A history of the tech worker uprising

Tech-sector workers have enormous market-power: companies find it easier to raise cash than to use it to hire qualified developers. Read the rest

The first trailer for Good Omens makes the apocalypse look delightful

Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's Good Omens is a book that I've revisited many times over the years. Each time that I do, it feels like I'm spending time with an old friend: nothing much has changed since the last time that we saw each other, but I enjoy the book's presence in my life, nonetheless.

The first trailer for Amazon's Good Omens doesn't give me those feels. That's not a bad thing. The mini-series, staring Michael Sheen and David Tennant as Aziraphale and Crowley, feels vital and expansive compared to the cozy confines of the novel I've enjoyed so often over the past few decades. I'm really looking forward to seeing how the production interprets the work.

And hey, if it sucks, I still have the wonderful written iteration to fall back on. Read the rest

USPS says Amazon should pay 9-12% more for shipping, after Trump criticizes USPS for not charging Amazon more

The United States Postal Service (USPS) wants to raise the fees it charges Amazon.com and other internet commerce shippers by 9 to 12 percent. This comes just months after President Donald Trump criticized the USPS, saying it gives Amazon too good of a deal. Read the rest

Amazon trained a sexism-fighting, resume-screening AI with sexist hiring data, so the bot became sexist

Some parts of machine learning are incredibly esoteric and hard to grasp, surprising even seasoned computer science pros; other parts of it are just the same problems that programmers have contended with since the earliest days of computation. The problem Amazon had with its machine-learning-based system for screening job applicants was the latter. Read the rest

Report: Chinese spies snuck tiny backdoor chips onto US corporate, government and military servers

According to an explosive report in Bloomberg, US spies and large corporate IT departments have had an open secret for years: the servers supplied by US hardware giant Supermicro for Elemental, Inc were sometimes infected with tiny hardware backdoors by Chinese spies during their manufacture; these superminiature chips were wired into the systems' baseboard management system and were able to accept covert software patches that would allow Chinese spies to utterly compromise both the servers and the networks they were connected to. Read the rest

Amazon eliminating monthly bonuses & stock awards to help pay new raises for warehouse workers

Amazon is eliminating monthly bonuses and stock awards for warehouse workers and other hourly employees, apparently to help pay for raises. The internet retail giant pledged earlier this week to raise pay to at least $15 an hour. Read the rest

Amazon to pay all workers at least $15 an hour

Amazon, including subsidiaries such as Whole Foods and temp work programs, will pay $15 an hour or more to all its U.S. workers.

This comes as Amazon is facing increasing scrutiny over how its workers are treated and paid. Senator Bernie Sanders, for example, recently introduced legislation to end what he calls “corporate welfare” — and it’s pretty clear who he had in mind, since the bill was titled Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies (BEZOS).

Now unionize. Read the rest

Leaked video reveals Amazon's union-busting playbook

As the tide of public opinion turns against monopolism, Amazon has become the poster child for irredeemable, late-stage capitalism; the company's ham-fisted attempts to burnish its reputation have not stemmed the tide. Read the rest

Walmart's selling eBooks now I guess

Living in what’s essentially a tiny house on wheels, I love eBooks and eBook readers. They allow me to maintain a complete and growing library without the space and weight gains that owning shelves full of dead tree editions come with. I own over 2,000 eBooks. I review eBook readers and provide tips on using them for one of the other outlets that I write for.

None of this prepared me for the news that Rakuten Kobo has paired with Walmart to sell eBooks and at least one of its lower-end ebook readers at Walmart.

According to The Digital Reader, Walmart will be selling Kobo’s base model Aura reader and possibly some of the company’s other excellent E-Ink reading devices as well, in store and online. This, to me, makes a lot of sense.

Given the issues that Walmart is having with Amazon drinking their fiscal milkshake these past few years, making a bit of space for eBook appliances seems like an easy way to attempt to take a bite out of a market that Amazon pretty much owns in North America—dedicated electronic reading devices. It makes sense for Kobo too: despite their making some really great hardware, they’ve been having a hell of a time making in-roads against Amazon’s Kindle eBook readers and the massive scope of content that Amazon provides. Having their gear in a national chain might help to move Kobo’s pieces a little further across the board.

What I am surprised by, however, is that, in addition to Kobo’s eBook readers being available in-store, Walmart will also be selling gift certificates for particular book titles. Read the rest

Amazon's cloud business leads American companies in shifting its electric cost to taxpayers

Whether it's paying for burying dedicated power-lines for data-centers, winning below-cost sweetheart deals on electricity rates, or securing tax-breaks and incentives to set up shop, Amazon Web Services has proven time and again that it is the nation's best cost-shifter, enjoying billions in tax-funded gifts for operating data centers that employ almost no one and whose profits go straight to distant shareholders. Read the rest

Hackers find exploitable vulnerabilities in Amazon Echo, turn one into a listening device

At Defcon, Tencent's Wu HuiYu and Qian Wenxiang presented Breaking Smart Speakers: We are Listening to You, detailing their work in successfully exploiting an Amazon Alexa speaker, albeit in a very difficult-to-achieve fashion. Read the rest

Audible puts the screws to indie authors

Audible -- Amazon's audiobook company -- dominates audiobooks, controlling 90% or more of the market; their ACX platform is tailored to indie, self-published authors, and, until recently, it paid them handsomely for any new customers they brought into Audible's fold. Read the rest

The Guardian digs into the dangers of working for Amazon

Amazon has, over the past few years, become known as a notoriously bad company to work for. Workers from their fulfillment centers, worldwide, complain of low wages, dangerous working conditions, and a stressful environment that tracks every single move that their employees make, right down to how long it takes them to go to the bathroom. Thanks to this in-depth report from The Guardian, you can go on ahead add the company’s refusal to care for their employees in the wake of a workplace injury to the list of reasons to never go to work for Jeff Bezos’ crew.

The Guardian frames the report by telling the story of Vickie Shannon Allen: a 49 year-old woman who was employed by Amazon at one of their warehouses in the southern United States. Last year, Allen was injured at work, as the station that she manned was missing a piece of equipment designed to keep the packages she was handling from falling to the floor. With Amazon refusing to resolve the issue, Allen positioned a bin to catch any parcels that might fall and be damaged—she made the mistake of giving a shit. By making the change to her work station, she was forced to stand in a manner that was not as ergonomic as it could be. As a result, over time, she ended up with a back injury. The injury made it difficult to move her arm which, in turn, made it difficult to do her job. Read the rest

Amazon has Reasons not to let that negative review go up (Updated)

Thousands of Amazon reviews are bought and paid for, and the company has a significant, algorithm-led effort to weed out sellers and scammers who abuse the system. But Amazon itself also rigs the UI to make it hard to leave negative reviews, writes Stephen Eggers:

After spending ~5 to ~10 minutes filling it out I get this message.

This item is only eligble for Amazon Verified Purchase Reviews.

What a waste of my time! I bought the thing, Amazon knows this, so what is this about "Amazon Verified Purchase reviews"

Note that I only got this message AFTER trying to leave a 2 star review. What would have happend if I had left a more positive review? Would that be allowed?

My favorite 'dark pattern' at Amazon was how you couldn't navigate away from the checkout page: the Amazon logo was unlinked and the rest of the usual layout was absent. They changed this recently to make the logo clickable, but they still aren't letting you leave that page without a fight, and there's only one place they wan't you to go back to:

UPDATE: Amazon responds:

"An AVP badge will only appear next to a review when the product was purchased on Amazon at a price that reflects the typical shopping experience. If a customer is receiving the message that we are only accepting AVP reviews, than they did not buy the product on Amazon for a typical price. We never suppress reviews based on star rating or sentiment."

Read the rest

The ACLU showed that Amazon's facial recognition system thinks members of Congress are felons, so now Congress is taking action

After learning that Amazon was pushing the use of Rekognition, its facial recognition tool, for use in policing (a global phenomenon that is gaining momentum despite the material unsuitability of these tools in policing contexts), the ACLU of Northern California had a brainwave: they asked Rekognition to evaluate the faces of the 115th Congress of the United States. Read the rest

Walmart thinks it can save itself from Amazon with a streaming video service

Walmart has been whining about Amazon drinking what it considers to be its milkshake for some time. Sucking cash out of the pockets of the same low-income earners that you pay just enough to keep alive is a seriously competitive business. With Amazon's online shopping dominance in North America has left Walmart’s brick-and-mortar empire only capable of making Scrooge McDuck money when it’s really Jeff Bezos money that they’re after. In an effort to top off their coffers, Walmart’s been pushing, hard, into catching up to Amazon in the area of online sales. Earlier this week, they announced a partnership with Microsoft that’ll ensure that Walmart’s online shopping experience is faster, more secure and a lot more reliable. Maybe it’ll help!

If not, plopping out yet another online video streaming service to compete against Amazon Prime video and, perhaps you’ve heard of it, a little thing called Netflix, will totally help them to make the crazy-hunting-man-because-he’s-the-most-dangerous-game cash that they’re so horny for.

From The Information (subscription required):

Discussions are still ongoing, and the retailer may eventually decide against offering a service. But Walmart executives believe their customers, particularly in the middle of America, would be interested in a lower-cost option than what is currently available, the person said. Netflix and Amazon are seen as more popular with people on the East and West Coasts of the U.S., one of the people said.

Yeah. No matter what middle America’s viewing habits might be, or how little they opt to charge for the privilege of watching Highway to Heaven on-demand, I don’t know that I trust Walmart to pull this off. Read the rest

We know how to fix homelessness, we just won't do it

The largest, wealthiest cities in America are filling up with tent cities -- especially on the west coast, where East Coast style right-to-shelter laws are rare -- and if the spectacle of human misery doesn't alarm you, perhaps you should be thinking about communicable disease epidemics. Read the rest

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