Letter to Amazon CEO Addressed to an “Insuperable Control Freak”

Amazon’s social responsibility is horrendous given its market dominance, and its CEO is the world’s richest person while many Amazon employees struggle with low pay and terrible working conditions. Amazon received a tremendous public subsidy by exploiting the law to avoid sales taxes in its formative history — it should be doing much more to pay back to the public.

Dear Mr. Bezos:

You’ve come a long way from being a restless electrical engineering and computer science dual major at our alma mater, Princeton University. By heeding your own advice, your own hunches and visions, you’ve become the world’s richest person – at $141 billion and counting.

[…]

Your early clever minimizing of sales taxes gave you a big unfair advantage over brick and mortar stores that have had to pay 6, 7, 8 percent in sales taxes. Your tax-lawyers  and accountants are using the anarchic global tax avoidance jurisdictions to drive your company’s tax burden to zero on a $5.6 billion profit in 2017, plus receiving about $789 million from Trump’s tax giveaway law, according to The American Conservative magazine (see Daniel Kishi’s article, “Crony Capitalism Writ Large,” in the May/June 2018 edition).

[…]

Your expansion into retail stores and warehouses will further highlight the low wages and sometimes hazardous working conditions and assembly line pressures of your corporate model. Other companies are exploiting their workers—as in Walmart (which by the way pays far more income taxes than you do on a percentage basis even under its tax avoidance schemes)— but few companies are as blatant in their planning to replace with robotics the warehouse workers and truck drivers delivering goods.

[…]

So you are on top of the world, hyper-rich, arrogant, with your raucous laugh and your sudden temper, believing that neither antitrust laws, nor labor laws, nor tax laws, nor consumer, nor environmental, nor securities laws will ever catch up with the excesses of your business model.

Don’t bet on it. Relentless greed with overly concentrated power (about the only thing you seem not to be willing or able to control is Alexa whose ambitions may come back to haunt you) sooner or later, faces a statute of limitations.

Amazon Grants Authoritarian Facial Recognition Technology to Police

Another reminder that Amazon doesn’t care about its harmful effects on communities. Its CEO is the world’s richest person, yet its workers often work in horrible conditions for pay that’s low enough to make them request food stamps in order to survive. And in terms of the facial recognition technology, it increases repression in communities by allowing police to increase their targeting of vulnerable minority groups.

After internal emails (pdf) published by the ACLU on Tuesday revealed that Amazon has been aggressively selling its facial recognition product to law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S., privacy advocates and civil libertarians raised grave concerns that the retailer is effectively handing out a “user manual for authoritarian surveillance” that could be deployed by governments to track protesters, spy on immigrants and minorities, and crush dissent.

“We know that putting this technology into the hands of already brutal and unaccountable law enforcement agencies places both democracy and dissidence at great risk,” Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice, said in a statement in response to the ACLU’s findings. “Amazon should never be in the business of aiding and abetting racial discrimination and xenophobia—but that’s exactly what Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is doing.”

First unveiled in 2016, “Rekognition” was explicitly marketed by Amazon as a tool for “tracking people,” and it has already been put to use by law enforcement agencies in Florida and Oregon.

While Amazon suggests in its marketing materials that Rekognition can be used to track down “people of interest” in criminal cases, ACLU and dozens of pro-privacy groups argued in a letter (pdf) to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on Tuesday that the product is “primed for abuse in the hands of governments” and poses a “grave threat” to marginalized groups and dissidents.

Highlighting “the possibility that those labeled suspicious by governments—such as undocumented immigrants or black activists—will be targeted for Rekognition surveillance,” the coalition of advocacy groups urged Amazon to “act swiftly to stand up for civil rights and civil liberties, including those of its own customers, and take Rekognition off the table for governments.”

“People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government,” the groups concluded. “Facial recognition in American communities threatens this freedom. In overpoliced communities of color, it could effectively eliminate it.”

The ACLU investigation found that Amazon has not been content to simply market and sell Rekognition to law enforcement agencies—it is also offering “company resources to help government agencies deploy” the tool.

Amazon Patents Wristband that Tracks Movements of Warehouse Workers

These wristbands would increase worker repression levels that are already far too high. Amazon’s CEO is the richest person in the world by net worth, but he still insists on mistreating his workers in their quasi-totalitarian workplaces.

Amazon’s CEO could simply sell $1 billion of stock and give a $2,000 bonus to Amazon’s 500,000 employees, and that’s only one example of what could be done to remedy the mistreatment of its workers. It doesn’t look like that will happen anytime soon though, unfortunately.

Amazon has patented designs for a wristband that can precisely track where warehouse employees are placing their hands and use vibrations to nudge them in a different direction.

The concept, which aims to streamline the fulfilment of orders, adds another layer of surveillance to an already challenging working environment.

[…]

Amazon already has a reputation for turning low-paid staff into “human robots” – working alongside thousands of proper robots – carrying out repetitive packaging tasks as fast as possible in an attempt to hit goals set by handheld computers.

This month, the 24-year-old warehouse worker Aaron Callaway described having just 15 seconds to scan items and place them into the right cart during his night shifts at an Amazon warehouse in the UK. “My main interaction is with the robots,” he said.

Horrible Labor Conditions at Amazon Warehouses

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos would sell at least a few hundred million dollars of his Amazon stock and grant it to Amazon workers if he actually cared much about them. He could also do a lot to improve working conditions at Amazon, but he is a prominent example of corporate greed in today’s world for a reason. The world’s richest person treating his exploited workers like garbage is truly an ongoing moral outrage.

Alan Selby went undercover at the firm’s Tilbury warehouse in Essex where ambulances are regularly called and where workers face the sack if they fail to pack at least two items per minute

Alone in a locked metal cage, 10 feet from my nearest colleague, a robot approaches from the shadows and thrusts a tower of shelves towards me.

I have nine seconds to grab and process an item to be sent for packing – a target of 300 items an hour, for hour after relentless hour.

As I bend to the floor then reach high above my head to fulfil a never-ending stream of orders, my body screams at me.

Welcome to Amazon’s picking floor. Here, while cameras watch my every move, a screen in front of me offers constant reminders of my “units per hour” and exactly how long each has taken.

This is the online giant’s biggest European packing plant, set to be shipping 1.2 million items a year.

As the UK’s top retailer, it made £7.3billion last year alone. But a Sunday Mirror investigation today reveals that success comes at a price – the daily ordeal of its workers.

I spent five weeks at the firm’s newest warehouse in Tilbury, Essex, armed with a secret camera bought from Amazon’s own website.

I found staff asleep on their feet, exhausted from toiling for up to 55 hours a week.

Those who could not keep up with the punishing targets faced the sack – and some who buckled under the strain had to be attended to by ambulance crews.

[…]

Across Italy and Germany staff have gone on strike, complaining of low pay and poor conditions.

And employees at UK warehouses have told of sleeping in tents and under bridges just to get to work on time.

Timed toilet breaks, impossible targets and exhausting, “intolerable” working conditions are frequent complaints. Staff have been paid less than the living wage, and it even emerged drivers had faced fines for “early” deliveries.

As experts warn of workers facing an increased risk of mental and physical illness, Amazon repeatedly promised to clean up its act. But a whiteboard in the plant for staff comments suggests it has far to go.

There were complaints of filthy toilets and breaks still too short.

One asked: “Why are we not allowed to sit when it is quiet and not busy? We are human beings, not slaves and animals.”

Disturbing: Amazon’s Echo Spot is a sneaky way to get a camera into your bedroom

The Amazon Echo Spot is a new level of invasiveness against consumers. Succinctly explained, it’s a new extreme in the exploitation of personal data.

Echo Spot feels like the real push to get cameras inside your smart home. It’s more than just an alarm clock, but Amazon is definitely pushing this as a $130 device that will sit next to your bed. Promotional materials show it sitting on nightstands, providing a selection of clock faces and news / weather information. The privacy concerns are obvious: an always-listening (for a keyword) microphone in your bedroom, and a camera pointing at your bed.

From an article I linked to a month ago:

Amazon is going to show the industry how to monitor more moments: by making corporate surveillance as deeply embedded in our physical environment as it is in our virtual one. Silicon Valley already earns vast sums of money from watching what we do online. Soon it’ll earn even more money from watching what we do offline.

[…]

 Surveillance can transform any physical space into a data mine. And the most data-rich environment, the one that contains the densest concentration of insights into who you are, is your home.

That’s why Amazon has aggressively promoted the Echo, a small speaker that offers a Siri-like voice-activated assistant called Alexa. Alexa can tell you the weather, read you the news, make you a to-do list, and perform any number of other tasks. It is a very good listener. It faithfully records your interactions and transmits them back to Amazon for analysis. In fact, it may be listening not only your interactions, but absolutely everything.

Putting a listening device in your living room is an excellent way for Amazon to learn more about you. Another is conducting aerial surveillance of your house. In late July, Amazon obtained a patent for drones that spy on people’s homes as they make deliveries. An example included in Amazon’s patent filing is roof repair: the drone that drops a package on your doorstep might notice your roof is falling apart, and that observation could result in a recommendation for a repair service. Amazon is still testing its delivery drones. But if and when they start flying, it’s safe to assume they’ll be scraping data from the outside of our homes as diligently as the Echo does from the inside.

It’s becoming more clear why the concerns about Big Tech are rising among more people. These companies are too powerful already, and too much concentrated power results in corrosive corruption.