 2018 at 4:42 pm
" then they just up and left their Coffeeville Kansas location. "

probably because it wasn't an ideal location
https://goo.gl/maps/E2fL6YLyqQK2

PeterK , says: October 4, 2018 at 4:46 pm
RH wrote "The corporations people work for, including and especially Amazon, are not charities. They can afford to pay us what we're worth."

poor RH is a classic liberal who doesn't understand how wages are determined. you paid not what you are worth, but rather what you add to the company. if you're only producing $12/hr for the company then your salary should be less than $12/hr not $15/hr otherwise the company will lose money. Now if you are paid $15/hr and are producing $16/hr of value for the company they are worth $15/hr
I would suggest that you read some Thomas Sowell and Milton Friedman

JonF , says: October 4, 2018 at 6:04 pm
Re: I encourage people not to buy from Amazon and patronize brick and mortar businesses instead.

This has actually gotten very hard to do (at least if you replace "Amazon" with "online vendors" in general). We've gotten to the point where brick and mortar businesses all too often carry only items of mass appeal. If you need something that is not a mass taste item you'll probably have to get it online.

Jonah R. , says: October 4, 2018 at 7:16 pm
Suburbanp wrote: "Our children should be writing reports about Bezos, just as they should about Ford and Gates and other visionary entrepreneurs."

Sure, they can write about how Bezos has dozens of communities around the country falling all over themselves to give billions in tax breaks to the company in exchange for being the location for Amazon's "second headquarters." Maryland, for example, wants to pony up $8.5 billion and is promising to repair and build custom infrastructure specifically for Amazon.

So yeah, have kids write those school essays about crony capitalism. And make sure they include the stories of people who run donut shops and gas stations and thousands of other small business owners in those communities who get shafted by taxes and regulations even as their state and county governments roll out the red carpet for a popular, narcissistic billionaire.

Tom S. , says: October 4, 2018 at 9:22 pm
Actually raising salaries is better than some of the "perks" that other companies provide in lieu of higher pay.
the other sara , says: October 4, 2018 at 10:05 pm
"For the love of money is the root of all evil " 1 Tim. 6:10. Methinks someone worth $161 billion – that's a billion with a "b" – might just love money a leetle too much. Hey Bezos, if you're reading this, I challenge you to live on $15/hr for 1 year and see how you manage. For the love of all that is good and holy, Jeff Bezos could DOUBLE the salary of all those who make $15/hr and still have $127 billion leftover to spare – which is still an insane sum of money in the hands of one person! This is nothing short of corporate serfdom! And I'm not advocating for socialism here, I'm just saying that capitalism, in the absence of a strong Judeo-Christian ethic, usually leads to unbridled avarice!

hey amhixson: ditto!

Socrates , says: October 4, 2018 at 10:37 pm

This is the "Economics 101" version. No serious economist would take it as a fair representation of the real economy. The idea that employees will be paid their marginal product only applies, even in theory, to perfectly competitive markets. The trouble is that labour markets are, on average, even further from the perfect competition model than other markets. Any time there's market power, which Amazon has in spades, the perfect competition model won't apply. Unless you're talking about the sale of oranges or toilet paper, any economic model derived from the perfect competition assumption has to be taken with a gallon of salt.

Gee, if only someone had written about that recently

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/28/opinion/corporate-america-suppressing-wages.html

Tom D , says: October 4, 2018 at 11:01 pm
So much to comment on.

To start off with, RobG is wrong when he makes this claim: "Bezos and his ilk have street cred with social liberals, so they get a pass." I see Bezos and Amazon get trashed on liberal blogs on a pretty regular basis.

Now, wading through the comments, a variety of observations:
1. $15/hour without the stock options and stuff is probably better for most of the workers than much lower pay with those options. When you're not making a lot of money, a stable base pay matters, as does getting the money now, not much later when the stock options vest.
2. Bezos obviously does expect to ultimately benefit from doing this. Possible benefits include being able to hire better employees, lower turnover, and customer good will. He's not running a charity, nor would I expect him to do so in today's business environment and culture.
3. That said, the overall culture when it comes to wealth is pretty badly fouled up. It is obscene that one person can accumulate a net worth of $160 billion, and it certainly is not conducive to a stable and healthy society.
4. That said, I don't particularly blame Bezos for being obscenely wealthy -- he's playing the game with the rules that actually exist. If we don't like that (and we shouldn't), then we as a society should change those rules.

cka2nd , says: October 5, 2018 at 1:56 am
I was once told that a former boss of mine, in describing me to a recent hire, called me "our favorite communist." I think Matt in VA has become my favorite conservative.

Well done, sir, very well done.

Rob G , says: October 5, 2018 at 8:04 am
~~To start off with, RobG is wrong when he makes this claim: "Bezos and his ilk have street cred with social liberals, so they get a pass." I see Bezos and Amazon get trashed on liberal blogs on a pretty regular basis.~~

If that's true I'm happy to hear it (depending on what they're being trashed for, of course).

"We've gotten to the point where brick and mortar businesses all too often carry only items of mass appeal. If you need something that is not a mass taste item you'll probably have to get it online."

Very true, unless you have a local retailer near you that will do special orders. Not everyone does.

"I would suggest that you read some Thomas Sowell and Milton Friedman"

Fiscal libertarianism is part of the problem, not the solution. I would in turn suggest that you read some John Medaille and Albino Barrera.

John Blythe , says: October 6, 2018 at 6:01 pm
Jeff Bezos owns 17% of Amazon; the remainder is owned by people like, well, me, a schoolteacher married to a schoolteacher. Years ago, I was impressed with the service Amazon provided its customers and invested money in the company. Because Bezos recognized he had fiduciary duties–that is to say, moral duties–to those who had entrusted their money with him, I have seen that stock price appreciate. Consequently, I am in a position to send my children to college and help my mother as she ages. Had Bezos operated Amazon as a charity–contrary to the duties he had assumed to shareholders–I would be out of luck.

Rod, I am awed and grateful for your energy on so many issues, but please try to avoid the nonsensical, attention-grabbing ledes and articles that betray a deep ignorance of some elementary concepts of economics and the profound morality of the free market.

[Sep 16, 2018] Amazon Employees Investigated Over Suspected Black Market For Information, Favors by Tyler Durden

So your information and private data can be traded for some small amount of money to God knows whom
Notable quotes:
"... Considering that Amazon employees in the US are some of the most poorly paid in tech and retail (Jeff Bezos was recently booed by his own employees over low wages), perhaps the WSJ' s theory holds water. ..."
Sep 16, 2018 | www.zerohedge.com

Amazon has launched an investigation to track down a sophisticated network of employees running a "black market" of confidential information and favors, illegally sold through intermediaries to site merchants in order to give them a competitive advantage over other sellers, reports the Wall Street Journal .

In addition to providing sales metrics, search keywords and reviewers' email addresses, bribed Amazon employees would delete negative feedback for around $300 per review, with middleman brokers typically demanding a five-review minimum from merchants looking to game the system.

Employees of Amazon, primarily with the aid of intermediaries , are offering internal data and other confidential information that can give an edge to independent merchants selling their products on the site, according to sellers who have been offered and purchased the data, brokers who provide it and people familiar with internal investigations.

...

In exchange for payments ranging from roughly $80 to more than $2,000 , brokers for Amazon employees in Shenzhen are offering internal sales metrics and reviewers' email addresses, as well as a service to delete negative reviews and restore banned Amazon accounts , the people said.

...

Amazon is investigating a number of cases involving employees, including some in the U.S., suspected of accepting these bribes , according to people familiar with the matter. -WSJ

The data brokers primarily operate ion China, as the number of new Amazon sellers in the country has been skyrocketing. The Journal speculates that " Amazon employees in China have relatively small salaries, which may embolden them to take risks. "

Considering that Amazon employees in the US are some of the most poorly paid in tech and retail (Jeff Bezos was recently booed by his own employees over low wages), perhaps the WSJ' s theory holds water.

The internal probe was launched after a tip over the practice in China was sent to Eric Broussard, an Amazon VP in charge of overseeing global marketplaces. The company has since moved key executives into different positions in China to try and "root out the bribery," reports the Journal .

"We hold our employees to a high ethical standard and anyone in violation of our Code faces discipline, including termination and potential legal and criminal penalties," an Amazon spokeswoman said of the situation, confirming that the company is investigating the claims. The same applies to sellers: "We have zero tolerance for abuse of our systems and if we find bad actors who have engaged in this behavior, we will take swift action against them ," she said.

Merchant network

A major component of Amazon's success is its massive network of third-party merchants, where the company derives the majority of merchandise sales. Over two million merchants now offer an estimated 550 million products over Amazon, which constitutes over half of all units sold on the site. Third party sales constituted an estimated $200 billion in gross merchandise volume last year, according to estimates by FactSet.

As such, "Sellers must aggressively compete to get their products noticed on the first page of search results, where customers typically make most of their purchase decisions," notes the Journal .

Evolving manipulations

Merchants have long sought competitive advantages over each other - first gaming Amazon's automated ranking system, by paying people to leave fake reviews and drive traffic to products.

After some time, the black market for internal information emerged, as bribed employees began providing data and access to various benefits, according to a person who has facilitated by brokers.

Brokers are the middlemen between Amazon employees and sellers who want negative reviews deleted or access to internal sales information. Brokers search for Amazon employees on Chinese messaging platform WeChat and send messages asking them if they would like to provide these services in exchange for cash , according to brokers and sellers who say they have been approached by brokers.

The going rate for having an Amazon employee delete negative reviews is about $300 per review , according to people familiar with the practice. Brokers usually demand a five-review minimum, meaning that sellers typically must pay at least $1,500 for the service, the people said. -WSJ

For a lower fee, merchants can pay Amazon employees for the email addresses of verified reviewers, giving them the opportunity to reach out to those who have left negative reviews for the opportunity to persuade them to adjust or delete their comment - sometimes bribing the reviewer with a free or discounted product.

Also offered for sale is proprietary sales information, "such as the keywords customers typically use to search for items on Amazon's site, sales volume and other statistics about buyers' habits, according to the people," enabling Amazon sellers to better craft product descriptions in a manner which will boost their search result rankings.

At a recent conference hosted for sellers -- which wasn't run by Amazon -- a broker pulled up internal keyword results on his laptop. The broker said $80 can buy information on sales data, the number of times users searched for a certain product and clicked on a product page, which sellers are bidding for advertisements and how much those cost, according to the person who viewed the results. -WSJ

One seller in China told the Journal that competition on the website had become so intense that he needs to cheat in order to gain a competitive advantage. " If I don't do bad things I will die ," he said.

If all else fails in rooting out the black market, perhaps Bezos will simply release the hounds:


surf@jm , 9 minutes ago

China's motto......

Who needs Christian morality, when lying, cheating and stealing is our religion.....

surf@jm , 9 minutes ago

China's motto......

Who needs christian morality, when lying, cheating and stealing is our religion.....

Suicyco , 44 minutes ago

If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys

Last of the Middle Class , 44 minutes ago

Just like Wal Mart charging by the inch for shelf space. Same game different monkeys.

Normal , 44 minutes ago

Prime example of how the US is a fascist state: the corporation gets government to enforce law on poor people.

DoctorFix , 1 hour ago

When Amazon opened the flood gates of corruption and scams by allowing Chinese sellers to compete with Americans on the US site... well, the locals were fucked! Lying, scamming Chinese fuckers don't care who or how they screw you. And Amazon doesn't give a shit so long as it makes money. Fuck Amazon! That's why I cancelled any prime membership and haven't bought a damn thing from them in ages.

803Mastiff , 1 hour ago

And the Pentagon farmed out their servers to AWS.....What are Amazon employees getting paid for military intel?

richsob , 1 hour ago

If local retailers have a crappy inventory and the stores are staffed with surly Millennials, then why shouldn't I buy stuff on Amazon at a better price? I support local businesses that deserve being supported. The rest of them sound like a bunch of whiny liberals who feel "entitled" to my money.

cornflakesdisease , 2 minutes ago

Everything on Amazon can be found online somewhere else cheaper. You check out the item on Amazon and then buy it elsewhere. Any seller has to mark up on Amazon to pay Amazon. Logically, then, from his direct website, he would be slightly cheaper.

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Stanley-Hardware-S758-305-Chest-Handle/dp/B000FKF1NQ/ref=sr_1_16?ie=UTF8&qid=1537135278&sr=8-16&keywords=chest+handles

https://www.midlandhardware.com/185512.html

Cardinal Fang , 1 hour ago

I'm sorry, did I miss the part where Disgruntled Amazon employees sell access to the CIAs web farms?

Being Free , 1 hour ago

I have a letter from a woman who used to work with Bezos at a McDonalds restaurant when they were both in high school in Miami. She says Bezos walked her home from McDonalds one day after work and sexually attacked her in her home. He tried to rip her clothes off her but she managed to escape his evil clutches. She was and is so distraught over this incident that she is still afraid especially now that he is such a wealthy and powerful man.

just the tip , 44 minutes ago

well played.

JoeTurner , 1 hour ago

Oligarchs bitchez ! it's their country....you just pay the taxes...

ZD1 , 1 hour ago

"A major component of Amazon's success is its massive network of third-party merchants, where the company derives the majority of merchandise sales. Over two million merchants now offer an estimated 550 million products over Amazon, which constitutes over half of all units sold on the site. Third party sales constituted an estimated $200 billion in gross merchandise volume last year, according to estimates by FactSet."

Mostly Chicom sweatshop shit.

abgary1 , 1 hour ago

Giving away our privacy for convenience sake is inane and insane.

Have we become that lazy and ignorant?

Without privacy and thus freedom we have nothing.

Midas , 37 minutes ago

Give me convenience or give me death!

--Jello Biafra

pitz , 1 hour ago

That's nothing. Amazon has access to the business data of a large number of businesses that use AWS. The possibilities of abuse there are nearly endless.

bluebird100 , 1 hour ago

Get fucked Amazon, that's what you get for doing business in China.

ExplodingEntropy , 1 hour ago

tiny dick chicom down-voted you

http://www.auricmedia.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/the_matrix_deciphered.pdf

wetwipe , 1 hour ago

Fuckin' sick of people moaning about Amazon, Google, Facebook, etc, yet spending half their life on there and buying shit from them.

Personally I can't stand what Amazon has become and would never spend £1 with them.

Facebook is evil shit designed to re-wire the brain to make you a self conscious narcissist which will ultimately end in misery.

Google are a million miles away from 'do no evil' but TBH they have a very good product however they are evil scumbags.

These companies literally believe they are gods, that they control the world.... just like the big banks did before 2008.

I hope the crash comes soon.

-WetWipe

mrtoad , 1 hour ago

Banks do control the world

MARDUKTA , 1 hour ago

President will destroy them soon/CIA.

MedicalQuack , 1 hour ago

Heck, this is not just China being solicited, a couple weeks ago I had 4 voicemails, all the same recording stating "making $17.00 to $35.00 an hour posting reviews to Amazon. I didn't answer the calls and saw that they were junk and didn't run upon them until I checked my voicemail for a real message I had missed and there they were.

They all had a different number to call and a different company name, but it was the same recorded message on all 4 of them and this happened in a couple days, 2 on one day, and another 2 the next day. I guess they figured I was not going to respond and took me off attempt #5:)

Why wouldn't folks in the inside go after a scam like this, look at their CEO, a big fat quant from Wall Street..and of course we have all heard and read the stories about how Amazon pays...

This being said, I don't think this scam was just limited to China..if I remember correctly, this was promoted as part time work with posting reviews to Amazon and work as many hours as you like. I deleted all of them so I can't go back and listen again as they were just nuisance calls like others that I just get rid of.

MARDUKTA , 1 hour ago

Bezos partnered with some tribal chieftain in Nigeria who is CEO of Scams-R-Us.

RafterManFMJ , 1 hour ago

Everything's a lie, and the lie is everything

[Sep 16, 2018] To be banned by Amazon is not equivalent to being banned by any other private business. Most publishers will admit that Amazon has replaced Bowker Books in Print as the industry's authoritative guide to what books in English have been printed in the past and what is in print now

Sep 16, 2018 | www.unz.com

Anonymous says: September 16, 2018 at 10:02 am GMT 200 Words

To be banned by Amazon is not equivalent to being banned by any other private business. Most publishers will admit that Amazon has replaced Bowker Books in Print as the industry's authoritative guide to what books in English have been printed in the past and what is in print now. Amazon is currently the reference source. For a book to be forbidden by Amazon renders it largely invisible. It is equivalent to burning the book. So this is not a matter of Amazon exercising the prerogative of private enterprise. Amazon is a monopoly. It has no rival. If your book doesn't exist on Amazon, then for most people who are not research specialists, your book doesn't exist. The consequences for the pursuit of knowledge are ominous.

Exactly. And this kind of global monopoly power can't be diminished in time with naive, "free market – just go somewhere else", Libertarian sound-bites. People who believe in that fairytale are beyond naive. Amazon, YouTube, Reddit and Twitter are untouchable in an environment where their competitors can barely offer a fraction of a fraction of the Worldwide audience to their "content creators" and very few content creators to the audience. This built-in inertia is self-reinforcing and tremendously inert. It's also the reason why the Globalists have spared no expense to own those platforms.

Free speech will have to be enforced and saved politically. Waiting for Zuckenberg to un-fuck it is a fool's errand.

Deschutes , says: September 16, 2018 at 10:29 am GMT

@Anonymous
To be banned by Amazon is not equivalent to being banned by any other private business. Most publishers will admit that Amazon has replaced Bowker Books in Print as the industry's authoritative guide to what books in English have been printed in the past and what is in print now. Amazon is currently the reference source. For a book to be forbidden by Amazon renders it largely invisible. It is equivalent to burning the book. So this is not a matter of Amazon exercising the prerogative of private enterprise. Amazon is a monopoly. It has no rival. If your book doesn't exist on Amazon, then for most people who are not research specialists, your book doesn't exist. The consequences for the pursuit of knowledge are ominous.
Exactly. And this kind of global monopoly power can't be diminished in time with naive, "free market - just go somewhere else", Libertarian sound-bites. People who believe in that fairytale are beyond naive. Amazon, YouTube, Reddit and Twitter are untouchable in an environment where their competitors can barely offer a fraction of a fraction of the Worldwide audience to their "content creators" and very few content creators to the audience. This built-in inertia is self-reinforcing and tremendously inert. It's also the reason why the Globalists have spared no expense to own those platforms.

Free speech will have to be enforced and saved politically. Waiting for Zuckenberg to un-fuck it is a fool's errand. Great post! YouTube is another monopoly. I've tried many of the alternatives like Vimeo, Daily Motion, etc but they simply don't have the depth of content to compete. Google has fucked up Youtube with the same censorship as Amazon.

[Sep 10, 2018] Here's The Criticism Jeff Bezos and Amazon Actually Deserve

Notable quotes:
"... Citing CIA documents, Bernstein wrote that during the previous 25 years "more than 400 American journalists have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency." He added: "The history of the CIA's involvement with the American press continues to be shrouded by an official policy of obfuscation and deception." ..."
"... Amazon has always been and will always remain a front for the deep state shenanigans. This company makes no money, and yet has one of the biggest market caps in the world. As to this that the Washington compost, traditional CIA media, has been purchased by no other than bezos himself, and that leaving any doubt aside, the same CIA just awarded him $600Mio per year to give them some disposable computing power. And then suddenly you hear all these stories about government agencies willing to make the same move... ..."
"... It looks like Bezos is a CIA asset. ..."
"... That it's about modern slavery, in a runup to the 4th industrial revolution. (in which these workers will be fired) ..."
"... I'm particularly troubled by Jeff Bezos and his connections with the CIA and deep state. The CEO of Amazon did not purchase the Washington Post in 2013 because he expected newspapers to make a lucrative resurgence. He purchased the long-trusted U.S. newspaper for the power it would ensure him in Washington and because it could be wielded as a propaganda mouthpiece to extend his ability to both shape and control public opinion. ..."
"... And because the CIA and Bezos are partners I wouldn't hold your breath for any changes. We now have a form of government subsidized neo-slavery. ..."
"... Well, Amazon is not a business, it's a surveillance agency masquerading as a business. ..."
Sep 09, 2018 | www.zerohedge.com
By Joe Jarvis via The Daily Bell

... ... ...

I agree with portions of a letter sent to Jeff Bezos on behalf of 100 of his employees .

They are against certain government contracts Amazon fulfills.

The employees raised concerns over the facial recognition software called Rekognition, developed by Amazon. Amazon sells the software to law enforcement and federal policing agencies.

But facial recognition software is basically an unwarranted unreasonable search. You shouldn't have to reveal your identity to the government without being suspected of a crime. And with this software, just going out into public means the government will defacto search you, and be able to track your whereabouts.

In the letter, employees also spoke out against Amazon providing services to Peter Thiel's company Palantir .

Palantir offers predictive policing tools. It analyzes vast amounts of data in order to map complex social connections and behavior patterns.

Palantir is almost like Minority Report the police might know you are going to commit a crime before you do

The technology is named after the crystal balls used by the dark lord Sauron and evil wizard Saruman to spy on middle earth in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings .

The letter reads:

Dear Jeff,

We are troubled by the recent report from the ACLU exposing our company's practice of selling AWS Rekognition, a powerful facial recognition technology, to police departments and government agencies. We don't have to wait to find out how these technologies will be used. We already know that in the midst of historic militarization of police , renewed targeting of Black activists, and the growth of a federal deportation force currently engaged in human rights abuses -- this will be another powerful tool for the surveillance state, and ultimately serve to harm the most marginalized

We call on you to:

Unfortunately, it doesn't stop there.

Amazon also contracts with the CIA, bringing in at least $600 million per year . They provide web services for high-security state secrets to the CIA and other U.S. spy agencies. Plus, Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post. So the CIA pays Amazon $600 million per year. Jeff Bezos is the founder and CEO of Amazon. And Jeff Bezos is the sole owner of the Washington Post. Does that sound like a conflict of interest to you?

It is also interesting to note that the Washington Post has long been associated with the CIA . Project Mockingbird was a CIA operation which paid American journalists to publish certain information and bury other facts, depending on the interests of the CIA.

After creation of the CIA in 1947, it enjoyed direct collaboration with many U.S. news organizations. But the agency faced a major challenge in October 1977, when -- soon after leaving the Washington Post -- famed Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein provided an extensive expose in Rolling Stone.

Citing CIA documents, Bernstein wrote that during the previous 25 years "more than 400 American journalists have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency." He added: "The history of the CIA's involvement with the American press continues to be shrouded by an official policy of obfuscation and deception."

Amazon and Jeff Bezos should be held accountable for providing oppressive tools to the government.

But they should not be criticized and punished for success, as Bernie Sanders' Stop BEZOS Act would do.

Then again if Bezos wants to make money from government contracts, maybe taking care of his employees from cradle to grave just comes with the territory. That money came from taxes. And taxes are are markedly different than free market revenue. "Customers" do not have direct control over how their tax dollars are spent. But apart from the government contracts, I could otherwise entirely remove my funding of Amazon in an instant by refusing to do business with it.

With government sources of funding, Amazon gift cards resembling a currency, and delivery "patrols" in your area , Amazon is looking more and more like a government

But that is a subject we will tackle next week. You don't have to play by the rules of the corrupt politicians, manipulative media, and brainwashed peers.

... ... ...


Adolfsteinbergovitch ,

Amazon has always been and will always remain a front for the deep state shenanigans. This company makes no money, and yet has one of the biggest market caps in the world. As to this that the Washington compost, traditional CIA media, has been purchased by no other than bezos himself, and that leaving any doubt aside, the same CIA just awarded him $600Mio per year to give them some disposable computing power. And then suddenly you hear all these stories about government agencies willing to make the same move...

It looks like Bezos is a CIA asset.

Reptil ,

No, calling out Bernie Sanders, that's a straw man tactic. And it's not accurate. Bernie attacked Jeff Bezos (and people like him) for NOT PAYING PROPER WAGES TO EMPLOYEES. And then that the taxpayers have to pay the extra to keep the employees from starving or becoming homeless. Which is something that can be prevented by..... proper wages.

How is that even possible? Well... it's a monopoly. Not a free market. So don't pretend it is (capitalism). It is not !!!!!!!!!!

And then it's not about something STUPID like "it's the poor attacking the rich." That's childish scaremongering, to hide the truth.

That it's about modern slavery, in a runup to the 4th industrial revolution. (in which these workers will be fired)

Yes, it's about the oligarchy trying to enslave the american people, with the PISSPOOR EXCUSE that for some reason, it's capitalism to not pay proper wages.

Ah yes and Jeff Bezos of course made a deal with the treacherous CIA, that part is true. That's fascism and high treason. But who's going to enforce that? Other oligarchs? Trump? The FBI? hahaha

William Binney had a great idea. To have the states secede from the Federation. Then form inter-state relationships. This way Washington DC will be bypassed.

But expect a fight. A tough one.

Let it Go ,

I'm particularly troubled by Jeff Bezos and his connections with the CIA and deep state. The CEO of Amazon did not purchase the Washington Post in 2013 because he expected newspapers to make a lucrative resurgence. He purchased the long-trusted U.S. newspaper for the power it would ensure him in Washington and because it could be wielded as a propaganda mouthpiece to extend his ability to both shape and control public opinion.

The article below supports the opinion that since buying the Post Bezos has used it to gain wealth and power and that Amazon is a job killing exploiter monster that needs to be stopped. http://Trump And Bezos Face Off Clash Of The Titans.html

Let it Go ,

It must be noted that retailers are closing stores all across America and the impact will be huge. Online retailer Amazon is by far the chief offender causing such grief. Over the last few years, stores such as Target and Macy's have even had to face a slew of dishonest shoppers trying to sneak defectives products purchased online back as exchanges and trading them for a fresh unbroken product. I have seen this costly abuse recommended by several online shoppers that see this as an "easy fix" while simply brushing aside the ethical issues it creates.

As stores close much of this space located in the large shopping malls that once flourished in commercial zones of suburbia will grow empty and abandoned. The article below is the second of a part-two series about the retail closings that are occurring across the country and contains a suggestion as to how we can blunt the damage it will create.

http://Online Transaction Fee Could Blunt Amazon's Edge html

MrBoompi ,

The American taxpayer should not have to pay for Amazon's or WalMarts shitty wages and refusal to provide more full time jobs with benefits. This has nothing to do with punishing success. And because the CIA and Bezos are partners I wouldn't hold your breath for any changes. We now have a form of government subsidized neo-slavery.

Scipio Africanuz ,

Now, before responding to this article, I find some folks who make asinine comments are preventing responses to their comments from being seen. That's fine, they can hide but they can't evade. I'll find out soon whether zerohedge is shadow banning comments, I'll call out asinine comments directly, I'll not respond to anyone anymore, until I understand what's really going on..

Back to the article, TDB makes a robust defense of capitalist "success" and that's fine. Bezos achieved his "success" on the back of the American tax payer. The rules of the game as structured, requires that he, and his oligarch buddies pay tax, just like mom and pop, no more, no less!

I believe in free exchange, and regulated markets. This means trade should be voluntary, and markets should run on honest weights and measures. I don't believe for a nanosecond, that markets should be unregulated, that breeds fraud, theft, and manipulation.

There can be no "free unregulated market", it's the utopia of the right, just as government dominated commerce, is the utopia of the left.

Now, Bezos is an ungrateful cronyist, and I say that without apology. He ought to learn a thing or two, from Henry Ford, and the Japanese thus - take care of your profit generators (employees), and your enabling environment (society), because they're your customers!

Exceptionalist economics have given capitalism a terrible reputation.

Folks often forget that man, by inherent nature, is a communist employing capitalism to create a compassionate society (socialism). The misunderstanding has cost millions of lives in the attempt to destroy capitalism, the very principle they ought to protect. The attempts are akin to closing the nasal and oral passage ways, and yet, hope to consume oxygen.

It'd be hilarious were it not so tragic...

pitz ,

Where's Amazon's profit though? Outside of AWS, they don't make any. Usually robber baron sort of companies are outrageously profitable. Amazon actually delivers their service at a loss, and subsidizes it through their only highly successful business, AWS, which is basically a glorified bank/subprime lender.

The Amazon P/E ratio is extremely irrational, but can the government be blamed for that?

Scipio Africanuz ,

Well, Amazon is not a business, it's a surveillance agency masquerading as a business. It doesn't have to make money as it's directly subsidised by the government, and boosted by the propaganda wing of the establishment, the MSM. Once you understand this, everything becomes clear, cheers...

[Sep 10, 2018] Trump and Bernie: A Match Made in Tech Hell by Generally Risk

Sep 09, 2018 | www.zerohedge.com

Remember a few editions ago when I wrote in celebration of the cross-aisle cooperation between Senator Elizabeth Warren and President Donald Trump with respect to the re-engineering of the equity complex? After all, it was only a month ago. However, for those who fail this recall test, the gist of it was as follows. Senator Warren introduced a bill to regulate large corporations in a manner that de-emphasizes profits as a corporate objective, and the President sought to soften the blow by suggesting a reduction in the frequency at which company chieftains would be required to announce the certain-to-be bad news to the investing public.

At the time, I was deeply touched by the prospect of narrowing the gap between two schools of economic thought -- so deeply at odds with one another, to such deep annoyance and detriment to the well-being of the masses. However, I feared it was a "one-off".

So it brings me great pleasure to report upon the happy news that the divide continues to close. As my readers are probably aware, everyone's favorite Socialist Senior Citizen Senator: Bernie Sanders, took to the airwaves this past week to denounce the evils of what by many accounts is everyone's favorite publicly traded corporation. In live television interviews, and, of course, on Twitter, Bro Bernie entered into a full-throated denouncement of Amazon, going so far as to include a series of ad-hominem attacks on its fabulously infallible founder: one Jeff Bezos.

In doing so, Sen. Sanders joins a critical chorus led by the President, who for months has been throwing shade at the erstwhile bookseller that would take over the world. Bernie is passionately (if questionably) upset about the unfair treatment of Amazon workers. Trump is presumably most peeved at the temerity of Bezos at having taken ownership/control over the Washington Post. But both agree on one thing: the great unwashed are getting a raw deal with respect to the business arrangement between the Company and the U.S. Postal Service.

I've looked into these matters, and objectively as I can determine, this is not an open and shut case against Amazon. Yes, they're getting a government (and therefore a taxpayer) subsidy, but they are arguably performing services that would be difficult and more expensive for the post office to undertake without them – rain, sleet, snow and gloom of night notwithstanding.

Meanwhile, to their everlasting credit, both Amazon and its shareholders reacted to the rhetorical pummeling with characteristic equanimity:

It's not as though they didn't feel the sting a bit, and here, the sentimental can be forgiven if they lament the timing. Sharp-eyed observers will note a slight down-tick in the price at the more immediate, right end portion of the graph. This reversal is all the more unfortunate because on Tuesday, the day after our traditional holiday celebrating the working class, the Company's valuation joined that of Apple's as the only business enterprise ever to surpass the lofty and heretofore unimaginable $1T threshold.

But that was then; as of Friday's close, Amazon's market capitalization fell to the beggarly-by- comparison level of $952B.

It says here that Amzonians of every stripe should keep that stiff upper lip demeanor at the ready, as I suspect they may face a string of challenges before the inevitable happens, and the Company achieves full global hegemony.

Because, while the following edict did not make the cut on my "10 Commandments of Risk Management", it probably should have: any enterprise that has found itself in the cross-hairs of both Trump and Bernie has reason to worry.

And if Amazon is staring into the face of a political spit storm, so, too, perhaps, are those other lovable Tech Titans whose stock performance have so deeply enriched us in the post-crash era. Consider, if you will, the recent pricing action of a couple of other tech darlings: Facebook and Twitter, linked not only by the social media stranglehold they collectively command, but also by the fact that each company sent one of their gods down from their heavenly Silicon Valley Olympus, to earthly Washington, where each faced full-on Capitol Hill roasting:

Now, this is a Dickensian Tale of Two Stocks if ever there was one. With Zuck presumably hiding under his desk, Sheryl Sandberg taking the Congressional heat this round. In the wake of all that, Facebook managed to breach the lows registered after its historic July tanking of earnings, and is knocking on the door of breaking the bottoms recorded when Zuck had to explain away to hostile legislatures the pimping out of user data to sketchy organizations like Cambridge Analytica. By contrast, the long-besieged Twitter, which had been on an improbable profit upswing of late, managed to give back all and then-some in the wake of Jack Dorsey's Capitol Hill Star Chamber Inquisition.

Anybody notice a pattern here? Well, for me, what we're witnessing is the early innings of what I expect to be a slowly unfolding, populist/political undermining of the flower of the American Tech industry. Now, I don't expect anything overly nasty to transpire in the short term; more likely than not, the garroting of Silicon Valley high-flyers will be a multi-year proposition. Rather, I suspect that the TMT/big dogs of the NDX will more than likely reach new highs – perhaps material ones – before they face the prospect of careening, Icarus-like, to terra firma.

But if the prevailing tone – taking place as it is under a presumably business-friendly political paradigm -- is any indication, I shudder to think about what happens when the progressive elements re-assert their mojo and take hold of the control panel. And trust me, they will: if not immediately then eventually.

Of course, one cannot help but admire the way that West Coast Tech monsters – from San Diego to Seattle – have anticipated this, and attempted, and with some success, to brand themselves as torch carriers for the progressive mindset. I believe is that this will work for a while, but not into perpetuity. Eventually, they will be unmasked and vilified as the filthy, profit-seeking capitalists that they are.

And here, perhaps, is the main (if most obvious) point: as Tech goes, so goes the stock market. I don't have the exact figures handy, but I can assure you that if you review index gains over the last, say, five years, and remove the contribution of Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Google from the equation, you're looking at a chart that, best case, is flat as a pancake. As such, I don't think that the unfolding Madam Defarge (villainess of Tale of Two Cities, known most prominently for knitting at the guillotine) dynamic that I fear may be emerging in Tech-land is much cause for celebration.

The shortened week brought a small taste of the look and feel of the new-age vibe that awaits us. Equity indices retreated, but only modestly, and in manner that failed to capture the carnage that lies beneath. I may be connecting dots too far flung to merit they're linkage, but it is not lost on me that all of the above transpired against the backdrop of a deteriorating geopolitical sneaker fire (Nike?). I won't waste much space here, but between the editorial stylings of Anonymous, the absolute (if unsuccessful) effort to turn the Kavanaugh hearings into a pig circus, the breathless anticipation of another Bob Woodward political workover, and the unfortunate ramping up of trade skirmishes, it's hard not to look at the world with a glaze in one's eyes and a growing pit in one's stomach.

But of course and as always the news by no means all bad. The Jobs Report pretty much checks every bling box, so much so that slumbering holders of longer-term U.S. debt, and sold down some of their holdings. Factset is projecting another boffo quarter at about ~+20%.

Equities, though, remain a quandary nonetheless (as do Commodities), but my hunch is that the indices will gather themselves a bit over the next few sessions, before breaking everyone's heart – yet again -- later in the month. Moreover, if the months-long pattern holds (Trump offsetting domestic political bludgeons with accretive policy actions), I would expect some happy noise from the front of the trade wars over the next several days. There'd better be, because the long knives are out against the current administration, and the only defensive weapon at their disposal is one that involves playing offense on the economy.

I'm more than willing to do my share, so, as I sign off, know that I'm logging into my Amazon Prime account to purchase a holy document called "The Art of the Deal", along with "Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In", written by one Bernie Sanders, and released on November 15, 2016, exactly one week after the author of the former book, against all odds, won the presidential election.

Who knows? Maybe Donnie and Bernie have more common ground than they realize, and if I find anything of this sort, I'll be sure to pass it along – to them, and, of course, to you.

TIMSHEL

This post is brought to you by General Risk Advisors, a full service risk solutions group. For more information, visit genriskadvisors.com .

[Jul 28, 2018] Ex-Amazon workers talk of 'horrendous' conditions

Aug 01, 2013 | www.youtube.com

Hundreds of employees of online store Amazon on zero hours contracts are subjected to a regime described as "horrendous" and "exhausting", it is claimed.


Shaun Dobbie , 2 years ago

The place is full of favoritism and you MUST hit target at all times regardless of what barriers you face. Mostly I have enjoyed my job there but I am starting to be picked on.

Adoon Q , 1 year ago

This is the worst place to ever work. They say you have two 15 minute breaks but it's actually a lot less. The amount of people waiting to go through 2 metal detector doors is unreal. It's more like a 7 minute break if you're lucky, same with the lunch. So glad that I'm not working at this company anymore, I now have a much better job with better hours and pay.

spidermandan2k7 , 1 year ago

I worked for amazon in 2014, the interview was via an agency where a group of us has to do a couple of written tests and then urinate into pots. I applied for the picker and packer team and when I got started I was put on the heavy lifting section.

Once I got my first shift/training the "team leaders" were useless and anytime you asked a question it was like an issue to them. One female team leader tried to ignore me for as long as she could until i finally got her attention and she answered with a nasty attitude.

On my second day which was my first time doing the heavy lifting, "team leaders" walking across a skywalk just above our heads and constantly monitoring what everything was doing even going as far as to smack a stick on the railing to stop a conversation.

They would occasionally be walking behind you aswell. It felt more like work in a prison being watched by guards.

The security staff were the biggest bunch of overly macho idiots I've ever seen, walking around with the chests pushed out and shouting silly jokes at the workers expense. You're not allowed nothing in your pockets while in the warehouse and I was told a lighter would be fine by one of the team leaders, but once I went to leave through the metal detectors one of the said macho bunch came over and spoke to me like dirt demanding my name and when I tried to explain it to him his attitude become more hostile to me.

Needless to say after my 2nd shift I quit as I was not about to put myself through something like that.

When I went into hand my ID card in 2 team leaders and 2 security were at reception and even giving that back consisted of a nasty attitude and asking what I was doing and why I was leaving. I simply smiled and said better job offer and left without giving them a chance to talk. It truly is a horrible place to work for and could be advertised as a prison job experience!

No Hope For Humanity , 1 year ago

My sister worked for Amazon for about a month before they sacked her.

She said they followed her everywhere from the bathroom to the break room, and she wasn't allowed to take more than one five minute break a day.

She had one friend there who she talked to, and they fired him as well. Amazon is garbage.

whoami , 1 year ago

Bezos is yet another disgusting immoral man driven by his mortal greed - with proof. if every amazon user that is aware of this reality decided to not buy from amazon again, this would be the fairest punishment. I wish everyone has an alternative choice for work and never has to choose to work for this greedy and inhumane corporation called amazon. absolutely revolting.

[May 29, 2018] Amazon's Relentless Pursuit of Largesse The American Conservative

Notable quotes:
"... Follow him on Twitter: @DanielMKishi . ..."
May 29, 2018 | www.theamericanconservative.com

Powerful is the man who, with a short series of tweets, can single-handedly send the bluest of the blue-chip stocks into a headlong tumble. For better or for worse, the current occupant of the Oval Office is one such man, tapping into his power with the following missive that crossed the Twitter transom on the morning of March 29:

I have stated my concerns with Amazon long before the Election. Unlike others, they pay little or no taxes to state & local governments, use our Postal System as their Delivery Boy (causing tremendous loss to the U.S.), and are putting many thousands of retailers out of business!

Over the next few trading days, with four subsequent tweets peppered in, Amazon's stock dropped by more than $75 a share, losing a market value of nearly $40 billion. Card carrying-members of the Resistance and Never Trump brigade quickly portrayed the president's scorn as the latest evidence of his "soft totalitarianism" and general disdain for the First Amendment and the free press. They noted that Amazon's CEO and founder, Jeff Bezos, owns the Washington Post -- a leading "perpetrator" of what Trump has called the "opposition party" and "fake news."

Concerns of politically motivated impropriety are not without merit. Trump has repeatedly proven himself unworthy of the benefit of the doubt. As presidential candidate and commander in chief, he has demonstrated an eagerness to use his Twitter account as a bully pulpit in his petty brawls with lawmakers, media personalities, and anyone else who might draw his ire.

And yet, ulterior motives though there may be, knee-jerk dismissals of the president's attack are short-sighted. The president's bluster in this instance is rooted in reality.

Indeed, contra the libertarian ethos that Amazon and its leader purport to embody, the company has not emerged as one of history's preeminent corporate juggernauts through thrift and elbow grease alone. Although the company's harshest critics must concede that Amazon is the world's most consistently competent corporation -- replete with innovation and ingenuity -- the company's unprecedented growth would not be possible without two key ingredients: corporate welfare and tax avoidance.

Amazon has long benefitted from the procurement of taxpayer-funded subsidies, emerging in recent years as the leading recipient of corporate welfare. According to Good Jobs First, a Washington, D.C., organization dedicated to corporate and government accountability, Amazon has, since 2000, received more than $1.39 billion in state and local tax breaks and subsidies for construction of its vast network of warehouses and data centers.

These private-public "partnership" deals are perhaps best illustrated by the sweepstakes for Amazon's second headquarters. Touted as the economic development opportunity of the century, the chosen destination will reap the benefits of 50,000 "high-paying" jobs and $5 billion in construction spending. The possibility of securing an economic development package of this magnitude elicited proposals from 238 North American cities and regions, fomenting what some have called a "bidding war" between mayors, governors, and county executives desperate for economic invigoration.

After a first round deadline of October 19, the pool of applicants was, in mid-January, whittled down to a list of 20. As expected, each finalist offered incentive packages worth more than a billion dollars, with Montgomery County, Maryland, ($8.5 billion) and Newark, New Jersey, ($7 billion) offering the most eye-popping bundles. Proposals utilized a wide array of state and local economic development programs: property tax discounts, infrastructure subsidies, and, in the case of Chicago's proposal, an incentive known as a "personal income-tax diversion." Worth up to $1.32 billion, Amazon employees would still pay their income taxes in full -- but instead of Illinois receiving the money, the tax payments would be funneled directly into the pockets of Amazon itself.

While critics condemn the ostentatious bids of Maryland and New Jersey and decry the "creative" gimmicks of cities such as Chicago, they are equally worried about the details -- or lack thereof -- of the proposals from the other finalists. Despite demands for transparency from local community leaders and journalists, only a handful of cities have released the details of their bids in full, while six finalists -- Indianapolis, Dallas, Northern Virginia, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and Raleigh, North Carolina -- have refused to release any of the details from their first-round bids. Viewing themselves as players in a zero-sum game of high-stakes poker, they claim that there is little to gain, but a lot to lose, in making their proposals public.

Such secrecy has, in the second round of bidding, become the rule more than the exception. Although he owns a newspaper with the slogan "Democracy Dies in Darkness," Bezos has required state and local officials involved in negotiations to sign non-disclosure agreements. With the opportunity to revisit and revise their bids (i.e., increase their dollar value), the transition from public spectacle to backroom dealing introduces yet another cause for concern. If the finalists don't apprise citizens of their bids' details, the citizens can't weigh the costs and benefits and determine whether inviting the company into their midst will be a net positive or net negative.

Amazon's pursuit of public tithes and offerings is matched by its relentless obsession with avoiding taxes. Employing a legion of accountants and lawyers, the company has become a master at navigating the tax code and exploiting every loophole. Illegality is not the issue here but rather a tax system that allows mammoth corporations to operate with huge tax advantages not available to mom-and-pop shops on Main Street.

Of course Amazon isn't unique in its desire to avoid the taxman. It is, however, unrivaled in its ability to do so. Last fall's debate concerning the merits of lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent was, for Amazon, a moot point. In the five years from 2012 to 2016, Amazon paid an effective federal income tax rate of only 11.4 percent.

The company fared even better in 2017. Despite posting a $5.6 billion profit, Amazon didn't pay a single cent in federal taxes, according to a recent report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. What's more, Amazon projects it will receive an additional $789 million in kickbacks from last year's tax reform bill.

Even by the standards of mammoth corporations, this is impressive. By way of comparison, Walmart -- no stranger to corporate welfare and tax avoidance -- has paid $64 billion in corporate income tax since 2008. Amazon? Just $1.4 billion.

Amazon's tax-avoidance success can be attributed to two things: avoiding the collection of sales taxes and stashing profits in overseas tax havens. The IRS estimates that Amazon has dodged more than $1.5 billion in taxes by funneling the patents of its intellectual property behind the walls of its European headquarters city, Luxembourg -- a widely used corporate tax haven. Again, nothing illegal here, but there's something wrong with a tax system that allows it.

From day one, Amazon's business model involved legally avoiding any obligation to collect sales taxes, and then using the subsequent pricing advantage to gain market share. It did this by first locating its warehouses in very few states, most of which did not have a sales tax. It then shipped its goods to customers that resided in other states that did have sales tax. This game plan allowed Amazon to avoid what is known as "nexus" in sales-tax states, meaning that those states could not compel it to collect the tax -- a two to 10 percent competitive advantage over its brick-and-mortar counterparts.

Amazon exploited this tax advantage for years until state legislatures -- realizing how much revenue they were losing -- gradually began passing legislation requiring Internet retailers to collect sales taxes for items purchased by their citizens. In 2012, having already benefited from this competitive advantage for more than a decade and a half, Bezos -- under the pretense of a "level playing field" -- began advocating for federal legislation that would require Internet retailers to collect sales tax. No such legislation has been passed.

And despite Bezos's carefully calculated public relations posturing, Amazon's advantage over brick-and-mortar retailers persists: not only does Amazon not collect city and county sales taxes (where applicable) but it also doesn't, with few exceptions, collect sales tax on items sold by third-party distributors on Amazon Marketplace -- sales that account for more than half of Amazon's sales.

It is difficult to overstate how instrumental tax breaks and tax avoidance have been in Amazon's unprecedented growth. As Bezos made clear in his first letter to shareholders in 1997, Amazon's business plan is predicated on amassing long-term market share in lieu of short-term profits. As a result, the company operates on razor-thin margins in some retail categories, while actually taking losses in others.

Amazon has not squandered these competitive advantages. Half of online retail purchases are made through Amazon, and more than half of American households are enrolled in the Amazon Prime program -- a subscription service that engenders platform loyalty and leads to increases in consumer spending.

In fact, Amazon's ascent and tactics have led an increasing number of public policy experts to call for a renewed enforcement of America's antitrust laws. The concern is that Amazon has used its market power to crush smaller competitors with a swath of anti-competitive practices, including predatory pricing and market power advantages stemming from Amazon Marketplace -- Amazon's vast sales platform for third-party retailers.

Such practices may be a boon for consumers and Amazon stockholders, the reasoning goes, but they are only possible because Amazon uses economic power to squeeze its retail partners on pricing at various points in the production line, which harms the health of many other businesses. In fact, some suggest this bullying tendency calls to mind the actions of John D. Rockefeller in his dealings with railroad companies at the turn of the last century.

These monopolistic practices have squeezed local, state, and federal revenue streams in two ways. Not only do these governments forego the collection of needed tax revenue but Amazon's rise has also knocked out many brick-and-mortar competitors that previously had provided streams of tax revenue. By wooing Amazon with taxpayer-funded subsidies and other giveaways, government leaders are, in a very real sense, funding the destruction of their own tax base. There is little evidence that such taxpayer-funded inducements have resulted in a net positive to the states and localities doling out the subsidies.

By forsaking the tenets of free market orthodoxy, forgoing the collection of much-needed tax revenue, and giving big businesses major competitive advantages, state and local governments have generated increasing controversy and political enmity from both ends of the political spectrum. And yet, though bipartisan accusations of crony capitalism and corporate welfare abound, such opposition does little to dissuade state and local governments from loosening the public purse strings in their efforts to woo big corporations such as Amazon.

Daniel Kishi is associate editor of The American Conservative. Follow him on Twitter: @DanielMKishi .

[Feb 03, 2018] Whole Foods Becomes Amazon Hell Foods as Employees, Managers Quit, Cry on the Job....and These People Want to Run Your Healthca

Notable quotes:
"... Cooks at restaurants routinely work in similar heat with similar levels of exertion. I know, because I was a cook at multiple restaurants. ..."
"... The reason OSHA doesn't care is because working people in extreme heat is SOP for scores of industries that you may not even realize. ..."
"... In an earlier generation, that would be an excellent question. But since then, we've seen the distribution and adoption of the neoliberal memo that such things are always and everywhere bad. Nor would they be high on the current administration's to do list. ..."
"... Amazon doesn't employ the workers. It employs temp agencies who supply the workers. This is a standard procedure these days for high-turnover workplaces, because in the end no one is responsible for what happens to the workers. ..."
"... A service business that gives crappy service will not prosper. ..."
"... I spent 25 years in the grocery business with 20 of them in management. The expectations stated above were industry standards (except the minutiae of sales goals). Only in Whole Foods was this model ignored. When the industry wide profit margin of grocers is less the 3cents on the dollar you have to be a TIGHT operator to turn a profit or you are doomed. As a department manager my entire job depended on how I managed my P&L report on a quarterly basis .. if I was over on payroll hours I DAMN well better be cutting back on other areas such as shrink, supplies or payroll mix (high paid FT vs low paid PT) ..."
"... Thanks for bringing up the industry baseline! Bezos' intense exploitation of labor merits a spotlight, but what's happening off in the shadows in other corporations? I recall seeing Costco held up as a + example, but what about others? ..."
"... It seems to me that Amazon are a one trick company (albeit, a very good trick), and they are likely to get burned very badly if they extend their predatory model to high value brands.. ..."
"... "When the industry wide profit margin of grocers is less the 3cents on the dollar" This figure is complete nonsense. It means nothing. It's the "profit margin" after paying themselves rent, which is where the profits in grocery stores end up.. No one is in business for a 3% return. It does make good for PR though. ..."
"... Its not clear to me that OTS originated with Amazon. Amazon only completed the Whole Foods purchase around Labor Day in 2017. It usually takes more than a month or two to come up with an entire computer-based software system and roll it out company-wide. ..."
"... Corporate America is capable of coming up with bone-headed implementations of what could be good ideas without the need to get Amazon, Google, Facebook, or Apple to push them to it. Wells Fargo was able to come up with "Eight is Great" for new account generation even with the guidance of Warren Buffet instead of Jeff Bezos. ..."
"... At any rate, I won't be frequenting Whole Foods any longer as I find worker abuse nauseating. ..."
"... So much paperwork that there's no time to deliver the food, hence empty shelves. A situation instantly recognizable to anyone who ever lived in the USSR. ..."
"... You didn't hear it from me, but from a friend who was a cashier at a grocery store, a small way to fight back against self checkout is to be creative in naming your produce to get a 95% discount ..."
"... Wal-Mart can man-up with a new ad campaign – Our Employees Don't Cry, they get food stamps. ..."
"... "I'm amazed at how many people choose to simply ignore the fate of Amazon's employees in order to receive free shipping." ..."
"... (Suggesting that AMZ is a sh*t business.) ..."
"... fast forward 1-2 years ..."
"... fast forward 1-2 more years . ..."
"... Rinse. Repeat. Ad nauseum, ad infinitum . ..."
"... the first time in my life ..."
Feb 03, 2018 | www.nakedcapitalism.com

Posted on February 2, 2018 by Yves Smith As we've said, Jeff Bezos clearly hates people, except as appendages to bank accounts. All you need to do is observe how he treats his workers.

In a scoop, Business Insider reports on how Amazon is creating massive turnover and pointless misery at Whole Food by imposing a reign of terror impossible and misguided productivity targets.

Anyone who has paid the slightest attention to Amazon will see its abuse of out of Whole Foods workers as confirmation of an established pattern. And even more tellingly, despite Whole Foods supposedly being a retail business that Bezos would understand, the unrealistic Whole Foods metrics aren't making the shopping experience better.

As we'll discuss below, we'd already expressed doubts about how relevant Bezos' hyped Amazon model would be to Whole Foods. Proof is surfacing even faster than we expected.

But first to Bezos' general pattern of employee mistreatment.

It's bad enough that Bezos engages in the worst sort of class warfare and treats warehouse workers worse than the ASPCA would allow livery drivers to use horses. Not only do horses at least get fed an adequate ration, while Amazon warehouse workers regularly earn less than a local living wage, but even after pressure to end literal sweatshop conditions (no air conditioning so inside temperatures could hit 100 degrees; Amazon preferred to have ambulances at ready for the inevitable heatstroke victims rather than pay to cool air ), Amazon warehouse workers are, thanks to intensive monitoring, pressed to work at such a brutal pace that most can't handle it physically and quit by the six month mark. For instance, from a 2017 Gizmodo story, Reminder: Amazon Treats Its Employees Like Shit :

Amazon, like most tech companies, is skilled at getting stories about whatever bullshit it decides to feed the press. Amazon would very much prefer to have reporters writing some drivel about a discount code than reminding people that its tens of thousands of engineers and warehouse workers are fucking miserable. How do I know they're miserable? Because (as the testimony below demonstrates) they've told every writer who's bothered to ask for years.

Gawker, May 2014 – "I Do Not Know One Person Who Is Happy at Amazon"

.

The New York Times, August 2015- " Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace "

..

The Huffington Post, October 2015 – " The Life and Death of an Amazon Warehouse Temp "

For a good overview of the how Amazon goes about making its warehouse workers' lives hell, see Salon's Worse than Wal-Mart: Amazon's sick brutality and secret history of ruthlessly intimidating workers .

Mind you, Amazon's institutionalized sadism isn't limited to its sweatshops. Amazon is also cruel to its office workers. The New York Times story that Gizmodo selected, based on over 100 employee interviews, included:

Bo Olson lasted less than two years in a book marketing role and said that his enduring image was watching people weep in the office, a sight other workers described as well. "You walk out of a conference room and you'll see a grown man covering his face," he said. "Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk."

While that paragraph was the most widely quoted from that story, some reporters reacted strongly to other bits. For instance, from The Verge :

Perhaps worst of all is Amazon's apparent approach when its employees need help. The Times has uncovered several cases where workers who were sick, grieving, or otherwise encumbered by the realities of life were pushed out of the company. A woman who had a miscarriage was told to travel on a business trip the day after both her twins were stillborn. Another woman recovering from breast cancer was given poor performance rankings and was warned that she was in danger of losing her job.

The Business Insider story on Amazon, 'Seeing someone cry at work is becoming normal': Employees say Whole Foods is using 'scorecards' to punish them , is another window on how Bezos thinks whipping his workers is the best way to get results from them:


voteforno6 , February 2, 2018 at 6:21 am

I have yet to hear of anyone who has actually enjoyed working for Amazon. I know several people who have worked on building out their data centers, and it's the same type of experience – demanding, long hours, must be responsive to calls and emails 24×7. Even people who are otherwise highly skilled, highly competent workers are treated as disposable items. It's no surprise that they treat grocery workers the same.

Collapsar , February 2, 2018 at 7:45 am

According to this Business Insider article the OTS inventory management system was something brought in by whole foods management; not amazon. Employees are actually hoping amazon fixes the issues created by OTS.

Things are definitely bad when workers are hoping things will get better with Bezos in charge.

I can't remember where I read an article in which an amazon employee said people at the company joked that amazon is where overachievers go to feel bad about themselves.

David Carl Grimes , February 2, 2018 at 7:54 am

If working conditions are so bad at the warehouses (heatstrokes from lack of air conditioning), then why hasn't the Department of Labor gone after them? Surely the DoL or some local labor bureau most have gotten hundreds if not thousands of complaints?

Left in Wisconsin , February 2, 2018 at 10:37 am

Where are the unions? The Teamsters or UFCW should be all over this. Their complete absence from the story is telling. When the first three conclusions to be drawn from this story are:
1. That boss (and company culture) are awful
2. Why doesn't the government do something?
3. Maybe the workers can do a class action
then it's really not surprising that things are this bad.

Ransom Headweight , February 2, 2018 at 1:05 pm

Where are the unions? They've been systematic eradicated or are being led by "pro-business" stooges. About the only union worth a damn and bucking the system is the Nurses Union led by Rose Ann DeMoro. If you have the inclunation, take a look at labor during the first Gilded Age (late 1800s early 1900s) to see what it took to get the modest reforms of the New Deal enacted -- the very policies that are almost extinct now.

jrs , February 2, 2018 at 1:35 pm

Well even trying to unionize fast food failed badly is my impression. So often the laws make it hard but the workers also have to *WANT* to unionize.

Anon , February 2, 2018 at 1:53 pm

An article in The Atlantic provides an explanation for the absence of unions:

Efforts to get Amazon to change its labor practices have been unsuccessful thus far. Randy Korgan, the business representative and director of the Teamsters Local 63, which represents the Stater Brothers employees, told me that his office frequently gets calls from Amazon employees wanting to organize. But organizing is difficult because there's so much turnover at Amazon facilities and because people fear losing their jobs if they speak up. Burgett, the Indiana Amazon worker, repeatedly tried to organize his facility, he told me. The turnover was so high that it was difficult to get people to commit to a union campaign. The temps at Amazon are too focused on getting a full-time job to join a union, he said, and the full-time employees don't stick around long enough to join. He worked with both the local SEIU and then the Teamsters to start an organizing drive, but could never get any traction. He told me that whenever Amazon hears rumors of a union drive, the company calls a special "all hands" meeting to explain why a union wouldn't be good for the facility. (Lindsey said that Amazon has an open-door policy that encourages associates to bring concerns directly to the management team. "We firmly believe this direct connection is the most effective way to understand and respond to the needs of our workforce," she wrote, in an email.)

This is a common anti-union trick among low-wage jobs these days -- intentionally abuse your workers as much as possible to ensure the highest possible turnover (and even better, turnover in the form of voluntary quits, which do not qualify for unemployment benefits or impact the employer's UI tax). Workers who have zero investment in their jobs and who intend to quit at the earliest possible opportunity are less likely to go through the trouble and risk of supporting a union effort.

As a bonus, the high turnover results in many of the workers not ever becoming eligible for benefits. Most common tax-advantaged benefit plans, like health insurance and 401(k), are required to be offered to all employees with only a few limited exceptions. The permitted exceptions differ depending on the benefit type, but usually include criteria like length of service (often no more than 12 months or so) and in some cases, minimum work hours. The plan will lose its tax-advantaged status if it excludes more employees than the law permits, which can cost the employer back taxes and penalties. Firing employees for the purpose of interfering with their ERISA-regulated benefits is illegal , but treating them so poorly from day 1 that they are unlikely to last long enough to qualify for benefits is not.

From a policy perspective, we need to realize the instability created by high-turnover and fissured work environments and penalize it accordingly. A beneficial side effect of this is that it would likely incentivize employers to train and promote low-level workers upwards; low-level jobs like warehouse workers probably inherently have higher turnover than average, just because most workers don't want to do that for the rest of their lives (and some are successful in finding a way out), but when there's a path for the janitor to become CTO you can reduce that turnover.

flora , February 2, 2018 at 11:21 am

When you own the politicians' trade newspaper – WaPo – why would the politicians attack you?

Fraibert , February 2, 2018 at 9:09 am

Pretty sure, at least at the federal level, it would be OSHA jurisdiction issues. With that said, OSHA has received complaints, and done investigations: e.g., https://www.osha.gov/news/newsreleases/region3/01122016 ; https://www.recode.net/2017/11/9/16629412/amazon-warehouse-worker-killed-deaths-osha-fines-penalties

I found these just by Googling "OSHA amazon". Keep in mind, the low amounts of the fines doesn't necessarily reflect the severity of the underlying issues–my understanding is that OSHA has relatively weak abilities to fine violators in the first place.

Pespi , February 2, 2018 at 4:02 pm

OSHA has been neutered. If you're lucky enough to get someone to come without also being fired, they'll fine the business an ant's eyelid and be gone.

maria gostrey , February 2, 2018 at 9:38 am

the salon article referenced above perhaps is indicative of regulators' attitude toward those we expect them to regulate:

june 2, june 10 & july 25 – the days OSHA received complaints about the 100+ weather in the Allentown warehouse.

nothing about any sort of OSHA response.

Adam , February 2, 2018 at 2:07 pm

Cooks at restaurants routinely work in similar heat with similar levels of exertion. I know, because I was a cook at multiple restaurants.

Now I am a machinist, and temps like this are routine during the summer in most shops I worked.

The reason OSHA doesn't care is because working people in extreme heat is SOP for scores of industries that you may not even realize.

Big River Bandido , February 2, 2018 at 10:00 am

The regulatory agencies were captured decades ago by the industries they purport to regulate.

EoH , February 2, 2018 at 11:27 am

Government regulation and enforcement? In an earlier generation, that would be an excellent question. But since then, we've seen the distribution and adoption of the neoliberal memo that such things are always and everywhere bad. Nor would they be high on the current administration's to do list.

Elizabeth Burton , February 2, 2018 at 2:54 pm

Amazon doesn't employ the workers. It employs temp agencies who supply the workers. This is a standard procedure these days for high-turnover workplaces, because in the end no one is responsible for what happens to the workers.

Mikerw , February 2, 2018 at 8:18 am

To quote: "the beatings will continue until morale improves"

A service business that gives crappy service will not prosper. There is a high touch rate between customers and employees in this industry. Also, this is an industry with many options and competition; unlike airlines for example. We shop at WF from time to time, partly due to the experience being more pleasant. We have no issue moving (and no love of Amazon).

visitor , February 2, 2018 at 8:34 am

A service business that gives crappy service will not prosper.

if and only if there are preferable alternatives. If that business is cheaper, a monopoly, or if all other businesses deliver crappy service too, then it may well prosper. Case in point: the telecommunications market in the USA.

Fraibert , February 2, 2018 at 9:24 am

This is an important reason why the notion that market competition will increase social welfare isn't inherently true. It's long been understood that in concentrated markets (oligopolies) the market actors might implicitly coordinate their prices without a price increase. For example, Companies A, B, and C sell widgets; Company A announces a price increase via press release; B and C follow with similar increases a week later.

But companies can also implicitly coordinate on the quality of goods. If Company A pursues crapification, that can cover B and C for doing the same.

It's akin the the Greesham's Dyamic that Professor Black has written about extensively on this blog and in other places in connection with finance creating a criminogenic environment. Under the right circumstances, cheap bad quality can drive out good quality, leaving only bad.

EoH , February 2, 2018 at 11:41 am

Indeed. A "market" focusing solely on profitability would consider human values an inefficiency. It would remove them, along with what produced them, from the system, using routine failure modes and effects analysis. (An interesting point for promoters of AI.)

California witnessed considerable consolidation in its grocery business ten years or so ago. Similar, if somewhat less draconian conditions, resulted. I don't believe the "market" will generate a different result this time.

In addition, there's the question of Jeff Bezos's purposes in buying WF. It would not be to learn from another industry; I don't imagine Bezos values that concept. It would more likely be to expand his own methodologies and priorities to another industry, one that gives him access to a human activity outside the already extensive reach of his current business.

WF may be an experiment, whose survival might not be dictated by immediate notional profitability. Besides, the utility and profitability of the data flow from this experiment might never be visible.

Wisdom Seeker , February 2, 2018 at 2:03 pm

This is an important reason why the notion that market competition will increase social welfare isn't inherently true. It's long been understood that in concentrated markets (oligopolies) the market actors might implicitly coordinate their prices without a price increase.

I agree, except that the situations you describe are not "market competition". Any marketplace with fewer than about 7 truly independent competitors is not a competitive market.

But as you say, when there are few participants there is a lot of implicit signaling and coordination, which work to benefit the few participants at the expense of the general welfare.

We have a lot of faux markets, and a lot of faux competition. This is not helped by the prevalence of multiple "brands" owned by the same small number of large conglomerates. You could shut down just 2 or 3 companies in each product line and the supermarket shelves would lose 90% of their items. That ain't a competitive marketplace, even though the proliferation of brands provides the illusion of freedom of choice.

We need a populist wave to take back our democracy.

jrs , February 2, 2018 at 2:10 pm

Yes it's not textbook competition, but while textbook competition with many small players may be good for the consumer, there is no evidence that it is good for the worker. In fact I suspect it's bad for the worker as super competitive industries will nearly kill their employees just to stay in business. I'd rather work for an oligopoly (but it all depends on which one) as the freedom from relentless competition enables better working conditions in theory (again does not always materialize).

Dave , February 2, 2018 at 8:22 am

I spent 25 years in the grocery business with 20 of them in management. The expectations stated above were industry standards (except the minutiae of sales goals). Only in Whole Foods was this model ignored. When the industry wide profit margin of grocers is less the 3cents on the dollar you have to be a TIGHT operator to turn a profit or you are doomed. As a department manager my entire job depended on how I managed my P&L report on a quarterly basis .. if I was over on payroll hours I DAMN well better be cutting back on other areas such as shrink, supplies or payroll mix (high paid FT vs low paid PT)

I guess the Whole Foods employees are learning this now.

hemeantwell , February 2, 2018 at 8:42 am

Thanks for bringing up the industry baseline! Bezos' intense exploitation of labor merits a spotlight, but what's happening off in the shadows in other corporations? I recall seeing Costco held up as a + example, but what about others?

pretzelattack , February 2, 2018 at 8:48 am

if the industry standards decimate the work force and make customers unhappy, maybe it's the standards that are at fault.

Fraibert , February 2, 2018 at 9:15 am

To me, it doesn't make sense to penny pinch if you're a quasi-monopolistic supplier due to a special brand position. Whole Foods was associated with high quality goods, and was clearly able to charge a substantial price premium. Changing its operations as described above appears to reduce the justification for the price premium and destroy the company's unique market position.

It is almost like McDonald's deciding that beef patties cost too much, and that it would only serve chicken going forward.

PlutoniumKun , February 2, 2018 at 9:36 am

It seems to me that in the grocery business (like many), you either make money by being more efficient and cheaper than your competitors, or by having a unique selling point that allows you charge a premium (high quality, great service, etc).

If you look at the car industry, when mass market brands have bought high value brands (for example, Ford buying Jaguar), the sensible companies have been very cautious about ensuring that the brand aura (and hence high profit margin per car) is not tarnished by crudely cutting costs. Mercedes made that mistake in the 1980's with excessive cost cutting and it took them more than a decade, and billions of DM in investment, to win back their brand value when it became apparent that their cars were often less reliable than cheap Asian compacts.

It seems to me that Amazon are a one trick company (albeit, a very good trick), and they are likely to get burned very badly if they extend their predatory model to high value brands..

EoH , February 2, 2018 at 11:45 am

In scale, WF is a hobby business for Bezos, little more than a personal tax deduction. If it does not go as Bezos intends, it is not likely to have an effect on his primary business.

bob , February 2, 2018 at 9:19 am

"When the industry wide profit margin of grocers is less the 3cents on the dollar" This figure is complete nonsense. It means nothing. It's the "profit margin" after paying themselves rent, which is where the profits in grocery stores end up.. No one is in business for a 3% return. It does make good for PR though.

Chuck W , February 2, 2018 at 11:12 am

A 3% margin isn't the same thing as a 3% return. Maybe think about it this way, 26 turns on a 3% margin (once every 2 weeks). Without compounding that's a 78% return on average inventory level, before fixed and variable costs, interest expense and equity returns. You're right nobody is in the business for a 3% return!

bob , February 2, 2018 at 11:44 am

"A 3% margin isn't the same thing as a 3% return." I know this. But the way that figure is trotted out, relentlessly, is to leave the masses, and employees, with the idea that they only 'make' 3%, which is nonsense. Whatever they "make" is carefully chosen in accounting fairytale land.

The point about rents still stands. Most grocery stores/chains are REITs with captive retailers. No one ever sees the REIT side of things. Rite Aid is well know for being the captive retailer in this practice. Rite Aid doesn't 'make' any money (118M 'income' over 25 billion in sales = .004 Less that half a percent).. They 'make' the landlord LOTS of money. Tax dodge or money laundering, which does it better fit the definition of?

Chuck W , February 2, 2018 at 12:31 pm

Agreed. I think they trot out the 3% meme so nobody pushes them too hard on their "providing a public good" nature.

And on rent and landlord's, I absolutely agree. Regrettably it seems most of us are making our commercial landlords a lot of money (before we ever get to equity returns). So many small business owner's would loose their minds if they thought about that thoroughly. And to answer your last question, "I'll take Tax Dodge for $500, Alex"

Mel , February 2, 2018 at 12:40 pm

The way I read it way back when was that that 3% markup is on fresh produce and what not. So the turnover is necessarily high. So their return on invested capital might get as high as 3%/day, if they're lucky.

Jean , February 2, 2018 at 9:46 pm

Chuck W, please explain the "26 turns comment", don't assume people understand business jargon.

cnchal , February 3, 2018 at 12:26 am

Assumes stock turns over every two weeks, so 26 times per year.

Dave , February 2, 2018 at 10:41 pm

bob, can you direct me to an article and/or site which backs your claims. I would be most interested to read it. Perhaps my information is incorrect, but multiple Google searches have articles in which independent grocery business analysts confirm my number.

rd , February 2, 2018 at 3:43 pm

Its not clear to me that OTS originated with Amazon. Amazon only completed the Whole Foods purchase around Labor Day in 2017. It usually takes more than a month or two to come up with an entire computer-based software system and roll it out company-wide.

My guess is that Whole Foods was able to conceive of this all by themselves and since it fits into the Amazon way of doing things, they didn't stop them.

Corporate America is capable of coming up with bone-headed implementations of what could be good ideas without the need to get Amazon, Google, Facebook, or Apple to push them to it. Wells Fargo was able to come up with "Eight is Great" for new account generation even with the guidance of Warren Buffet instead of Jeff Bezos.

Kurtismayfield , February 2, 2018 at 3:44 pm

Does this 3% margin count the rent that is extracted from manufacturers for prime real estate in the stores? ( End caps for example). Slotting fees are rent extraction. Customers pay for this with higher prices for the items.

Whiteylockmandoubled , February 2, 2018 at 4:57 pm

Oh please. I shop at two of the major branded grocery chains, and while the staff is generally good and competent, they exhibit none of the hyper-awareness expected under OTS.

If you run into an employee and ask them where certain items can be found, they'll usually know and usually direct you to an aisle that has the item. But they will generally not know the exact location in the aisle, shelf, blah blah.

And the stupidity of corporate management is beyond belief. Due to niche marketing, items can be found in 3, 4 or even 5 different places. (My favorite is canned beans – organic and other high-end brands in the specialty fancy food aisle, a bunch in the Mexican/international/Spanish aisle, run of the mill murican brands and the same Goya brands that are in the international aisle in the general canned vegetable aisle, sale displays at the end of any random aisle. And dont even get me started on gluten-freeness).

At stop and shop they replaced the end of the checkout counters with a carousel for bagging, meaning a) that checkers had to bag each item as they went, b) no more baggers c) customers couldn't help bag stuff, and, my favorite, d) making it nearly impossible to use reusable bags. Talking to workers about it is simultaneously hilarious and enraging. "They said it was supposed to make it easier for us, but *shrug*". Everyone understands that it's designed to fail, slow things to a crawl, and piss customers off so they'll use the self-check line.

So spare us the tight-ship, low margin Whole-Foods-and-Amazon-are-just-just-learning-how-intense-the-business-really-is-and-too-bad-for-those-whiney-workers old school macho bullshit. Yes, it's not the most profitable industry in the world. But amazon is a whole other level of abusive monitoring of workers everywhere it goes.

Tony Wikrent , February 2, 2018 at 8:29 am

Makes me wonder what's happening at Washington Post. Quick search results are that Post has been "revived." Note that Bezos stays out of editorial process, but is heavily involved in tech ops.

Huey Long , February 2, 2018 at 8:29 am

I happened to stop by the Whole Foods in Columbus Circle, NYC yesterday for some produce and something is definitely different there.

It was around 4 pm, the store was packed, and apparently management had people out there with brooms and dustpans sweeping up what appeared to be clean floors. Between the crowds, the sweeping employees, and the boxes of stock on the floor it was much harder to move in there.

After navigating the aisles, I grabbed a bottle of cold beer for my subway ride home, and then proceeded to the in-house ramen/draft beer spot. The employees there seemed absolutely miserable and kept wandering away to talk in hushed voices about what was clearly some sort of work problem in the store from what I could gather. To the employees' credit however, they treated me with courtesy and respect even though their body language and demeanor screamed misery.

Following my mediocre Ramen and yummy draft beers, I wandered back over to the beer aisle to exchange my now warm subway subs for a cold bottle. I was shocked to find that the entire cold reach-in beer shelves had been re-stocked while I was in the ramen bar. After several moments of digging through freshly stocked warm beer I found a cold one, paid, and departed Whole Foods.

Thanks for this article, as it ties together all the oddities I observed today. It is really sad what happened to Whole Foods, particularly that location. I used to work on the Time Warner Center maintenance staff and frequently interacted with employees in that particular store and they used to be a jolly bunch.

At any rate, I won't be frequenting Whole Foods any longer as I find worker abuse nauseating.

SufferinSuccotash , February 2, 2018 at 8:37 am

So much paperwork that there's no time to deliver the food, hence empty shelves. A situation instantly recognizable to anyone who ever lived in the USSR.

The Rev Kev , February 2, 2018 at 8:56 am

Funny that. It was only a coupla months ago that a big story making the rounds was that Walmart shelves ( http://theweek.com/articles/466144/why-walmarts-shelves-are-empty ) were constantly empty. I suppose you have to be a mega-corporation to make blunders like this but still get away with it for a few months running.

Wyoming , February 2, 2018 at 9:56 am

Interesting you mention Wallmart. I live in central AZ and our local Wallmarts (3 ea) for several years had empty shelves, few workers – and they did not know where anything was, the greeters were gone, literally 1-2 actual cashiers – they were trying to force you to the self-checkout. Recently the stores are almost like they used to be with more workers, greeters back, still not enough cashiers though, and better stocking.

Has anyone else noticed this. It does seem to coincide with the Amazon purchase of WF. Correlation is not causation and all that but it might be a reaction to some extent.

Carolinian , February 2, 2018 at 1:23 pm

I'm probably one of the few people around here that shops at Walmart and yes they have cleaned up their act although it depends on the store. I'd say the thing people don't get about Walmart is that they are responsive to public opinion and customer gripes even if they supposedly treat their employees like disposable parts, easily replaced (but then they have lots of company in that department). For example a few years ago they took the clutter out of the aisles and did away with the craft/sewing section–trying to be more like Target -- and then reversed all those changes because their customers hated it.

Seems to me Bezos is taking on a much bigger challenge trying to reinvent brick and mortar than he did by innovating mail order. Here's betting he's not up to it. Perhaps his top honchos–meditating in their new waterfall equipped Seattle biosphere–will prove me wrong.

Pespi , February 2, 2018 at 4:07 pm

You didn't hear it from me, but from a friend who was a cashier at a grocery store, a small way to fight back against self checkout is to be creative in naming your produce to get a 95% discount

diptherio , February 2, 2018 at 10:01 am

Just FYI, that article is 5 years old. I remember discussing it here on NC. Unfortunately, it didn't portend the end of Wally World.

The Rev Kev , February 2, 2018 at 7:52 pm

Yeah, that one was 5 year old but I chose it because it gave a bit more info in it. There are plenty more from last year. Just go to Google and punch in the search term Wal-Mart shelves empty and see what come back, especially Google images. This means that this problem is not a one-off but has been a running theme for at least a four year period. Amazing.

Eureka Springs , February 2, 2018 at 8:47 am

People who shop at Whole Foods want to look at employees with that NPR vegan faux-hippy gaze. Not a lot of difference from the evangelical gaze, imo. Some sort of self hypnosis involved? Now that gaze will be replaced with the look of a desperate near homeless employee all Wal-Mart shoppers have grown accustomed to ignoring, Wal-Mart can man-up with a new ad campaign – Our Employees Don't Cry, they get food stamps.

If I were a rich man I would give everyone of these people a T-shirt which says – I am not a robot.

Fraibert , February 2, 2018 at 9:18 am

I wonder if Wal-Mart will discover increasing in-store staff, as well as an upgraded store experience, will actually improve its competitive position versus online retailers. That's pretty much what Best Buy has to do.

SufferinSuccotash , February 2, 2018 at 10:06 am

Or maybe pay the help more. falls out of chair laughing

Marco , February 2, 2018 at 10:32 am

Is this just an Amazon/WF issue or something larger for grocer chains? I find myself shopping at a Meijers (big Midwest chain) superstore whilst visiting my mother and noticed the same kind of strangeness with not just employee morale (they are clearly miserable) but stocking issues. Items that were ALWAYS available are no longer there. I needed pasta shells the other day. They had none. How can a super grocer NOT have pasta shells. Larger than normal sections of shelves are bare. Pallets haphazardly placed. Meijors used to be a somewhat pleasant and orderly experience with happy workers now approaching a WalMart experience.

oh , February 2, 2018 at 1:43 pm

Vegan faux-hippy-Hillary Obamba-gaze?

Adar , February 2, 2018 at 3:34 pm

Re the NPR vegan faux-hippy gaze, The WF near me in suburban Philadelphia, has a very upscale clientele. Once, in the produce section, they had set up a booth where a Hispanic woman would mix guacamole using just the ingredients the customers wished, without any extraneous chatter on her part. Wow! Your guac would be mixed by an ACTUAL MEXICAN PERSON! Just gotta be good, eh? Conservatives might say she was happy to have such a nice job. I thought it was downright creepy, like those catalogues where people beam as they demonstrate expensive vacuum cleaners. Yuk.

lakecabs , February 2, 2018 at 9:16 am

Our Soviet style master planners hard at work. At least the Soviets had 5 year plans that they would abandon after 5 years. How many years of failure can we tolerate? What ever happened to profit?

McWoot , February 2, 2018 at 9:47 am

Not a fan of Bezos, Amazon, or their practices, but strict planogram scorecarding is not uncommon in grocery, auto parts and similar retail orgs. The only part of that section of the article that strikes me as out of the ordinary is the employee's reaction to it.

diptherio , February 2, 2018 at 10:04 am

Translation: "Employee abuse is the norm, so I don't see what everyone is complaining about. Back to work, peasants!"

McWoot , February 2, 2018 at 10:16 am

The framing of the article suggests this is Amazon-ian behavior. Just pointing out that I don't believe that's accurate because the practice is commonplace in the industry.

diptherio , February 2, 2018 at 1:54 pm

I've got more than a few friends who have worked in grocery stores recently, and while they had many complaints, having to know last week's best selling item or this week's sales goals weren't among them. Just sayin' .

Harry , February 2, 2018 at 10:00 am

DE shaw culture spread by its alumni

Chuck , February 2, 2018 at 10:05 am

Thank you for highlighting Amazon's continued abuse of its employees. I'm amazed at how many people choose to simply ignore the fate of Amazon's employees in order to receive free shipping. My favorite people are the type that by books on late stage capitalism and plutocracy through their Amazon prime accounts.

Bukko Boomeranger , February 2, 2018 at 6:12 pm

"I'm amazed at how many people choose to simply ignore the fate of Amazon's employees in order to receive free shipping."

Sad but true, Chuck. My daughter, who's a total Social Justice Warrior type (speaking as a progessive, I'm proud of her for that) and her long-time boyfriend are proud Amazon customers. They have Amazon technobuttons on the walls of the house they bought so that all they have to do to re-order toilet paper and kitty litter is touch the device. (Suggesting that AMZ is a sh*t business.) A day or two later, it's delivered, for free, because they are Primes! Daughter's BF, who luuuuuvs him some tech, revels in this because it's so futuristic. When I suggest going to the store to buy some -- it's quicker -- or simply thinking ahead and purchasing stuff before they run out, I get the eye-roll given to Olds who old-splain oldways. They're Jellbylically concerned about the plight of abused North Koreans and the like. When I mentioned why I was buying their Christmas book gifts via Barnes & Noble rather than Amazon due to its mistreatment of workers, their ears glazed over. I'll forward this post to her, but I doubt it will get read, since it wasn't on her Fakebook feed.

J-Mann , February 2, 2018 at 7:41 pm

heh

I like the cut of your jib: " to Olds who old-splain oldways."

Grampa Simpson classic – One trick is to tell 'em stories that don't go anywhere – like the time I caught the ferry over to Shelbyville. I needed a new heel for my shoe, so, I decided to go to Morganville, which is what they called Shelbyville in those days. So I tied an onion to my belt, which was the style at the time. Now, to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on 'em. "Give me five bees for a quarter," you'd say.

Now where were we? Oh yeah: the important thing was I had an onion on my belt, which was the style at the time. They didn't have white onions because of the war. The only thing you could get was those big yellow ones

Simple Life , February 2, 2018 at 10:35 am

Find a local co-op market. if you can't find one, start one!

Louis Fyne , February 2, 2018 at 12:13 pm

Local co-ops are a great idea but (sorry for the but) in much of the country wholesale food distribution has been decimated or wiped out over the years due to competition from Wal-Mart, Target, Whole Foods, the legacy grocers or Sysco (on the restaurant side).

Geographically, few areas in the US are fortunate enough to have an independent and thriving food/produce wholesale market which helps bring down price and bring up quality to be competitive with the vertically integrated big boys.

Arizona Slim , February 2, 2018 at 12:14 pm

Well, here's Slim from drought-stricken AZ. And I'm about to rain on that co-op parade. When I lived in Pittsburgh, I worked at a food co-op that was the lone survivor after its main competitor went under. And we got REAL busy. We also had a bit of a management problem. Ours was a drunk who often came to work hungover. All the better way to abuse the rest of us. After a staff revolt (yes, I took part in it), he left and took a job as manager of the regional co-op warehouse in Columbus, Ohio. Where he treated the warehouse gals as his harem and got one of them pregnant.

To our utter and total amazement back in Pittsburgh, he took responsibility for his son and tried to be the best father he could. I have no idea what happened with the drinking problem.

The manager who succeeded him was even worse. He even called himself a martinet, and he was. After less than a year of his BS, I bailed out of the co-op and got a sit-down job in an office. Yeah, there was another lousy boss there, and I've talked about her on other threads.

But there was further fun and merriment back at the co-op. I was still friendly with the people who worked there, and guess what? Another staff revolt! They ran Mr. Martinet outta there too! Go staff! Mr. Martinet went to a yuppie grocery store in North Carolina. From there, he went on to become one of the original senior executives in Whole Foods.

diptherio , February 2, 2018 at 3:32 pm

Bummer about the food co-op, Slim. Some of us "in the movement" are trying to work out how to provide accountability for guys like the drunk manager you mention, so that they don't end up doing like he did, and just sliding around from one co-op to another. Open to suggestions

Unfortunately, the co-op name doesn't necessarily imply that everything is groovy for the workers. Hence, REI workers in Seattle trying to unionize, and why UFCW has had such success in organizing every single food co-op in Minneapolis-St. Paul (and there are quite a few). The history of consumer co-ops seems pretty clear – workers in them need union representation just as much as workers in regular businesses.

Pespi , February 2, 2018 at 4:13 pm

Hahaha, an excellent story, well told. I have fond memories of the little local co-op from when I was a kid.

jrs , February 2, 2018 at 1:54 pm

it failed.

rd , February 2, 2018 at 3:46 pm

Or a Wegmans. https://www.wegmans.com/

https://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/money/business/2010/05/14/alec-baldwins-mom-really-really-likes-wegmans/2195927/

EoH , February 2, 2018 at 4:00 pm

For those who need examples, there is an excellent co-op in Ocean Beach, San Diego. Its customer/members are devoutly loyal. By design, each is small and adapted to its local culture and food ecosystem. Michael Pollan is a good resource for ideas on this topic and on real food in general.

American businesses might prefer home runs, but singles and bunts are more common and sustainable. Besides, co-ops are harder to buy up or put out of business in the manner reputed to be practiced by, say, some retail coffee companies.

EoH , February 2, 2018 at 10:35 am

Jeff Bezos. John Galt. No difference.

Louis Fyne , February 2, 2018 at 12:58 pm

Except Jeff Bezos has sold the Ayn Rand way of life to the 'progressive' intelligensia who would happily rant over John Galt if you gave them your ear and a glass of Bordeaux.

HotFlash , February 2, 2018 at 1:05 pm

Didn't John Galt go away?

cnchal , February 2, 2018 at 4:18 pm

I don't know, did he?. I didn't finish the stupid book to find out.

Jeff N , February 2, 2018 at 10:38 am

Not just at Amazon, but I'm seeing an anecdotal trend of "get people to quit within a year or two of starting". Not just with ridiculous requests from above, but even with good ol' passive-aggressiveness. I can't remember if this article was tipped off to me by NC but here it is anyway:
https://www.ft.com/content/356ea48c-e6cf-11e6-967b-c88452263daf
(paywall, or websearch for "how employers manage out unwanted staff")

Croatoan , February 2, 2018 at 10:42 am

Don't you all get it? First they took away their freedom to form unions with others. Now they want to take away your freedom to form a union with you own bodies actions. This will crush the idea of sabotage and work slowdowns as an expression of labor power.

The Rev Kev , February 2, 2018 at 7:59 pm

Of course there is always this simple WW2 manual-https://www.cia.gov/news-information/featured-story-archive/2012-featured-story-archive/simple-sabotage.html

Jeff Z , February 2, 2018 at 10:57 am

OSHA is a part of the DOL. https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/safety-health

EoH , February 2, 2018 at 11:04 am

Waste is inherent to selling fresh food. Trimmings, dry, damaged meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, breads, prepared foods. That's especially true of anything organic and not engineered to be harder, more colorful, durable and less tasty than their natural analogs. Whole Paycheck's intended customers – really, most shoppers anywhere – do not want to buy adulterated, processed versions of eggs, beakless turkeys, caged hens, and drugged industrially raised cows and pigs.

Fresh food, especially organic, does not last as long as industrial bread, fruits and vegetables or highly sugared packaged foods. It is the antithesis of such foods. The reason chicken soup made the way it was c.1940 is tastier and nutritionally better than soup made from a caged, medicated, neurotic fowl today is not great Grandma's recipe: it's the chicken.

Local sourcing, environmentally safe, animal friendly methods of raising require a wider supplier net. What Michael Pollan would call real food costs more. It should. But real food and real people are ripe for the cruel "more efficient" methods of production, distribution and sale that seem part of Jeff Bezos's DNA. Besides, what he really wants is probably the data flow. WF is simply a way to get it.

rd , February 2, 2018 at 3:52 pm

https://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/money/business/2017/03/03/wegmans-looks-cut-food-waste-with-new-state-regulations-coming/98049694/

Trey N , February 2, 2018 at 11:19 am

Typical uber-"capitalist" idiocy -- seen this happen in a lot of different industries over the years (esp techs):

CEO: "Our product sucks. We've grown too big, lost our innovative edge, we need to get back to our roots!"

Toady: "Uh, tried that already, boss. No can do. Too much bureaucracy now."

CEO: "Shit! Any ideas?"

Toady: "Actually, yes! We can buy out and take over one of the smaller competitors that's eating our lunch now, and steal their latest ideas and projects."

CEO: "Brilliant! Make it so!"

fast forward 1-2 years

CEO: "How's that takeover working out?"

Toady: "Well, it's taken a while, but we've fully integrated the company in with ours -- all of our corporate policies and procedures etc etc are in place there now."

CEO: "Excellent!"

fast forward 1-2 more years .

CEO: "Our product sucks! What happened to all those great ideas coming from that company we took over?"

Toady: "Well, most everyone working there when we bought it out are gone now. The founders and senior management cashed out the takeover premium and bailed immediately, and everybody else got frustrated with our corporate style and policies and eventually quit. Our people took over their projects, and promptly fucked them up beyond all belief. Instead of a cash cow, we got a dead cow on our hands now."

CEO: "Shit! Any ideas?"

Toady: "Yeah. We can either spin it off to the public again or just shut the whole fucking thing down and take a huge earnings write-off."

CEO: "Hmmm,..decisions, decisions . By the way, are there any other small competitors out there that we can buy out to rejuvenate our stale product line, toady?

Rinse. Repeat. Ad nauseum, ad infinitum .

Jeff N , February 2, 2018 at 4:41 pm

haha that's my place!

Sean , February 2, 2018 at 11:20 am

Amazon corporate sounds like a sweatshop. Their treatment of warehouse staff is nothing short of an abomination. But I can't help feeling that some of the employee comments at WholeFoods are less about bad management and work conditions and more about Millenials and a lack of ability handle criticism and work pressure. (The average age of a Whole Food employee at my store is easily 28yo.)

To call working on an inventory system "punitive". It's called business, and yes, it is difficult and takes a lot of effort. Punitive, though. To use an inventory system. Sorry. Not buying the whole story.

JBird , February 2, 2018 at 12:35 pm

If it's common for people to actually cry at work, and to have nightmares, with massive turnover, decreasing quality of service, product, and cleanliness blaming millennials is an inadequate response. Apparently Amazon wants to run Whole Foods with inadequate staff, fails to reward good good work, unfailingly punish not only poor work, but honest mistakes, and makes no allowance within the system for reality. If you did animal training this way, you would see the same results, I promise. The management "techniques" described will destroy any company, or at least reduce productivity massively.

Yves Smith Post author , February 2, 2018 at 3:11 pm

You are straw manning the post and the underlying article. The staff is grilled very frequently and graded, and much of what they are graded on isn't relevant to customer service. The shelves are supposed to be "leveled" all day, which is a ridiculous standard. The testing and insane shelf appearance standards are not normal to the industry and minor deviations are the basis for firing.

RMO , February 3, 2018 at 12:11 am

I have yet to met a single "Millennial" that fits that ridiculous stereotype – and I know a lot of people in that age bracket even though I was born in 1970. The very few who even seem to have tendencies in those directions seem more influenced by being from wealthy families than by their year of birth and I can think of at least as many Boomers and Gen X'ers that are like that too.

When I think of the high-school age or university age jobs the people I grew up with had and compare them to the jobs I've seen my "Millennial" friends doing the younger people have had it substantially worse over all.

Anarcissie , February 2, 2018 at 11:54 am

According to my browser, the word 'union' does not exist in this article.

Jonathan Holland Becnel , February 2, 2018 at 12:40 pm

#Famazon

Also theres an Ad for the 'United States Secret Service' that wants to recruit me. Lol Not with my Reenlistment Code (RE4)!!!!!

Arizona Slim , February 2, 2018 at 1:09 pm

A college friend of my mother went on to run the Secret Service detail for the White House. Very demanding position, but one that Mom's friend was quite proud of.

Eclair , February 2, 2018 at 12:41 pm

Lordy, Yves, please put a warning sign on that video! It's still breakfast time here in Seattle, and I clicked on it. No, it didn't offend my 'sensibilities.' But it encapsulated all the frustration and anger and helplessness I feel against our system. As well as being a powerful metaphor for 'late stage capitalism.'

Chauncey Gardiner , February 2, 2018 at 3:32 pm

Share your sentiments, Eclair. Having breakfast? The observations about employee abuse also pair well with a video of a 10 minute bike ride through the homeless encampments along the Santa Ana River near Angels Stadium and Disneyland in Anaheim:
https://mobile.twitter.com/Dalrymple/status/953739188050059265

Fear is part of their toolkit.

Pelham , February 2, 2018 at 1:16 pm

Whole Foods employees still outnumber these Amazon creatures checking up on them, I presume. If the WF workers and others at Amazon are so universally tormented and humiliated, shouldn't they be taking some kind of collective action?

Twice during WWII German officers tried to get rid of Hitler. I guess American workers don't measure up to even that standard.

Oregoncharles , February 2, 2018 at 1:59 pm

Those places are begging for union organizers – but are likely to fight back ruthlessly.

EoH , February 2, 2018 at 3:37 pm

I suspect Jeff Bezos would view unions at WF or Amazon the way Reagan viewed unionized Air Traffic Controllers. Or Wal-Mart, which has abandoned markets whose employment laws provide for unions or simply too many protections for employees.

Bezos is extracting resources from his employees with the same thought and in the same manner that early California hard rock miners used massive water hoses (monitors) to liquidate mountains in search for a few gold nuggets. (h/t Gray Brechin)

Petter , February 2, 2018 at 1:31 pm

Why don't they quit? If you allow yourself to be treated as and act as a slave, you become complicit in your own slavery.

Arizona Slim , February 2, 2018 at 1:53 pm

Which is why I Q-U-I-T the food co-op job mentioned above. Did the same in that office job, which was my second-to-last full-time job.

Have I ever had a good job? Yup. Working in a hot, dark, and greasy bike shop. Place closed in 2000 and I still miss the camaraderie with my fellow mechanics -- and the pride of accomplishment that came with fixing the customers' bikes.

Oregoncharles , February 2, 2018 at 1:58 pm

Because, like most Americans, they have no savings and no fallback if they lose their job.

Yves Smith Post author , February 2, 2018 at 3:13 pm

The article said many are quitting. Of course, the better employees will probably have the best options and be able to leave faster.

Craig H. , February 2, 2018 at 2:16 pm

From The Atlantic:

What Amazon Does to Poor Cities

Mostly about their warehouse in San Bernardino. The employees describe working there as The Hunger Games.

Punxsutawney , February 2, 2018 at 2:51 pm

Decades ago I worked in retail,

When arguing with my boss about crap we were required to do, he finally got frustrated and told me "Shit flows downhill", "DEAL WITH IT!". To which my response was "Yep, right onto the customer!"

It made him so angry I was lucky I wasn't fired on the spot, though in hindsight it would have been a blessing. Looks like nothing has changed 30 years later.

JBird , February 2, 2018 at 7:06 pm

I think it's gotten worse as the whole retail industry specifically and perhaps most industries gradually, have had the slowly MBA'd management reorganized, streamlined, outsourced and efficiencied it into a monetized Hades.

I was lucky to work in a couple of well run, or at competently run, businesses. So I know one can be profitable without brutalizing people. It's depressing to see what has happened.

Synoia , February 2, 2018 at 6:42 pm

I imaging the quickest route to being fired is:

Hi, my name is Jeff Bezos, and I'm a union organizer!

Well maybe not the Bezos part.

Jean , February 2, 2018 at 10:03 pm

Wonder what would happen if a customer started handing out union brochures to Whole Foods employees in one of their stores. What are they going to do? Kick you, a customer, out of the store?

Yves Smith Post author , February 2, 2018 at 10:29 pm

They probably would. It's private space. But it would make for good news stories. You would need to actually shop in fact handing them out to all the cashiers when you are checking out would be the best move, since you'd be out the store before management would catch on.

Dongo , February 2, 2018 at 8:51 pm

As the articles in the Business Insider series explicitly point out, this hated new system preceded the acquisition by Amazon.

Amazon is terrible. The way Whole Foods is now treating its workers is terrible. But Amazon simply did not develop or implement the policies at Whole Foods that this article is ascribing to it.

Jean , February 2, 2018 at 9:37 pm

OTS, What is that?

I know two Whole Foods employees who have quit in the last week.

The new name for the store is "Asswhole Foods".

The game is to sabotage as much as possible and give away and undercharge customers for as much as possible in the weeks before you quit.

A walkout strike on a busy Saturday would be a beautiful thing to see and would really get the public's attention.

Yves Smith Post author , February 2, 2018 at 10:39 pm

Good for your saboteurs! Amazon is trying to stop shrinkage but they'll lose more through deliberately missed scans. Oh, and a freezer door left open or temperature mysteriously reset would wreak even more havoc.

lentilsoup , February 2, 2018 at 10:40 pm

I was in a Whole Foods last night, where I shop a few times per month, here in central California. Lots of unfamiliar faces working there. Produce section definitely looking worse than usual -- empty shelves, low quality items. At checkout, the cashier was a young woman I'd never seen before, who looked tired and dispirited. I asked how she was doing that evening. Smirking wearily, she said, "Hangin' in there " (Which is about how I feel these days, too.) When it came time to pay, it was the first time in my life that the total at Whole Foods was less than I was expecting. Wow, I thought, I didn't think Amazon changed the prices that much? After I got home and looked at the receipt, I realized why -- she hadn't charged me for all the items! Bless her.

I don't believe Amazon and Whole Foods were ever a good match for each other, and with unhappy employees and other problems, I expect this particular branch of WF to be gone in a few years. And I really couldn't care less. There are other good places to shop.

[Dec 14, 2017] Tech Giants Trying to Use WTO to Colonize Emerging Economies

Notable quotes:
"... The initiative described in this article reminds me of how the World Bank pushed hard for emerging economies to develop capital markets, for the greater good of America's investment bankers. ..."
"... By Burcu Kilic, an expert on legal, economic and political issues. Originally published at openDemocracy ..."
"... Today, the big tech race is for data extractivism from those yet to be 'connected' in the world – tech companies will use all their power to achieve a global regime in which small nations cannot regulate either data extraction or localisation. ..."
"... One suspects big money will be thrown at this by the leading tech giants. ..."
"... Out of idle curiosity, how could you accurately deduce my country of origin from my name? ..."
Dec 14, 2017 | www.nakedcapitalism.com

December 14, 2017 by Yves Smith Yves here. Notice that Costa Rica is served up as an example in this article. Way back in 1997, American Express had designated Costa Rica as one of the countries it identified as sufficiently high income so as to be a target for a local currency card offered via a franchise agreement with a domestic institution (often but not always a bank). 20 years later, the Switzerland of Central America still has limited Internet connectivity, yet is precisely the sort of place that tech titans like Google would like to dominate.

The initiative described in this article reminds me of how the World Bank pushed hard for emerging economies to develop capital markets, for the greater good of America's investment bankers.

By Burcu Kilic, an expert on legal, economic and political issues. Originally published at openDemocracy

Today, the big tech race is for data extractivism from those yet to be 'connected' in the world – tech companies will use all their power to achieve a global regime in which small nations cannot regulate either data extraction or localisation.

n a few weeks' time, trade ministers from 164 countries will gather in Buenos Aires for the 11th World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference (MC11). US President Donald Trump in November issued fresh accusations of unfair treatment towards the US by WTO members , making it virtually impossible for trade ministers to leave the table with any agreement in substantial areas.

To avoid a 'failure ministerial," some countries see the solution as pushing governments to open a mandate to start conversations that might lead to a negotiation on binding rules for e-commerce and a declaration of the gathering as the "digital ministerial". Argentina's MC11 chair, Susana Malcorra, is actively pushing for member states to embrace e-commerce at the WTO, claiming that it is necessary to " bridge the gap between the haves and have-nots ".

It is not very clear what kind of gaps Malcorra is trying to bridge. It surely isn't the "connectivity gap" or "digital divide" that is growing between developed and developing countries, seriously impeding digital learning and knowledge in developing countries. In fact, half of humanity is not even connected to the internet, let alone positioned to develop competitive markets or bargain at a multilateral level. Negotiating binding e-commerce rules at the WTO would only widen that gap.

Dangerously, the "South Vision" of digital trade in the global trade arena is being shaped by a recent alliance of governments and well-known tech-sector lobbyists, in a group called 'Friends of E-Commerce for Development' (FED), including Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Uruguay, and, most recently, China. FED claims that e-commerce is a tool to drive growth, narrow the digital divide, and generate digital solutions for developing and least developed countries.

However, none of the countries in the group (apart from China) is leading or even remotely ready to be in a position to negotiate and push for binding rules on digital trade that will be favorable to them, as their economies are still far away from the technology revolution. For instance, it is perplexing that one of the most fervent defenders of FED's position is Costa Rica. The country's economy is based on the export of bananas, coffee, tropical fruits, and low-tech medical instruments, and almost half of its population is offline . Most of the countries in FED are far from being powerful enough to shift negotiations in favor of small players.

U.S.-based tech giants and Chinese Alibaba – so-called GAFA-A – dominate, by far, the future of the digital playing field, including issues such as identification and digital payments, connectivity, and the next generation of logistics solutions. In fact, there is a no-holds-barred ongoing race among these tech giants to consolidate their market share in developing economies, from the race to grow the advertising market to the race to increase online payments.

An e-commerce agenda that claims unprecedented development for the Global South is a Trojan horse move. Beginning negotiations on such topics at this stage – before governments are prepared to understand what is at stake – could lead to devastating results, accelerating liberalization and the consolidation of the power of tech giants to the detriment of local industries, consumers, and citizens. Aware of the increased disparities between North and South, and the data dominance of a tiny group of GAFA-A companies, a group of African nations issued a statement opposing the digital ambitions of the host for MC11. But the political landscape is more complex, with China, the EU, and Russia now supporting the idea of a "digital" mandate .

Repeating the Same Mistakes?

The relationships of most countries with tech companies are as imbalanced as their relationships with Big Pharma, and there are many parallels to note. Not so long ago, the countries of the Global South faced Big Pharma power in pharmaceutical markets in a similar way. Some developing countries had the same enthusiasm when they negotiated intellectual property rules for the protection of innovation and research and development costs. In reality, those countries were nothing more than users and consumers of that innovation, not the owners or creators. The lessons of negotiating trade issues that lie at the core of public interest issues – in that case, access to medicines – were costly. Human lives and fundamental rights of those who use online services should not be forgotten when addressing the increasingly worrying and unequal relationships with tech power.

The threat before our eyes is similarly complex and equally harmful to the way our societies will be shaped in the coming years. In the past, the Big Pharma race was for patent exclusivity, to eliminate local generic production and keep drug prices high. Today, the Big Tech race is for data extractivism from those who have yet to be connected in the world, and tech companies will use all the power they hold to achieve a global regime in which small nations cannot regulate either data extraction or data localization.

Big Tech is one of the most concentrated and resourceful industries of all time. The bargaining power of developing countries is minimal. Developing countries will basically be granting the right to cultivate small parcels of a land controlled by data lords -- under their rules, their mandate, and their will -- with practically no public oversight. The stakes are high. At the core of it is the race to conquer the markets of digital payments and the battle to become the platform where data flows, splitting the territory as old empires did in the past. As the Economist claimed on May 6, 2017: "Conflicts over control of oil have scarred the world for decades. No one yet worries that wars will be fought over data. But the data economy has the same potential for confrontation."

If countries from the Global South want to prepare for data wars, they should start thinking about how to reduce the control of Big Tech over -- how we communicate, shop, and learn the news -- , again, over our societies. The solution lies not in making rules for data liberalization, but in devising ways to use the law to reduce Big Tech's power and protect consumers and citizens. Finding the balance would take some time and we are going to take that time to find the right balance, we are not ready to lock the future yet.

Jef , December 14, 2017 at 11:32 am

I thought thats what the WTO is for?

Thuto , December 14, 2017 at 2:14 pm

One suspects big money will be thrown at this by the leading tech giants. To paraphrase from a comment I made recently regarding a similar topic : "with markets in the developed world pretty much sewn up by the tripartite tech overlords (google, fb and amazon), the next 3 billion users for their products/services are going to come from developing world". With this dynamic in mind, and the "constant growth" mantra humming incessantly in the background, it's easy to see how high stakes a game this is for the tech giants and how no resources will be spared to stymie any efforts at establishing a regulatory oversight framework that will protect the digital rights of citizens in the global south.

Multilateral fora like the WTO are de facto enablers for the marauding frontal attacks of transnational corporations, and it's disheartening to see that some developing nations have already nailed the digital futures of their citizens to the mast of the tech giants by joining this alliance. What's more, this signing away of their liberty will be sold to the citizenry as the best way to usher them into the brightest of all digital futures.

Mark P. , December 14, 2017 at 3:30 pm

One suspects big money will be thrown at this by the leading tech giants.

Vast sums of money are already being thrown at bringing Africa online, for better or worse. Thus, the R&D aimed at providing wireless Internet via giant drones/balloons/satellites by Google, Facebook, etc.

You're African. Possibly South African by your user name, which may explain why you're a little behind the curve, because the action is already happening, but more to the north -- and particularly in East Africa.

The big corporations -- and the tech giants are competing with the banking/credit card giants -- have noted how mobile technology leapt over the dearth of last century's telephony tech, land lines, and in turn enabled the highest adoption rates of cellphone banking in the world. (Particularly in East Africa, as I say.) The payoffs for big corporations are massive -- de facto cashless societies where the corporations control the payment systems –and the politicians are mostly cheap.

In Nigeria, the government has launched a Mastercard-branded national ID card that's also a payment card, in one swoop handing Mastercard more than 170 million potential customers, and their personal and biometric data.

In Kenya, the sums transferred by mobile money operator M-Pesa are more than 25 percent of that country's GDP.

You can see that bringing Africa online is technically a big, decade-long project. But also that the potential payoffs are vast. Though I also suspect China may come out ahead -- they're investing far more in Africa and in some areas their technology -- drones, for instance -- is already superior to what the Europeans and the American companies have.

Thuto , December 14, 2017 at 4:58 pm

Thank you Mark P.

Hoisted from a comment I made here recently: "Here in South Africa and through its Free Basics programme, facebook is jumping into bed with unsuspecting ISPs (I say unsuspecting because fb will soon be muscling in on their territory and becoming an ISP itself by provisioning bandwidth directly from its floating satellites) and circumventing net neutrality "

I'm also keenly aware of the developments in Kenya re: safaricom and Mpesa and how that has led to traditional banking via bank accounts being largely leapfrogged for those moving from being unbanked to active economic citizens requiring money transfer facilities. Given the huge succes of Mpesa, I wouldn't be surprised if a multinational tech behemoth (chinese or american) were to make a play for acquiring safaricom and positioning it as a triple-play ISP, money transfer/banking services and digital content provider (harvesting data about users habits on an unprecedented scale across multiple areas of their lives), first in Kenya then expanded throughout east, central and west africa. I must add that your statement about Nigeria puts Mark Zuckerberg's visit there a few months back into context somewhat, perhaps a reconnaissance mission of sorts.

Out of idle curiosity, how could you accurately deduce my country of origin from my name?

Mark P. , December 14, 2017 at 6:59 pm

Out of idle curiosity, how could you accurately deduce my country of origin from my name?

Though I've lived in California for decades, my mother was South African and I maintain a UK passport, having grown up in London.

Mark P. , December 14, 2017 at 3:34 pm

As you also write: "with markets in the developed world pretty much sewn up by the tripartite tech overlords (google, fb and amazon), the next 3 billion users for their products/services are going to come from developing world."

Absolutely true. This cannot be stressed enough. The tech giants know this and the race is on.

Mattski , December 14, 2017 at 3:41 pm

Been happening with food for 50 years.

[Dec 04, 2017] The neoliberal framework in antitrust is based on pecifically its pegging competition to consumer welfare, defined as short-term price effects and as such s unequipped to capture the architecture of market power in the modern economy

Notable quotes:
"... This Note argues that the current framework in antitrust-specifically its pegging competition to "consumer welfare," defined as short-term price effects-is unequipped to capture the architecture of market power in the modern economy. We cannot cognize the potential harms to competition posed by Amazon's dominance if we measure competition primarily through price and output. ..."
"... This Note maps out facets of Amazon's dominance. Doing so enables us to make sense of its business strategy, illuminates anticompetitive aspects of Amazon's structure and conduct, and underscores deficiencies in current doctrine. The Note closes by considering two potential regimes for addressing Amazon's power: restoring traditional antitrust and competition policy principles or applying common carrier obligations and duties. ..."
Feb 12, 2017 | economistsview.typepad.com
anne : February 11, 2017 at 11:43 AM , 2017 at 11:43 AM
http://www.yalelawjournal.org/article/amazons-antitrust-paradox

January, 2017

Amazon's Antitrust Paradox
By Lina M. Khan

Abstract

Amazon is the titan of twenty-first century commerce. In addition to being a retailer, it is now a marketing platform, a delivery and logistics network, a payment service, a credit lender, an auction house, a major book publisher, a producer of television and films, a fashion designer, a hardware manufacturer, and a leading host of cloud server space. Although Amazon has clocked staggering growth, it generates meager profits, choosing to price below-cost and expand widely instead. Through this strategy, the company has positioned itself at the center of e-commerce and now serves as essential infrastructure for a host of other businesses that depend upon it. Elements of the firm's structure and conduct pose anticompetitive concerns -- yet it has escaped antitrust scrutiny.

This Note argues that the current framework in antitrust-specifically its pegging competition to "consumer welfare," defined as short-term price effects-is unequipped to capture the architecture of market power in the modern economy. We cannot cognize the potential harms to competition posed by Amazon's dominance if we measure competition primarily through price and output.

Specifically, current doctrine underappreciates the risk of predatory pricing and how integration across distinct business lines may prove anticompetitive. These concerns are heightened in the context of online platforms for two reasons. First, the economics of platform markets create incentives for a company to pursue growth over profits, a strategy that investors have rewarded. Under these conditions, predatory pricing becomes highly rational-even as existing doctrine treats it as irrational and therefore implausible. Second, because online platforms serve as critical intermediaries, integrating across business lines positions these platforms to control the essential infrastructure on which their rivals depend. This dual role also enables a platform to exploit information collected on companies using its services to undermine them as competitors.

This Note maps out facets of Amazon's dominance. Doing so enables us to make sense of its business strategy, illuminates anticompetitive aspects of Amazon's structure and conduct, and underscores deficiencies in current doctrine. The Note closes by considering two potential regimes for addressing Amazon's power: restoring traditional antitrust and competition policy principles or applying common carrier obligations and duties.

[Nov 10, 2017] Why You Should NEVER Buy an Amazon Echo or Even Get Near One

Notable quotes:
"... What bothers me is articles in mainstream media sources that assume that most people own and use these devices. Most people I know (and I'm not an old codger) either can't afford, don't want to waste time or are afraid of this junk. ..."
"... The mainstream media has long been entangled with tech monopolies, providing their every 'innovation' with not just a sheen of legitimacy, but an aura of inevitability. ..."
"... The fact that Twitter has hit something of a wall in terms of active users and that its influence on anything is far from established is never mentioned. And as this site has thoroughly investigated, the same combination of tech-ignorance and PR leg work continues to dominate coverage of Uber. ..."
"... The people I know who use it the most and with the least critical of an eye are those who didn't grow up with it – people in their 30s-40s. ..."
"... The younger ones, for whom smartphones were a fact of life rather than some new thing that appeared in a blaze of publicity, are more literate in both their uses and their more sinister significance. ..."
"... Then there's cost. A true stateful packet inspection firewall with separate DMZ implemented in stand-alone hardware is impractical and expensive for a typical user. ..."
"... The ShieldsUP! site might be of help to some commentators and is easy to use to test your firewall- https://www.grc.com/x/ne.dll?bh0bkyd2 ..."
"... By Any Means Necessary ..."
"... by the late cold war, the US had the ability to transmit fake radio conversations from surveillance aircraft using voices constructed from the content of previous intercepts. ..."
"... A couple of very old data points to flesh this out more. Two decades ago I read that mobs like the US State Department would play classic music at meetings so that the old laser-detecting vibrations-to-record-voices trick would not work but that probably does not work any more. ..."
"... Likewise with 'smart' TVs. Why aren't there closing cases, drapes, and other furniture for the niche consumer who wants them? There is nothing inherently attractive about a blank LCD screen. ..."
"... phone cases with small sliding doors over the rear camera ..."
"... While the article is written with respect to surveillance's impact on the individual it is important to note that the new technology here is the aggregation of surveillance onto crowds. The individual is less important than the group. Manage the group and the individual is easy. ..."
"... We also own and use cell phones and laptops that have the same functions, with no more compunction. I'm sure there are people and settings for which this warning is appropriate, but I'm personally unconcerned. Certainly any technology can be misused, but this one is pretty far down my list of worries. ..."
"... Frankly, whatever expectation of privacy you have in your daily life is unwarranted. The genie is out of the bottle -- and it's sitting in your car, your purse, on the shelf, in your 'smart' TV etc. I believe we have to adapt, each in our own way and in accordance with our degree of paranoia, because none of this is going away. Just because you don't invite Alexa into you home doesn't mean her cousins aren't going to drop by. ..."
"... Frankly, whatever expectation of privacy you have in your daily life is unwarranted. The genie is out of the bottle -- and it's sitting in your car, your purse, on the shelf, in your 'smart' TV etc. ..."
"... The problem is really one of data retention; as usual there is no reason for a voice assistant to run in some megacorp's private cloud. We all have hefty computers at home more than capable of running these things and keeping the whole thing private – the voice data, the request, etc. ..."
"... No relatively advanced nation state with a decent-sized security state apparatus is going to allow a native high tech firm to flourish without a heavily deal of cooperation. ..."
"... Hell, in most cases in the U.S. it is the defensive industry since the end of WW2 that is a key player in terms of early rounds of funding and forming links to corporate research centers & university researchers. ..."
"... As far as I'm concerned, Amazon and Google ARE (at least a part of) the state security apparatus. Links between the NSA and Google have been well-established, and Amazon is a CIA contractor. ..."
"... When he was approached by family for advice on which of these devices to buy, he flat out told them they are all generally equal [for personal use], the question is who do you want to collect your data? ..."
"... Actually, I wonder if it would be useful to buy one under your name, and then play a pre-recorded message next to it over and over again just for the purposes of spoofing or giving bad data to Google/Amazon/NSA/etc. as a counter-survellience measure. This way, if you are an activist or protester, you can give them a steady stream of bad or useless data in whatever file they have collected on you to make your "profile" extremely inaccurate. ..."
"... Two, if you have my skillset and want to know if Echo is transmitting data to Amazon at any given time, do a packet capture on your network and find out. You won't see what's being sent because it's encrypted obviously, but you can see how much data is being sent, which is enough to know if the Echo is sending all the sounds it hears. It is not. ..."
"... Well if you consider that when I launch this page, 25 trackers attempt to launch and follow my browsing then it is not just Amazon who are playing this game ..."
Nov 09, 2017 | www.nakedcapitalism.com

Enrique Bermudez , , November 9, 2017 at 6:30 am

"Don't buy the stupid Alexa/google assistant/etc" is a take of such obviousness that I wonder why it even needs to be made.

Why anyone would want one of these things if not a brain-dead marketing slave is completely beyond me. What exactly can it do that you can't do more or less just as easily from a smartphone or PC? I hate smartphones but obviously have one because of the potential uses in terms of having internet access in your pocket if away from home, etc etc. Alexa is in your home only. Where you have a PC.

How is Alexa better than just going to one's laptop and entering a search query? Isn't, clearly. Can be much more precise with the computer.

Reminds me of last year's tech crap marketing gimmick – the smart watch. Which, uh, does what your phone (that you need to have to make the smart watch work) does but not as well and on a microscopic screen.

Or crap gimmick prior – Windows 8. Yaaay! No more need for a mouse and keyboard! Can do everything (with far less precision) via a touch-screen! Except a mouse/keyboard setup will always work 100x better.

fajensen , , November 9, 2017 at 6:46 am

It needs to be made because 24/7 surveillance is being integrated into products that one does not specifically buy from Google/Apple/Amazon.

Sonos One, an internet loudspeaker / sound system that one uses with services like Spotify, for example, comes with voice control now ( https://www.hifiklubben.se/streaming/sonos/sonos-one-tradlos-hogtalare )

The "smart" digital plague will spread to the entire product range, one suspect. Can one maybe dodge for another 10 years by buying Now -- perhaps -- OTOH maybe "They" can update the thing remotely and suddenly those CIA ghouls are inside of my bedroom!

The "voice activated" business models needs to go the way of the 3D Television!

Bugs Bunny , , November 9, 2017 at 8:23 am

What bothers me is articles in mainstream media sources that assume that most people own and use these devices. Most people I know (and I'm not an old codger) either can't afford, don't want to waste time or are afraid of this junk.

That said, my bourgeois American friends are all fully equipped with all the latest Apple products even if they don't know what they need them for. Which means that the devices get passed on to their kids and then they spend all their time playing mindless games and watching weird Youtube video on it. The old Macs pile up in a closet and the Apple TV sits disused next to the flat screen.

tempestteacup , , November 9, 2017 at 3:06 pm

The mainstream media has long been entangled with tech monopolies, providing their every 'innovation' with not just a sheen of legitimacy, but an aura of inevitability. Here is the execrable Suzanne Moore in yesterday's Guardian, in an article that was actually about something entirely different (chaos in the Tory Party):

As someone who once got a driving licence when they really shouldn't have, I am looking forward to driverless cars. It's a shame a lot of people will lose their livelihoods, but, hey ho, that's the future. In fact, it feels a lot like the present. We currently have a driverless government. No one is in control – but nor is there a robotic system effective enough to govern us.

Some of it could be explained as common or garden ignorance of what technology does, its possibilities and how it actually operates. Some because columnists love invoking poorly understood subjects that provide a platform for aggrandising visions of the future. But I remember, too, that a few years ago marked a perceptible shift not just to reliance on Twitter utterances for reportage but the characterising of what was said there as a significant source of public opinion. Suddenly, it was all over the place – number of retweets, trending hashtags, sick burns. The fact that Twitter has hit something of a wall in terms of active users and that its influence on anything is far from established is never mentioned. And as this site has thoroughly investigated, the same combination of tech-ignorance and PR leg work continues to dominate coverage of Uber.

I'll leave my tinfoil hat in its bandbox and allow others to infer why exactly this might be so. From personal experience, which includes quite a lot of contact with people in their late teens and early 20s, the ubiquity of these technologies is well overstated. It may even be the case that social media have already peaked in their present form.

The people I know who use it the most and with the least critical of an eye are those who didn't grow up with it – people in their 30s-40s.

The younger ones, for whom smartphones were a fact of life rather than some new thing that appeared in a blaze of publicity, are more literate in both their uses and their more sinister significance.

Wisdom Seeker , , November 9, 2017 at 3:25 pm

re: "articles in mainstream media sources that assume that most people own and use these devices" That's done on purpose, part of the social conditioning done by the media, on behalf of their customers, the advertisers. I'm not an Ayn Rand fan, but this process of media manipulation was described in The Fountainhead (1943).

MarkE , , November 9, 2017 at 10:04 am

Agree. The triviality of the benefits of this new technology is mind-blowing compared with the price in privacy. My rules for living with technology:

– assume that anything you say over the phone or transmit over the internet has been broadcast,

– use all the other privacy measures you can – tape over the camera, disable microphones and Bluetooth, etc

– if it's not worth reading the fine print before you press "accept" it's not worth having – do nothing through the Cloud

– stay at least two generations behind the latest release for anything

– someone else can pay the higher price, work out the bugs and find the privacy landmines

Notorious P.A.T. , , November 9, 2017 at 12:23 pm

a brain-dead marketing slave

Oh, please. Many people just like to have the "latest thing." Many others perceive devices like this as labor-saving machines, whether they really are or not. Don't be so condescending.

Octopii , , November 9, 2017 at 4:14 pm

I used to work in home technology in a very wealthy market, and my clients were eager for voice control. We could wire the house to the teeth, sell all kinds of very nifty touchscreens and ipad apps and remote controls (with racks of electronics at the head end). Shortly after the Echo was released I came upon the lady of one house listening to music from it in the kitchen. What she said is seared into my memory as something so shocking that I had to reevaluate the profession I'd been in for fifteen years. She loved the thing. It was so easy – just say "play ____" and that is it.

Their audio system was a marvel, one of the best sounding houses I've ever done. She didn't care, didn't care to use it. Reduced friction is the most important thing. That is why people buy these devices. They're inexpensive and they're easy.

It's like candy – the sweetness masks the hazard.

jrs , , November 9, 2017 at 4:41 pm

"What exactly can it do that you can't do more or less just as easily from a smartphone or PC?"

yes and the spying can be done by a smartphone too, and a PC (well to a limited degree with the PC I guess, not many PCs with voice recognition as far as I know,)

Ook , , November 9, 2017 at 8:38 pm

Actually, I don't know of many PCs without voice recognition, and this goes back 10 years or so.

jackiebass , , November 9, 2017 at 6:51 am

Devises like an iPad or cell phone that does a voice search can also do this. When you purchase technology you are giving up your privacy. even if you don't you can be tracked by computer controlled cameras with scanners. I believe Britain is ahead of the US in public surveillance. I think they are actually the test ground that will later be implemented in the US. Like in Orwell's 1984 big brother is always watching. I've read this book 3 times and probably will reread it again in the near future.

Yves Smith Post author , , November 9, 2017 at 7:15 am

I don't own any of those either. And with the Echo you are allowing much greater intrusion, since while TPTB can activate your phone/voice activated cell as a listening device, the Echo is on by default all the time.

jrs , , November 9, 2017 at 4:51 pm

Yes, they are universally surveiling your driving as well if they want to, tracking your vehicle multiple times as you cross town. Whether everyone is important enough to get this treatment or only activists depends I guess. And you can't opt out of that just by not buying something. Don't buy a car? Oh maybe, if we assume they aren't watching public transit, which I'm sure they are some.

cnchal , , November 9, 2017 at 6:58 am

Alexa – fuck off. A gibberish generator is called for, to piss into Bezos cloud.

Michael Fiorillo , , November 9, 2017 at 7:35 am

Indeed, everyone's default program should be "Contaminate the data!"

PDB , , November 9, 2017 at 12:35 pm

Either that or tell your Echo about how great Trump is.

QuarterBack , , November 9, 2017 at 7:36 am

As these spy technologies become more and more ubiquitous and capable, I am actually less worried about what various nation states may be using them for than what nefarious man on the street players might be able to accomplish by leveraging bits of this very powerful, expanding, and largely unprotected ecosystem.

For every James Bond or 1984 scenario, there are thousands of potential applications for conmen, stalkers, insider traders, jealous spouses, off-the-reservation Deputy Sheriffs, sociopathic pranksters, and on and on. Like it or not, this genie has left the bottle and is here to stay. As a society, we need to get smart fast about the power and very real threats that this infrastructure makes possible. If we don't start focusing significant attention on how to mitigate these threats, we will experience and very painful period while the inmates run the asylum.

Troutwaxer , , November 9, 2017 at 10:15 pm

"The street finds it's own uses for things." – William Gibson

Wade Riddick , , November 9, 2017 at 7:42 am

Apple was confronted with the same problem in facial recognition for the iPhone X but – like the fingerprints – the facial data is stored on the user's device, processed by local AI (the Bionic CPU) and never sent to Apple – which is marginally better.

You have the same problem with On-Star in your car and the new internet connected TVs. Most computers have mics too.

The more IoT they throw at things, the more points of failure there are from Russian hackers to EMP. There needs to be backup manual on/off and operations designed into everything. I grew up coding and there's no way I let coders steer my car.

I also grew up the son of a prosecutor. No way I tell someone what I had for lunch or where I'm going.

The 'sharing economy' boils down to a loss of property rights. The right of ownership is the right to exclude someone else from using your property and the socialists in corporate America don't want you telling them they can't have access to your stuff.

The real issue here isn't just theft; it's also trespass. What happens when people start planting evidence of contraband on these systems now that we can fake people's voices with all these samples?

How long will it be before we leap from fake news to fake evidence?

"Alexa, how do you weaponize anthrax?"

Left in Wisconsin , , November 9, 2017 at 11:01 am

I think it's a comment about the ability of products you ostensibly own to spy on you and share information with our corporate overlords without your consent. Granted socialism is a term variously defined by different people but I'm not sure this fits the anyone's definition. Unless, like some, one thinks fascists are socialists.

Wisdom Seeker , , November 9, 2017 at 3:35 pm

"socialists in corporate America"

Not the same kind of socialism that most here conceive of. But read that in the mindset of, say, banking policy before/after the Great Recession ("privatize the gains and socialize the losses"), Google ("all of society's data belong to us"), or any of the various cartels ("let's rewrite the tax code again for our benefit at society's expense") and you understand that what he means is that the corporate "socialists" want society/government to give them more more more.

Wade Riddick , , November 9, 2017 at 8:17 pm

Thanks for defending me! You're right. I was pointing out the socialization of risk.

After some reflection, I would also place this issue in the broader context of the wars of enclosure, given the recent anniversary of the Charter of the Forest. We've lost the forest. Now we're literally losing our homes from the inside out, from forged foreclosure docs to eavesdropping from inside the house. (Except the landlord doesn't even need the eaves for eavesdropping anymore.)

As the immortal bards of the internet might phrase it, All your Cheezeburgers is ours.

Trjckster , , November 9, 2017 at 7:48 am

For accuracy I need to clarify this quote from CNET:

Amazon Echo is always listening. From the moment you wake up Echo to the end of your command, your voice is recorded and transcribed.

Echo may always to listening, but that doesn't mean it is always recording and sending audio to Amazon, the key phrase not covered is "the moment you wake up Echo". The "wake word" used to trigger an Echo (or Siri/Cortana/Google) is a critical design limitation that these assistants have to work around, as for responsiveness/accuracy the voice recognition needs to be done on the device itself. This is why the "wake word" is limited to one or a small set of words (Alexa/Echo/Computer), as detecting it is quite difficult to do on simple hardware locally and quickly.

Now, this doesn't rule out the Echo just sending audio all the time, but it would be consume a lot of bandwidth/storage/processing to do so, making it impractical to do so on a large scale and easily noticeable. I could imagine the NSA/CIA having a backdoor to do so (on individual devices) but not doing so all the time.

Yves Smith Post author , , November 9, 2017 at 8:15 am

Please re-read what I wrote.

First, voice does not take much bandwidth. These devices are in homes with friggin' Netflix or Google Prime streaming accounts, and you can still do other stuff like have your kids do their homework on the Internet at the same time. There's no bandwidth constraint here.

Second, my issue isn't Amazon. My issue is what we know from Snowden, that pretty much all Internet-enabled devices with a camera or a mike are able to spy on you. They can be turned on without you knowing it even when they appear to be off. Here you have Echo-Google Home which is on all the time, listening all the time, and Snowden made clear what the NSA wants is total data capture. IMHO is is incredibly naive to think they won't do that.

Odysseus , , November 9, 2017 at 10:46 am

There's no bandwidth constraint here.

Yes, but just because something is possible doesn't mean it's mandatory. Batman was just a movie. The capability to drill down and spot check people of interest is different than the capability to run large scale correlation across geographically large territories, or even target city blocks.

Home networks can be air gapped and firewalled in ways that ensure that you control what gets out. That's harder to do for things like cell phones, which is why Snowden had to take more extreme measures there. Alexa devices don't yet come with an integrated cell phone.

There are some serious privacy implications, but they're a step or two further way from immediate real world implementations.

https://www.wired.com/story/the-first-alexa-phone-gets-amazon-even-closer-to-total-domination/

Clive , , November 9, 2017 at 11:18 am

Firstly, the unshakable faith I see that people have in their tech is startling. Firewalls are most definitely not infallible because testing their implementations and configurations is such a lengthy process which most people have neither the time nor the skill to conduct properly. Most of us just accept the out of the box settings and leave it at that.

Then there's cost. A true stateful packet inspection firewall with separate DMZ implemented in stand-alone hardware is impractical and expensive for a typical user. So while anorak-wearing tech-savvy people might consider it, the vast majority of Echo / Google Home / Siri users definitely would not. I'm a bit of an anorak so could do all the things I've mentioned in terms of having the requisite knowledge, but there are way, way too many taxes on my time already to make me set aside the mental and time requirements this would entail. Not least because you have to keep testing at regular intervals just in case some update or behind-your-back policy changes got done by your ISP or O/S vendor as part of, ironically, security patches. You can't merely set it up and then leave it alone from there on in.

Finally, all firewalls are a compromise between allowing necessary access to the outside world and cutting off things you don't want to get through. There's no getting around this. So there's no magic bullet. What you can do is reduce the attack surfaces. Echo et al are a big screaming "aim here" sign.

The Rev Kev , , November 9, 2017 at 6:15 pm

The ShieldsUP! site might be of help to some commentators and is easy to use to test your firewall- https://www.grc.com/x/ne.dll?bh0bkyd2

Joel , , November 9, 2017 at 2:31 pm

The point isn't that the NSA can or will spy on *everyone* just that can and do spy on *anyone.*

Mike , , November 9, 2017 at 7:53 am

I wonder about the future of this voice technology and responses to it.

1. If someone records enough samples of my voice (like when I answer telemarketing calls), can that person fool the bank software and log in as me?

2. Can there be an app that puts some voice emulator on my device, to then transmit a created voice to Amazon or Google? And could that made-up voice be changed every so often? (I guess I would need to tell Amazon/Google "just got a house sitter, work with that person." )

JeffC , , November 9, 2017 at 9:13 am

On question #1: William Burrows 2001 book By Any Means Necessary on the history of cold war surveillance flights near to and over the USSR mentions that by the late cold war, the US had the ability to transmit fake radio conversations from surveillance aircraft using voices constructed from the content of previous intercepts.

As a signal-processing engineer myself, I don't find the capability at all surprising. From a technical point of view, it's close to obvious. What is perhaps more surprising is this capability being mentioned in an unclassified publication. Apparently the censors thought it obvious as well.

Hunkerin' Down , , November 9, 2017 at 8:05 pm

Call me circumspect, or various other words. I don't answer calls from unknown numbers, and screen the known numbers to let the other person speak first, in part to assess if it is a live person whose voice I recognize. I assume that any caller may record my voice, and that more recording means more opportunity to manipulate digital capture records to deploy in any number of auto-response scenarios to my detriment. That only covers my abode. Then I need to be concerned about being out among 'em. Casual conversations anywhere could lead to unwanted consequences.

Now I need to get to work on that Faraday wardrobe.

David , , November 9, 2017 at 8:09 am

The "spooky technologies" you mention are indeed decades old. Essentially, for example, if you want to have a private meeting in any confined space with a window, you need not only to leave all electronic gadgets outside (that probably includes Apple Watches) but pull the curtains or otherwise find a way of stopping the glass pane from vibrating to the sound of your voice. And never sit with your computer in a position from which the screen is visible, even from a long distance.

As usual, it will be less the technologies themselves than the clever ideas for misusing them that are the problem. And if history is any guide, we have no idea, at the moment, what they will be. But what's already clear is that real-time monitoring of the movements, speech and even emotions of citizens by any reasonably advanced state is not that far away.

The Rev Kev , , November 9, 2017 at 6:35 pm

A couple of very old data points to flesh this out more. Two decades ago I read that mobs like the US State Department would play classic music at meetings so that the old laser-detecting vibrations-to-record-voices trick would not work but that probably does not work any more.

And for never sitting with your computer in a position from which the screen is visible, well, years ago I read that you can have a van parked nearby that would hone in on the radiation that your monitor would give off. Using that info, it would then in real time reconstruct exactly what you are seeing on your own screen.

These days those seem almost quaint now. These days you would probably have someone from a three-letter agency sit in his office and say Siri/Alexa/Echo give us a transcript of everything said in Frank's home and include whatever passwords he says and then sit down and watch a mirror image of Frank's computer monitor on a corner of his own.

A few years ago a journalist reporting on mobs like these watched as the article she was composing was being deleted right in front of her. She wistfully wondered if the person that was deleting her work at least liked what they read first.

rcd , , November 9, 2017 at 8:09 am

About a year ago, my husband and I were working at home and happened to discuss the problems we were having with our washer/dryer. Within 10 minutes, on the home page of a.n. other financial blog, an ad appeared in the r/h margin advertising .washer/dryers.

cocomaan , , November 9, 2017 at 8:12 am

I purposely destroyed the mics on the laptops in my house and have a separate peripheral mic I hook in if I need to talk to someone. Otherwise cell phones are kept in a separate room from my wife and I and tape over all the webcams.

What I really want to do is get a dedicated microwave to put our phones in at night as a faraday cage. Need to find some space to do that.

I know some people that have an Echo in their bedroom. Bizarre. But like self driving cars, all it will take is one incident of creepiness for the market to start to turn the other way. Amazon better behave itself.

Yves Smith Post author , , November 9, 2017 at 8:21 am

Is there an easy way to disable the mics in the laptops? I need to do that.

They sell phone Faraday sleeves on the Internet. You can test if they really work by trying to call your phone. I plan to get one. They have bigger sizes for tablets and laptops, and IIRC even a backpack.

likbez, November 9, 2017 at 11:31 pm

A drop of glue can help and is much simpler ;-). Without air flow sensitivity of the mic drops dramatically. In most cases collection of metadata (your calls, browsing history, email headers, etc) is enough for you already to be like a bug under the microscope.

The recording of conversations, unless you are a high value target, is completely redundant.

cocomaan , , November 9, 2017 at 8:33 am

There are ways to disable onboard mics through your settings. However, given what Snowden is saying about remote access, all the backdoors in major operating systems probably means someone can turn them back on without much effort.

Given how crappy most onboard mics are on laptops and the like, you might as well just shred them anyway. They are usually located next to the webcam inside a tiny hole. I just took an unbent paperclip, shoved it in there, and scratched around. I did this and tested the mic in the settings until it didn't register my voice.

There's probably more graceful ways to do it but that's how I handle things, hah! Next up will be my mini faraday cages, thanks for the recc.

The Rev Kev , , November 9, 2017 at 8:49 am

I don't think that there are any good answers here. Consider, Mark Zuckerberg who can afford to spend billions on his own computer security but still tapes over his laptop's camera and mics as revealed in a candid foto ( https://www.hackread.com/mark-zuckerbergs-laptop-cam-tape/ ) taken last year. The future seemed so simple in Star Trek when you would talk to the computer from any part of the ship – even though it was foreseen that sometimes there might be problems ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nVA5HSE6igQ ). It was also clear here that your personal logs were your own and that they could be only accessed for vital reasons.

These smart devices like Alexa and Echo are like those smart TVs that not only have an inbuilt microphone (always on) and an internal camera filming what is in front of the TV but also having face recognition technology built in and all connected to servers. It creeps me out thinking about having one that could not only record your private conversations with your wife but would put them through truth-lie algorithms to tell when you lie. If hacked, it takes blackmail to a whole other level. That anecdote by rcd confirmed my worst suspicions. As far as those devices are concerned, not with this little black duck!

lb , , November 9, 2017 at 10:11 am

Technologies can be surreptitiously remotely enabled/manipulated on any device with some way in (probably via networking, possibly via the same listening system with different cues -- imagine your TV saying a secret code word to Alexa to put it in permanent-recording mode). This sort of use has been OK'd by the courts under warrant, sometimes, in cars via OnStar, et al. Whenever you disable a technology in the software menu of the device, there is the possibility of someone else re-enabling it (or the software ignoring your request) without your consent or awareness.

As a security researcher I've wanted to see a movement for DIY hardware toggles for sensitive components in a device. It should be possible to sever signals to/from any such component, or better, to de-power the component without compromising device integrity/stability. Any camera, microphone or biometric scanner is obviously sensitive. Any component of telephony, from cellular to wi-fi (those things announce your presence to the world as they 'scan', constantly, and can be responsive when the device is off!) to near-field communication is sensitive. You (should) want a physical airplane-mode toggle, not just a software configuration option that you're supposed to trust. This needs to apply to all of the devices in one's life and all of the components. As we enumerate the bits on a phone, the same logic must apply to a car (how many of us know how many microphones are there and where?). And we should expect vendors to make this impossible (out of apathy or out of defense of their own ability to listen). Maybe some vendors could court the security-minded and work to provide physically-auditable toggles but I doubt any market-based solution would solve this problem much.

(Asofyet I haven't seen a lot of movement on the DIY toggle front though maybe I've missed an example. I'm not a good person to start the work as I have a reverse midas touch with hardware hacking).

Knowing the possibility of a device lying to its user as to the disabling of snooping technology (or the possibility that something else was physically installed to spy), Bunnie and Snowden wrote guides for detecting that signaling is in use regardless of software settings, as a manual for journalists and others worried about it. Start here and search for more: https://www.pubpub.org/pub/direct-radio-introspection . I think those guys also talk about mitigation in newer work.

Just my two cents as to where a gap exists. Hopefully I'm not now on a !@#$list of the surveillance state just for thinking this aloud

FluffytheObeseCat , , November 9, 2017 at 1:40 pm

All our electronic appliances are wide open by default, and I don't know why that fact is not addressed in the aftermarket. The total absence of aftermarket hard switches, camera covers, apertures, etc. is freakishly weird. It has been obvious for years that there is a small, but potentially profitable market for such items. It's as if the home 'window treatments' business were suddenly eradicated. As if shades and curtains simply didn't exist.

I do not understand why cell phone cases with small sliding doors over the rear camera aren't part of every major vendors product line up. Yet, there is no 'Speck' or 'Kate Spade' branded phone case on the market that allows the owner to cover even one camera.

Likewise with 'smart' TVs. Why aren't there closing cases, drapes, and other furniture for the niche consumer who wants them? There is nothing inherently attractive about a blank LCD screen. Hiding it behind a mahogany door seems more normal than not (particularly in an era when the wealthy hide their refrigerators and dishwashers behind cabinetry that matches the shelving). I truly remember more closed cases for TVs 20 years ago, when you needed a great cabinet to hold a 20" deep CRT in the living room. Shutters or doors on the central space of the 'entertainment center' armoire were common then.

Grebo , , November 9, 2017 at 7:53 pm

phone cases with small sliding doors over the rear camera

I used to have a Nokia which had a large sliding door over the camera. Opening it would activate the camera without having to fumble with any buttons or slidey icons. The shutter was a tactile button on the side too. Great for capturing fleeting moments as it would be ready to go in half a second. They won't do it now because it would make the phone too fat.

Carolinian , , November 9, 2017 at 8:14 am

One could point out that Snowden also did things like put mobile phones in the microwave (Faraday cage) and advised taking the battery out of cellphones, including the dumb kind, when not in use. And while not many of us have Echo–one hopes–we almost all have computers which are surveillance engines of the finest kind.

To me Echo is just another one of Bezos' dumb ideas to go with drone deliveries and no checkout retail stores. The haystack problem suggests electronic surveillance isn't all it's cracked up to be and these capabilities somehow fail to prevent domestic terrorism, mass shootings and all the other horrors that go on.

ambrit , , November 9, 2017 at 8:24 am

The other social cost of this, mentioned in passing, is the drive of corporations to get rid of even more workers. Out of work phone call centre people need to eat too. Unlike the promises during the original industrial revolutions, there seem not to be compensating forms of employment being promised or created to 'take up the slack' of the displaced workers.
Jackpot City, here we come!

jCandlish , , November 9, 2017 at 8:34 am

While the article is written with respect to surveillance's impact on the individual it is important to note that the new technology here is the aggregation of surveillance onto crowds. The individual is less important than the group. Manage the group and the individual is easy.

QuarterBack , , November 9, 2017 at 9:34 am

This reminds me of a long running (half) joke idea i had for a business plan. The premise is to perform various actions that will attract your street address to direct mail campaigns, then when your (snail mail) mailbox gets bombarded by junk mail, you can just sell the inbound stream to recycling plants. $$$ Whatcha think?

Doctor Duck , , November 9, 2017 at 8:48 am

I don't see a need per se for the Echo Dot we own, but it does provide some utility and (more often) amusement. And I realize that this is a species of "if you have nothing to hide ", but honestly, there's nothing said in its presence that could be remotely considered dangerous, incriminating or embarrassing.

We also own and use cell phones and laptops that have the same functions, with no more compunction. I'm sure there are people and settings for which this warning is appropriate, but I'm personally unconcerned. Certainly any technology can be misused, but this one is pretty far down my list of worries.

Frankly, whatever expectation of privacy you have in your daily life is unwarranted. The genie is out of the bottle -- and it's sitting in your car, your purse, on the shelf, in your 'smart' TV etc. I believe we have to adapt, each in our own way and in accordance with our degree of paranoia, because none of this is going away. Just because you don't invite Alexa into you home doesn't mean her cousins aren't going to drop by.

tegnost , , November 9, 2017 at 10:11 am

" Frankly, whatever expectation of privacy you have in your daily life is unwarranted. The genie is out of the bottle -- and it's sitting in your car, your purse, on the shelf, in your 'smart' TV etc. "

So there's no alternative, then? Of course I have a flip phone, listen to football on the the old combo cassette/radio "boom box", You are describing the state of affairs for my wealthier friends, however, and agree that those of you who feel confident enough in your circumstances to feel there is nothing you do that needs to be hidden, I'd say you and they are cognitively captured by faith in tech, but all that tech money comes from people who don't respect the need for privacy such as yourself. I'd say the genie is in fact out of the bottle and his name is donald trump, if I had a dime for every time I heard a techie or mba say "there's going to be winner's and loser's, with the tacit assumption being there will be a lot more losers than winners, and the tech/mba guys will always be the winners somehow this phrase that was once so popular has disappeared down the memory hole because the tech/mba crowd who are so intent on screwing everyone else because tina actually found themselves to be the losers. Whoocoodanode. Anecdotally and slightly off topic, a friend was attacked yesterday in seattle by one of the ubiquitous homeless people armed with a knife ("huge box cutter, didn't think you could buy one that big") in an upscale neighborhood. Luckily his car door was still open and he was able to get back in and lock the doors while the guy laid waste to his paint job. Picture these homeless people (who it doesn't really need to be pointed out don't have smart tv, iphone 10x, or modern equipment on their 72 pinto or winnebago) start to get together because they truly have nothing else to lose to the bezos of the world and start to attack you in your pseudo safe environment. When there are roving bands of these people you'll wish the donald was your biggest problem. So I've got a right back atcha, whatever expectation of safety and security you have is wildly misguided The genie has a message for you, we live a rapaciously greedy, stratified, and mean spirited country, and you'll get what you deserve, good and hard.
http://i0.kym-cdn.com/photos/images/facebook/000/299/691/1a4.jpg

JDHE , , November 9, 2017 at 10:20 am

Sounds like the "I don't see race" solution to electronic privacy invasion. Equally naive and regressive.

lyman alpha blob , , November 9, 2017 at 1:52 pm

there's nothing said in its presence that could be remotely considered dangerous, incriminating or embarrassing.

So presumably you are able to see into the future to know who will be in charge of deciding what exactly is considered dangerous, incriminating or embarrassing? Quite a gift you have

Scylla , , November 9, 2017 at 9:14 am

Not that anyone here is contemplating murder, but this is relevant to the conversation, I am sure: Amazon gives up Echo data to police in murder investigation

Eclair , , November 9, 2017 at 10:04 am

Not to make light of the intrusion problems posed by owning smart phones, smart TV's and laptops with cameras and microphones (I, too, have been rattled by seeing ads on websites for objects or conditions that I and my spouse had been discussing a day earlier), but I would be more likely to purchase a voice-activated command system that had a male persona; I would love to call out, lazily, "Ralph (or 'Bob' or 'James'), shut the friggin' cupboard doors and chill a glass of Pinot Grigio to exactly 51 degrees."

saurabh , , November 9, 2017 at 10:19 am

The problem is really one of data retention; as usual there is no reason for a voice assistant to run in some megacorp's private cloud. We all have hefty computers at home more than capable of running these things and keeping the whole thing private – the voice data, the request, etc.

It would not be hard to organize a free software project to make an Alexa quality voice assistant that you can run on a private computer; with an internet connection you can even run a client to it from your phone.

This is the only way to freedom from the surveillance system; the alternative is simply refusing the technology. However, so far we have really failed at delivering good free software in these areas (voice commands and also mobile phones in general); we have no one to blame but ourselves for this. Passively hoping the megacorps will behave morally seems to not be working.

Craig H. , , November 9, 2017 at 10:22 am

"This call is being recorded for quality control purposes."

Yesterday my fidelity service rep invited me to have my voice print archived so that they could save me the inconvenience of having to provide those security details like my mom's maiden name and the street I grew up on. Our conversation was less than ten minutes at that point and he had a desktop widget running that told him they had collected sufficient voice data on me to do this.

I opted out.

"for quality control purposes" = "for quality control purposes and whatever the NSA and CIA see fit to do with it"

Dita , , November 9, 2017 at 10:54 am

Disturbing, to say the least, and kind of puts Amazon's commitment to hire military personnel in a[n even more] sinister light. Amazon is closely associating itself with the military because grateful patriotism, even as it takes losses to destroy other businesses. Huh.
http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20171109005408/en/

MG , , November 9, 2017 at 7:09 pm

No relatively advanced nation state with a decent-sized security state apparatus is going to allow a native high tech firm to flourish without a heavily deal of cooperation.

Hell, in most cases in the U.S. it is the defensive industry since the end of WW2 that is a key player in terms of early rounds of funding and forming links to corporate research centers & university researchers.

Just look at the role DARPA has played already in driverless technology. Their fingerprints are all over it and it is easily found in the public domain.

TruNorth , , November 9, 2017 at 10:58 am

I'd like to add this bit of info to this commentary FYI it is a hot subject in my neck of the woods.

http://www.azcentral.com/story/money/business/2014/12/12/state-settles-smart-meter-debate/20343257/

XXYY , , November 9, 2017 at 11:40 am

The good discussion in this article is just one facet of a much larger change to our society. In the old days, the presumption was that everything one did was private unless specific steps were taken to make it public, perhaps holding a press conference, or doing it in the middle of a busy street or a public square.

More recently, this has changed. Now, the presumption must be that everything one does is public, unless specific steps are taken to make it private. (I won't presume to outline the steps one needs to take for privacy, since this changes every day. A general statement would be that much of the privacy invasion is technological, and the older the technology one surrounds oneself with is, the less likely one is to have one's activities publicized.)

It's hard to overstate the impact of this change, and everyone, including individuals all the way up to very large businesses, is obviously still grappling with it. It's hard to say overall whether this change is a good or a bad thing, but there is clearly no rolling back the clock.

foghorn longhorn , , November 9, 2017 at 2:54 pm

Way back in 81, I hired on as a residential telephone tech for GTE. They actually had a document called "The Telephoneman Oath" that all employees were required to read and sign. It specifically said that all conversations you heard while testing lines were private and confidential. Period. If you divulged to anyone any conversation you would be summarily terminated. Period. If you heard a convo about say a plot to kill somebody and you notified your boss or the authorities, terminated. Period. No exceptions. My how times have changed.

Bobby Gladd , , November 9, 2017 at 12:26 pm

See The AI Now 2017 Report. " (pdf)

I've apprised them of this post.

readerOfTeaLeaves , , November 9, 2017 at 12:34 pm

Looks like my minuscule investment in the Fundraiser category of 'More Meetups', along with that mutual investment of so many other NCers, is already beginning to pay out phenomenal dividends. Thanks to all ;-)

annenigma , , November 9, 2017 at 12:42 pm

About 3 years ago when I moved back to my state, I went to a credit union to open a checking account. I favor credit unions over banks, but lately I've noticed some of them are getting a lot more commercialized as they merge and grow.

Anyway, I was told I had to wait to set it up with the branch manager who was at lunch. When she returned and was entering my information on her computer, some red text caught my eye even though the screen was mostly angled away from me so I couldn't actually read it. To me it suggested some kind of alert or cue for something important, who knows. It did serve to alert my own curiosity.

Then in the process of setting up the account, out of the blue the manager asked me about my pets. Since I don't have any, that conversation should have been very brief but somehow she managed to prolong it somehow, maybe asking why not but I forget now. That would be the kind of question that would immediately start people talking, but it came out so awkwardly in the timing that I got the impression it wasn't social as much a business related. At any rate, it did eliciting more conversation from me other than the brief but relevant answers I gave her for my account information.

Before I left, I also noticed a box directly in front of me on her desk. It caught my eye because it was placed near the edge, not set back closer to her but I really didn't give it any more attention other than that. But combined with the pet questioning and red text, I later wondered if my voice had been recorded for some kind of security program.

Naturally they'd only get a voice recording when they could capture someone's natural voice in a relaxed conversation, such as about beloved pets. After all, if you're not aware you're being recorded, you don't get tense vocal cords or try too hard to enunciate. Plus it's only for security reasons, right? So why tell us? The things they do for security has to be secret, otherwise it's not secure!

But my suspicious mind thinks that whenever valuable personal identifiers are collected by any business or government entity for any reason, and certainly when it's incentivized or written into the fine print of Patriot Act type laws, it ends up in Utah repository.

COLLECT IT ALL is not just a conspiracy theory anymore.

Or am I just being paranoid?

geoff , , November 9, 2017 at 12:51 pm

" Apart from the creepy crawley ‎surveillance aspect (and Google/Amazon bother me far more than the state security apparatus " (Clive, from the original article.)

As far as I'm concerned, Amazon and Google ARE (at least a part of) the state security apparatus. Links between the NSA and Google have been well-established, and Amazon is a CIA contractor.

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/5/6/nsa-chief-google.html
http://www.defenseone.com/technology/2014/07/how-cia-partnered-amazon-and-changed-intelligence/88555/

(Hope that's not too many links!)

Lee , , November 9, 2017 at 12:58 pm

Live interview re this topic and more. Interview will be archived at the site soon. https://ww2.kqed.org/forum/2017/11/08/graphic-novel-explores-the-history-of-drone-warfare/

Also, Krasny interviewed Snowden last night from the Curran theater in SF. I assume this will also become available on their archive. https://sfcurran.com/the-currant/interviews/

Host: Michael Krasny
NOVEMBER 9, 2017
SHARE
Episode airs November 9, 2017 at 9:30 AM
Investigative journalist Pratap Chatterjee and editorial cartoonist Khalil Bendib present a history of drone warfare and mass surveillance in "VERAX," a graphic novel. The first half of the book profiles famous whistleblowers like Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. In the second half, Chatterjee investigates the murky background of drone warfare and its ethical implications. We talk to both authors about their new book and unexpected approach.

Guests:
Khalil Bendib, editorial cartoonist and graphic novelist; co-creator, "VERAX: The True History of Whistleblowers, Drone Warfare and Mass Surveillance"; co-host, "Voices of the Middle East"

Pratap Chatterjee, executive director, CorpWatch; co-author, "VERAX: The True History of Whistleblowers, Drone Warfare, and Mass Surveillance"

eYelladog , , November 9, 2017 at 1:42 pm

I have a friend who works with C-Suite types in tech from major companies (sorry, I won't name names or companies). These people he works with on his account have basically told him that Amazon has hit a homerun with Echo based on its mic and how it can single out a voice in a crowd. Everybody else is playing catch up on Alexa just like they are playing catch up on AWS. This was over a year ago.

When he was approached by family for advice on which of these devices to buy, he flat out told them they are all generally equal [for personal use], the question is who do you want to collect your data?

Hepativore , , November 9, 2017 at 2:53 pm

Actually, I wonder if it would be useful to buy one under your name, and then play a pre-recorded message next to it over and over again just for the purposes of spoofing or giving bad data to Google/Amazon/NSA/etc. as a counter-survellience measure. This way, if you are an activist or protester, you can give them a steady stream of bad or useless data in whatever file they have collected on you to make your "profile" extremely inaccurate.

Bryan , , November 9, 2017 at 3:36 pm

I work in info security. I have an Echo, though admittedly not in my bedroom. I think your threat model is wrong, for a couple of reasons. One, the Echo's ability to distinguish voices isn't what you're portraying. Anyone in the house (or people on TV, in a few infamous cases) can in fact order from Amazon using the account linked to the Echo via smartphone app.

Two, if you have my skillset and want to know if Echo is transmitting data to Amazon at any given time, do a packet capture on your network and find out. You won't see what's being sent because it's encrypted obviously, but you can see how much data is being sent, which is enough to know if the Echo is sending all the sounds it hears. It is not.

Of course that could be a capability that has to be turned on remotely. But because the Echo has to be connected to a wifi network that people like me can sniff, the NSA/FBI/whatever would be taking the chance in doing that that the person under surveillance will immediately know based on the amount of data being sent spiking.

There's no such chance with a cellphone. What's more, my cellphone is not a fat cylinder I leave in my living room all day; it goes with me. What's more than that, to listen in on it the government would have to work with Verizon, a company we know is slavishly supine to their every whim and has been for a couple of generations, and not Amazon, a company where they might bump up against all sorts of inconvenient technolibertarians who'd be outraged at the concept.

Can the NSA listen to me on my Echo should I ever come to their attention? I'd assume yes. Would they ever given all their other options? Can't see why.

likbez , November 10, 2017 at 12:37 am
Thank you for your post !

Excessive paranoia is as counterproductive as excessive negligence as for your Internet and phone communications privacy.

Of course that could be a capability that has to be turned on remotely. But because the Echo has to be connected to a wifi network that people like me can sniff, the NSA/FBI/whatever would be taking the chance in doing that that the person under surveillance will immediately know based on the amount of data being sent spiking.

While the reality can be a little bit more complex (buffering and shadowing can be used to hide traffic) the fact of any "rogue" transmission of large amount of data allow rather simple detection (to say nothing about possibility of setting a "honeypot") actually is a valuable inoculation from excessive "they listen to my mic and watch me on my camera" paranoia.

People whose conversations and electronic communications are really interesting to authorities (like foreign diplomats. mafia bosses, etc ) are by-and-large aware about this is and take various kinds of countermeasures. This defense-offence game is centuries old.

It is important to understand that even without listening to any conversation, your electronic communications footprint produces enough information to make any retired STASI operative blue from envy. Any additional "intrusive" monitoring (for example, recording and transcribing your conversations) has it costs and excessive monitoring is counterproductive as it hide tiny useful signal in the huge amount of "noise". So your conclusion is a valuable one and well worth repeating:

Can the NSA listen to me on my Echo should I ever come to their attention? I'd assume yes. Would they ever given all their other options? Can't see why.

The truth is that for them because of "other options" it does not make much sense to listen to any conversations or watch your surroundings on video to monitor you very closely.

johnnyb , , November 9, 2017 at 4:04 pm

I do not have an echo but I do have the amazon app on my android phone. I am getting paranoid. When my family and I speak of something at the dinner table the next day my Amazon account will suggest related items for purchase. Once or twice, ok, it's random. It is not random after months of me noticing this. I was speaking with a colleague about an amazon business account and I – 30 min later – received an email from Amazon asking if I was interested in an Amazon business account. The app is listening. I'm sure of it.

Propertius , , November 9, 2017 at 5:18 pm

There have been confirmed cases of Alexa responding to strangers' voices: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/tv-news-anchors-report-accidentally-sets-off-viewers-amazons-echo-dots/

This is also true for Siri, with some pretty scary consequences:

https://nakedsecurity.sophos.com/2016/09/22/siri-opens-smart-lock-to-let-neighbor-walk-into-a-locked-house/

I would never have one of these bloody things in my house.

Eureka Springs , , November 9, 2017 at 8:01 pm

I'm reminded of discussions here on NC about the energy used per bitcoin and I wonder how much energy used per bitperson snoop might be? I bet it's a shockingly high number. What a waste.

catsick , , November 9, 2017 at 9:16 pm

Well if you consider that when I launch this page, 25 trackers attempt to launch and follow my browsing then it is not just Amazon who are playing this game

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