An alternative to Amazon, and avoiding data brokers
By Mark Hurst • April 22, 2022
We need an alternative to Amazon, and I’m building one over at Good Reports. More on that in a minute.
I’ve been opposed to Amazon for some time. Most recently, in February I posted two items...
• a public column, Why you should resist Amazon by cancelling your Prime account – which also has a Forum post (for Creative Good members only) with more pointers and news updates.
Amazon is a uniquely harmful company. But as Moira Weigel (a past Techtonic guest herself) wrote this week in the New York Times, it’s difficult for people to see past Amazon’s convenience factor.
From What You Don’t Know About Amazon (NYT, April 21, 2022):
If you are reading this, there’s a good chance you’re an Amazon customer. And if you feel guilty about that, it is probably because you are thinking about the warehouse and delivery workers whose labor Amazon exploits, the small merchants whose successful products Amazon copies, the beloved local bookstores whose bottom lines they undercut. Or maybe you just think about all the boxes piling up by your door.
You should feel guilty. I do, anyway. Convenience is not a good reason to participate in exploitation or waste. But guilt is a weak political emotion.
Weigel goes on to write about one of the many ways Amazon exploits its position as monopoly (or monopsony, as some people have pointed out) – by draining third-party sellers of resources. Emphasis mine:
Third-party sellers are a key part of Amazon’s business. A recent report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a think tank critical of Amazon, showed that the fees they pay are Amazon’s fastest-growing major source of revenue: The company pocketed $121 billion in fees from sellers in 2021, up from $60 billion in 2019. Given its market dominance, those fees are a revenue stream that Amazon could most likely turn up. The report also noted that the average seller now gives Amazon a 34 percent cut of every transaction, up from 19 percent in 2014.
As much as Apple deserves sharp criticism and regulation for its 30% cut of app store revenue, Amazon – the defacto marketplace for thousands of small businesses in the US – rips off more from companies, a cost which is either passed along to us, the consumers, or absorbed by the company, resulting in its closure. Amazon is essentially taxing the economy – taking a cut on all activity, while hampering creativity and competition, and redirecting all the resources back to Seattle.
We need an alternative to Amazon, and we need it soon. So I’m building one. And I need your help.
An Amazon alternative
On my Good Reports site, I am assembling a list of online stores that deliver good service and quality products without running the orders through Amazon. Here’s the page:
This is a plain web page, with no cookies or tracking – a decentralized, lowest-tech-possible solution to creating an alternative to Amazon.
Do you know of other small or family-owned businesses that provide an alternative to Amazon by offering excellent products? Drop me a line (firstname.lastname@example.org), or for Creative Good members, post a comment on the Forum. The more product categories listed on this page, the better resource we’ll have for people ready to shop beyond Amazon.
......and now, for our second (!) topic in this column...
Why you should be worried about data brokers
I covered data brokers on Techtonic this week. Sites like Spokeo.com, PeopleSmart.com, FamilyTreeNow.com, MyLife.com, and dozens more are selling your personal, private information online – and in some cases, providing your info, for free, to anyone who looks you up on their site.
--> I wrote more about data brokers in Good Reports: How to remove your info from data brokers.
If you heard the show’s live broadcast, you might have heard some glitches and pops in the middle 25 minutes of the show (due to some mismatched settings on my computer). The audio has been corrected, as I explain in the modified version of the show below.
To get the show:
• See playlist and listener comments (including some clever jibes from listeners who were reacting to the live broadcast glitches).
The theme of the show, data brokers, was one I’ve meant to cover for a few years. Then awhile back I posted the Good Reports piece with specific instructions of which data brokers to check, and resources for further research.
Then John Oliver did a show on data brokers. Data Brokers: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO, April 10, 2022) prompted a number of listeners to ask if I was going to cover the topic on my show.
Worrying about more than data brokers
As I pointed out during the show, and in the playlist links, the unethical business of data brokers is just the tip of the iceberg in the wider surveillance-based economy. As Shoshana Zuboff (past Techtonic guest) explained in The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, Google pioneered the practice, with Facebook following fast behind. Data brokers are merely playing a role in the “ecosystem” (if we can use that term for such toxic behavior) that Google and Facebook made possible.
But now the surveillance economy is showing up everywhere – beyond Google, Facebook, and the data brokers. Take news sites, for example: Who Tracks You When You Read the News? (Bill Fitzgerald, March 8, 2022) lists the dozens of trackers, and tracking companies, watching your behavior as soon as you visit a news site. This includes relatively unknown companies like one called Beeswax.
If we widen our view beyond companies, we see that governments are getting into the surveillance game – not for profit but for control – usually of political dissent. I could point to China, as I have in the past – see Human rights and digital spycraft (April 1, 2022 column) – but it’s hardly limited to China.
As Ronan Farrow writes in the current issue of the New Yorker (emphasis mine):
Pegasus, a spyware technology designed by NSO Group, an Israeli firm, which can extract the contents of a phone, giving access to its texts and photographs, or activate its camera and microphone to provide real-time surveillance—exposing, say, confidential meetings. … there is evidence that Pegasus is being used in at least forty-five countries, and it and similar tools have been purchased by law-enforcement agencies in the United States and across Europe...
My closing question on this Techtonic episode was simple: if we depend on the government to address the unethical, even criminal behavior of Big Tech, what happens if (or as) the government decides to adopt the same practices?
Until next time,
Mark Hurst, founder, Creative Good – see official announcement and join as a member
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