Amazon unveils a new Echo Dot surveillance device for children

The latest addition to Amazon's line of always-on, ever-listening, networked, insecure (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) snitchy smart speakers is the new rev of the Echo Dot Kids Edition, whose "kid-friendly" Alexa is like surveillance Barbie without the pretense of being a toy. Read the rest

Amazon's facial recognition fear crusade ramps up: now they're paying Facebook to show you pictures of suspected criminals to scare you into getting a surveillance doorbell

Amazon's Ring doorbells are surveillance devices that conduct round-the-clock video surveillance of your neighborhood, automatically flagging "suspicious" faces and bombarding you and your neighbors with alerts using an app called "Neighbors"; it's a marriage of Amazon's Internet of Things platform with its "Rekognition" facial recognition tool, which it has marketed aggressively to cities, law enforcement, ICE, businesses and everyday customers as a security measure that can help ID bad guys, despite the absence of a database identifying which faces belong to good people and which faces belong to bad people. Read the rest

New Amazon patent application reveals "solution" to missed Alexa instructions: always on recording

When you talk to Alexa and other voice assistants, you have to phrase your requests by starting with their "wakeword" ("Alexa" "OK Google" "Siri" etc). Read the rest

Amazon's monopsony power: the other antitrust white meat

In 2017, law student Lina Khan shifted the debate on Amazon and antitrust with a seminal paper called Amazon's Antitrust Paradox, which used Amazon's abusive market dominance to criticize the Reagan-era shift in antitrust enforcement, which rewrote the criteria for antitrust enforcement, so that antitrust no longer concerned itself with preventing monopoly, and only focused on "consumer harm" in the form of higher prices. Read the rest

Amazon told to stop selling kids' school supplies that contain over 80 times the legal limit of lead

This pencil pouch has over 35 times the legal limit of lead, 29 times the legal limit of cadmium.

Amazon's staffing up a news vertical full of crime stories designed to scare you into buying a spying, snitching "smart" doorbell

Ring is a "smart" doorbell that Amazon bought for $1B in 2018, and proceeded to turn into an insecure, networked surveillance device, (possibly wired into Amazon's facial recognition system) and connected to law enforcement so that the company could advertise that owning a Ring made you a good citizen of your neighborhood, part of a mesh of relentless eyes-on-the-street that identified suspicious strangers and sicced the law on them, frontended by an app named with pitch-perfect creepiness: "Neighbors." Read the rest

"Black hat" companies sell services to get products featured and upranked on Amazon

Amazon has been plagued by counterfeiters, fraudsters and crooks who use tactics like fake reviews to goose sales of their products; the company keeps cracking down on these activities, but despite using measures so broad that they destroy the livelihoods of legitimate sellers, Amazon is losing the war on crooked sellers. Read the rest

The people who write fake Amazon reviews

Amazon's search results for basic consumer electronics are dominated by no-name brands with hundreds of obviously-fake 5-star reviews. The company claims to put a lot of effort into stopping this, but few are apparent, leaving the world to speculate at Amazon's plans for the market at hand: people who search vaguely for cheap things and buy whatever the algorithm picks for them. I wondered if Amazon is permitting it because it doesn't want low-information consumers to know what low-margin items are reliable, but that seems awfully cynical, doesn't it? The idea it's cultivating a "trust hole" it can later plug with Amazon Basics or other decent-quality house brands just seems too mwa-ha-ha-ha conspiratorial.

Anyway, the Beeb interviewed some of the folks who crank out fake Amazon reviews in return for free stuff or money. Sounds like a fun gig!

"I have written reviews from numbing creams to eBooks to downloadable independent films," he says. "I think it's bad - but I think everyone's doing it," says Mr Taylor, describing himself as "cynical". "Since I started doing it I tell my family and friends not to trust reviews. If you are going to buy something you should do more research than look at a couple of five-star reviews on Amazon."

He says writers are paid to buy the product and then leave a review, meaning the review can be verified.

Et tu, numbing creams? Read the rest

Illinois almost passed a bill that banned devices that record you without your consent -- and then Big Tech stepped in

This week, Keep Internet Devices Safe Act was gutted by the Illinois senate: it would have allowed people sue manufacturers if they determined that a device had engaged in remote recording without notifying its owner. Read the rest

Amazon stores recordings of Alexa interactions and turns them over to internal staff and outside contractors for review

Bloomberg reporters learned that -- despite public pronouncements to the contrary -- Amazon has an "annotation team" of thousands of people all over the world, charged with reviewing recordings made by Alexa devices in the field, with both staffers and contractors listening to conversations that Alexa owners have had with and near their devices. Read the rest

Amazon shareholders to vote on proposal to stop selling racially biased facial surveillance software to governments

“BIG DEAL,” says the ACLU's Matt Cagle about this story. “Amazon shareholders will vote on whether the Board must reconsider company sales of face surveillance to governments. The SEC rejected Amazon's attempt to prevent this proposal from moving forward.” Read the rest

540 million Facebook users' data exposed by third party developers

The Mexican media company Cultura Colectiva and an app called "At the Pool" used their access to their users Facebook data to make local copies of it, then left that data exposed, in the clear, without a password, on the public internet -- 540 million records in all, stored in publicly accessible Amazon S3 buckets. Read the rest

Uh oh. Amazon is opening up a new chain of grocery stores

After taking over Whole Foods, Amazon is now launching a new, more mainstream chain of grocery stores, according to Business Insider. And it makes me wonder why, when they haven't yet mastered the managing of Whole Foods. At least not when it comes to keeping their markets stocked. In fact, it's incredible how consistently empty their shelves are.

Ever since Amazon took over the "natural" food grocery store, I started noticing walls of shelves with gaping holes where food should be, and oftentimes even entirely without food. It was so surprising that I took photos several times throughout the year to text to friends. I do like the fact that they've lowered their prices, which has seduced me into coming into the store in the first place (I used to avoid the market for their astronomical prices), but it's frustrating to go in with the idea of buying some eggs only to find there aren't any uncracked ones left.

So what's the problem?

Via Business Insider:

Business Insider spoke with seven Whole Foods employees, from cashiers to department managers, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.

Order-to-shelf, or OTS, is a tightly controlled system designed to streamline and track product purchases, displays, storage, and sales. Under OTS, employees largely bypass stock rooms and carry products directly from delivery trucks to store shelves. It is meant to help Whole Foods cut costs, better manage inventory, reduce waste, and clear out storage.

But its strict procedures are leading to storewide stocking issues, according to several employees.

Read the rest

Amazon killed Seattle's homelessness-relief tax by threatening not to move into a massive new building, then they canceled the move anyway

Seattle's immensely popular business tax was designed to do something about the city's epidemic of desperate homelessness, but then Amazon threw its muscle around to get the tax canceled, mostly by threatening not to occupy its new offices in Ranier Square, a 30-story building currently under construction that Amazon was to be sole tenant of, with 3,500-5,000 employees working out of the building. Read the rest

Bad security design made it easy to spy on video from Ring doorbells and insert fake video into their feeds

Researchers from Dojo/Bullguard investigated the security model of the Ring smart doorbell -- made by Amazon -- and discovered that the video was sent "in the clear" (without encryption) meaning that people on the same network as the doorbell, or on the same network as one of its owners, can easily tap into its feeds. Read the rest

Amazon's 2018 profits: $11.2 billion; Amazon's 2018 IRS bill: negative $129 million

Amazon doubled its profits in 2018, to $11.2 billion; the company will receive a $129 million tax rebate for the year. Read the rest

Amazon drops New York HQ2 plans after organized resistance

Amazon will instead focus on Northern Virginia and Nashville, after an organized effort by New Yorkers to hold the company and lawmakers accountable for sneaky dealmaking.

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