🎧 Should We Break Up Amazon? | Crazy/Genius | The Atlantic

Listened Should We Break Up Amazon? from Crazy/Genius | The Atlantic

Has the Everything Store become a dangerous monopoly threatening the U.S. economy?

Some time later this year, Amazon could become the first trillion-dollar company in American history. Its valuation has already doubled in the last 14 months to about $800 billion, and Jeff Bezos, its founder and CEO, is officially the richest man on the planet.

There are ways in which Amazon seems to be the greatest company in American history. It’s revolutionized the global shopping experience and expanded into media and hardware, while operating on razor-thin margins that have astonished critics. But some now consider it the modern incarnation of a railroad monopoly, a logistics behemoth using its scale to destroy competition.

So what is Amazon: brilliant, dangerous, or both? That’s the subject of the latest episode of Crazy/Genius, our new podcast on technology and culture.

To build the case for breaking up the Everything Store, I talk to Scott Galloway, a professor of marketing at NYU and an outspoken critic of big tech, and Lina Khan, a researcher at the Open Markets Institute and a leading expert on antitrust policy. Both of them encourage me to see how a company famous for low prices can still behave in an anticompetitive manner. Making the case against heavy regulation for Amazon are Rob Atkinson, the president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a tech think tank, and Michael Mandel, an economist with the Progressive Policy Institute who researches technology and e-commerce. Both encourage me to focus not only on the hidden costs of Amazon’s largeness, but also on the hidden benefits.

hat tip: Atlantic Interview podcast feed

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👓 ‘It’s Like Amazon, But for Preschool’ | Hack Education

Read 'It's Like Amazon, But for Preschool' by Audrey Watters (Hack Education)
A year ago, the richest man in the world asked Twitter for suggestions on how he should most efficiently and charitably spend his wealth. And today, Jeff Bezos unveiled a few details about his plan...
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👓 This beautiful map shows everything that powers an Amazon Echo, from data mines to lakes of lithium | The Verge

Read This beautiful map shows everything that powers an Amazon Echo, from data mines to lakes of lithium (The Verge)
Welcome to the ‘Anatomy of an AI System’
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👓 ‘We Are All Accumulating Mountains of Things’ | The Atlantic

Read ‘We Are All Accumulating Mountains of Things’ (The Atlantic)
How online shopping and cheap prices are turning Americans into hoarders

The irony of reading this given the material I’ve been reading about materialism and minimalism lately. I think that just today I threw out about 50 pounds of old junk I didn’t need and have piles of old, well-used things that have gone past their useful lives to me.

People keep fettering while I’m always unfettering….

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👓 Amazon Isn’t Paying Its Electric Bills. You Might Be | Bloomberg

Read Amazon Isn’t Paying Its Electric Bills. You Might Be (Bloomberg)
The company’s rate discounts have pushed up utility costs for everyone else.

I’ve been thinking a while about government-related corporate handouts like the one described in this article. It’s sad that mega-corporations can use their power, money, and influence to squeeze out large marginal gains for themselves at the cost of the everyday person. Amazon should not only get preferential treatment like this, but should potentially be paying in more. If they’re really as great as they say, their marginal savings and sales to such a broad customer base should pay for these benefits on the front sales side instead of hidden within their back end.

Just as people are woefully inept at mentally handling probability theory in their daily lives, they’re also apparently horrifically terrible at handling marginal costs for things and where the flows of those streams end up. Governments shouldn’t be forced to compete against themselves to benefit the Amazons of the world.

In cases like this, the marginal cost to power consumers gets passed along by state governments which don’t have much if any transparency. The average consumer sees a small rise in their bill over time and doesn’t think too much of it while potentially millions or hundreds of millions are siphoned off of society and are lining the pockets of the already ultra-rich.

I’m reminded of the scheme proposed by Richard Pryor’s character in the movie Superman III or by the group of programmers in Mike Judge’s Office Space. In small bank transactions, just round off fractions of a penny in one way or another to benefit yourself and dump it into a side account. It’s all so small, no one will notice. Except that in aggregate, it is noticeable–eventually. Our representative government shouldn’t be involved in these sorts of transactions, or if they are they should be working in the opposite direction.

It’s one thing if we decide as a government that there should be universal health care and the tax base for it is spread out equally and equitably. And by this I don’t mean allowing loopholes and tax dodges like the recent one mentioned in which Betsy DeVos registers her mega-yacht overseas as a means of dodging not only taxes, but also in paying her crew less, which is yet another form of this type of scheme in which small perks are created for the already privileged.

Another example of this type of issue is the recent Trump tax cuts. The complexity of the system makes it very near to opaque and the long term effects aren’t realized soon enough to catch the cheat. It’s now been long enough since they were enacted that the effect on the overall economy has been generally gauged as minimal and the general populace hasn’t benefited much in comparison to the ultra-rich which have benefitted incredibly handsomely.

I’m curious if there’s a word or phrase that is generally used to describe this sort of system to cheat the broader populace while benefiting a privileged class? If not, I’m going to suggest marginal theft.

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❤️ ClintSmithIII tweet about philanthropy

Replied to a tweet by Clint Smith on TwitterClint Smith on Twitter (Twitter)

This reminds me a lot of Malcolm Gladwell‘s thesis about philanthropy in higher education. Hopefully identifying the problem and suggestions for solutions will point a way to fixing the problem.

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❤️ xanalter tweet

Liked a tweet by Alexandra Alter on TwitterAlexandra Alter on Twitter (Twitter)
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👓 How to listen to what Amazon Alexa has recorded in your home | USA Today

Read How to listen to what Amazon Alexa has recorded in your home (USA TODAY)
If you're worried about what exactly Amazon's Echo-connected speaker has been recording in your home, there's an easy way to find out. Amazon makes all recent recordings available for listening in the companion Alexa app for iOS and Android.
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👓 Invisible asymptotes | Remains of the Day

Read Invisible asymptotes by Eugene Wei (Remains of the Day)
My first job at Amazon was as the first analyst in strategic planning, the forward-looking counterpart to accounting, which records what already happened. We maintained several time horizons for our forward forecasts, from granular monthly forecasts to quarterly and annual forecasts to even five and ten year forecasts for the purposes of fund-raising and, well, strategic planning.

A great long read covering some interesting portions of UX and strategy in the future of social. There are some useful tidbits for the IndieWeb to consider here.

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👓 Amazon flaw costs Apple accessory maker nearly $100k as counterfeiter takes over legitimate listing | 9to5Mac

Read Amazon flaw costs Apple accessory maker nearly $100k as counterfeiter takes over legitimate listing by Chance Miller (9to5Mac)
Amazon has come under fire in the past for its lackluster approach to handling counterfeit products. Now, the online retailer is facing a broader problem, with counterfeiters going as far as to take over a company’s legitimate product listing… BuzzFeed News highlights the problem in a report, explaining how a counterfeit maker of the popular from Elevation Labs overtook the company’s own Amazon listing.

 

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👓 What Amazon does to wages | The Economist

Read What Amazon does to wages (The Economist)
WHEN Amazon announced in 2010 that it would build a distribution centre in Lexington County, South Carolina, the decision was hailed as a victory for the Palmetto State. Today the e-commerce giant employs thousands of workers at the centre. Just 3.5% of the local workforce is out of work.

It would be nice to have some additional data on some of the subtleties. Lack of rising wages has also been recently noted to be the result of companies giving one time bonuses as well, and this particularly in response to the recent tax incentives. Sadly a one time bonus is not worth nearly as much as an annual raise in the long run.

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👓 Amazon patents wristband that tracks warehouse workers’ movements | The Guardian

Read Amazon patents wristband that tracks warehouse workers' movements by Olivia Solon (the Guardian)
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 biomedical engineer in me sees this patent and thinks, “This sounds like it might also be the greatest sex toy invention ever. Millions of women will be buying them for clueless boyfriends for their birthdays and the holidays. Amazon wins again!”

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👓 Introduce a new way to retain knowledge from Kindle books | Diigo

Read Introduce a new way to retain knowledge from Kindle books by Joel Liu (Diigo)
Diigo provides a 2 step method to help you make the best use of your kindle highlights. Step 1: Import your kindle highlights to your Diigo library. Step 2: Organize highlights from a book in your own knowledge structure.

Another interesting way to potentially cut out data from Amazon Kindle e-books in terms of annotations, marginalia, and notes.

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👓 Amazon Key is a new service that lets couriers unlock your front door | The Verge

Read Amazon Key is a new service that lets couriers unlock your front door by Ben Popper (The Verge)
The service is called Amazon Key, and it relies on a Amazon’s new Cloud Cam and compatible smart lock. The camera is the hub, connected to the internet via your home Wi-Fi. The camera talks to the lock over Zigbee, a wireless protocol utilized by many smart home devices. When a courier arrives with a package for in-home delivery, they scan the barcode, sending a request to Amazon’s cloud. If everything checks out, the cloud grants permission by sending a message back to the camera, which starts recording. The courier then gets a prompt on their app, swipes the screen, and voilà, your door unlocks. They drop off the package, relock the door with another swipe, and are on their way. The customer will get a notification that their delivery has arrived, along with a short video showing the drop-off to confirm everything was done properly.

There’s a lot of trust Amazon is asking people for in it’s last few products. Alexa could listen (and potentially record) anything you say, cameras in your bedroom (ostensibly to help you dress), and now a key to your house. I can see so many things going wrong with this despite the potential value.

I’m probably more concerned about the flimsy lack of security in the area of internet of things (IoT) which could dip into these though than I am about what Amazon would/could do with them.

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