Every day, the world's poorest countries lose $3b in tax revenues as multinationals sluice their profits through their national boundaries in order to avoid taxes in rich countries, and then sluice the money out again, purged of tax obligations thanks to their exploitation of tax loopholes in poor nations. Read the rest
Across America, semi-homeless "nomads" drive from big-box store to big-box store, hunting for items on clearance that Amazon customers are paying a premium for; when they find them, they snap them up and add them to the bins at Fulfillment by Amazon warehouses, whence they are shipped on to consumers. Read the rest
Remember when Amazon introduced the ability for folks easily delete their conversations with any of the Alexa wiretap they'd foolishly allowed into their homes? Boom! Gone! No more voice history! Everyone with one of the company's smart speakers could rest easy knowing that their personal information and shopping habits wouldn't be available for the marketing world to get its grubby meathooks on. HAHAHAAHAHAHA Yeah, that was bullshit. Even if you wipe your conversations with Alexa from your Amazon devices, Amazon still retains some information.
From CNET: ... Amazon noted that for Alexa requests that involve a transaction, like ordering a pizza or hailing a rideshare, Amazon and the skill's developers can keep a record of that transaction. That means that there's a record of nearly every purchase you make on Amazon's Alexa, which can be considered personal information.
Other requests, including setting reminders and alarms, would also remain saved, Huseman noted, saying that this was a feature customers wanted.
It gets better: Amazon says that they use this personal information to train Alexa to be an even better wiretap than it already is. What they don't say, however, is what third-parties, such as outside Alexa skill developers and marketers, are allowed to do with this leftover data.
Apparently, the only way to be sure that all of a customer's user data has been obliterated from the company's servers is for them to call customer service and demand that the personal information be nuked from orbit. Of course, given that the company has already been all kinds of greasy about promising to make personal data deletion a simple task for folks to undertake once, there's no guarantee that they won't quietly screw their users again. Read the rest
As Russell Brandom writes, "before 1976, corporate tax returns were broadly considered part of the public record" and there's been bipartisan support since for mandating that big companies show us how they're structuring their earnings (this was especially urgent after the Enron scandal). Read the rest
Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle (who also founded the company Alexa, now an Amazon division) ordered a pack of Sharpies from Amazon using the Internet Archive's business account, then, minutes later, ordered another pack using his personal account, both to be delivered to the Internet Archive: the order for the Internet Archive was priced at $8.63, while the personal order was priced at $12.37. Read the rest
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
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
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
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
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
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
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