Before we get started, I want to remind you that I write a lot more than what’s in this newsletter. Below are a few recent posts on the Creative Good Forum – I hope you’ll join Creative Good to get access to these, and a lot more:
•🔒 Facebook tells the truth in its Super Bowl ad (Feb 16, 2022): A new Facebook ad tells the truth about the metaverse, at least in part. It’s so unbelievably grim, it hardly needs a satirical version...
•🔒 What happened to the monkeys with Elon Musk’s brain implant (Feb 11, 2022): an update on Elon Musk’s Neuralink, exactly one year after I wrote this warning.
•🔒 Alternatives to Facebook for community outreach? (started Jan 7, 2022): a discussion on the Creative Good Forum we’ve been having for the past month about organizing communities online without using Facebook.
Again, join Creative Good to support what I’m doing and participate in our growing community. -Mark
Why you should resist Amazon by cancelling your Prime account
By Mark Hurst • February 18, 2022
One of my favorite tech-industry stories is about the time I met Jeff Bezos. It was all the way back in 1996, at an early tech-innovation conference called Spotlight 96, held in Laguna Niguel, CA. You can hear the whole story in this week’s Techtonic – but the upshot is that, after speaking with Jeff, I had an opportunity to become one of the earliest employees of Amazon, had I wanted to pursue it.
Instead, I chose to continue my career in New York. The rest is history, as they say, along with a sense that – as friends have reminded me over the years – “you could have been so rich!”
I don’t regret my choice to turn down Jeff in 1996. This is for a number of reasons, but especially pertinent to my message today is that I would almost certainly not be willing to publicly criticize Amazon if I had benefited from the company early on. Today I can confidently amplify the reporting and research of others who are telling the truth about the company.
In particular, the book Fulfillment by ProPublica journalist Alec MacGillis – now out in paperback – describes how Amazon manages to provide low prices and convenience precisely because of its hidden activity of draining the economic resources out of communities across the country.
That takeover – or what we might call a “tech-over” – involves Amazon requiring local lawmakers to sign NDAs (non-disclosure agreements), Silicon Valley-style, so that citizens don’t know, and can’t find out, what a terrible deal Amazon just forced onto their community. Lawmakers are encouraged to secretly approve a new Amazon warehouse or data center that pays nothing for utilities like water and electricity, pays nothing for the upkeep of local roads used by Amazon trucks, and closes down local businesses, leaving Amazon as the only viable employer in the area – all while residents pay higher taxes to cover the services that Amazon is getting for free.
This is why I suggested, during my Feb 7 Techtonic show, that everyone cancel your Amazon Prime account, if you can. Especially with the recent price rise, there’s no good reason to keep paying the annual Amazon tax. And you can still order from Amazon, if you really have to – though you might be more likely to support a local store instead. I posted instructions on Good Reports: How to cancel your Amazon Prime membership.
In the meantime, Amazon uses its power to take over more and more parts of the economy. In The true cost of Amazon’s low prices (by Sara Morrison in Vox, Jan 13, 2022) there’s a good quote by Sarah Miller, executive director of the American Economic Liberties Project:
Amazon leverages its power in one space to take over a new space, which is core to their business practice. They have the ability to combine the competitive advantages of different aspects of their business to take over new sectors of the economy.
One such takeover is Amazon’s growth of its retail business (i.e., customers ordering products from Amazon.com) which has forced other retailers to shut down, including many third-party sellers whose products Amazon copied and then sold at a loss – an illegal practice that Congress is now investigating. How is Amazon able to sell products at a loss, when retail margins are already so thin? It’s easy: Amazon just takes money from its cash cow, AWS (Amazon Web Services), and uses that to subsidize the retail business. (This is also something Congress is investigating.) It’s not too different from the sidewalk vendors I see occasionally in Manhattan, selling products at impossibly low prices. Counterfeits? Or the result of theft? Both possibilities are worth considering while shopping on Amazon.
The conclusion I drew from MacGillis’s research is that we really should not be doing business with Amazon, if we have the choice. I know that many people live in communities deprived of small and independent businesses, and Amazon is emerging as the only option. This is, of course, Amazon’s intent. Nevertheless, where Amazon is not essential – and Amazon Prime is not an essential service – the ethical choice is to dump the company and seek out alternatives. I’ve posted a few on Good Reports: Best places to buy a book, Best music platform, and How to shop without Amazon.
Techtonic covers Amazon
The most recent two episodes of Techtonic, my radio show and podcast, have focused on Amazon: how the business model works, why it’s harmful, and why people in Rotterdam want to throw rotten eggs at Bezos’s new yacht.
• First, on the Feb 7 show, I featured Alec MacGillis, author of Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America, now out in paperback with the subtitle “America in the Shadow of Amazon.” See playlist, listen to the entire show (you can jump to the interview), or download the podcast.
• Then this week, on Feb 14, I told my own story: The time I met Jeff Bezos. My monologue explores how success changed Amazon, and Jeff Bezos himself, since 1996. See playlist, listen to the entire show, or download the podcast.
The spread continues
Since those two episodes aired, some good news has come out: one Maryland community fought back against Amazon’s tactics as the company tried to cut a terrible deal with lawmakers – thus piercing Amazon’s veil of secrecy, as Pat Garofalo puts it:
In April, county officials and county staff met in what they called a “closed session” to hear Amazon’s pitch about bringing several Amazon Web Services data centers to the region — after Amazon had reportedly made the rounds to local property owners with realtors in tow. . . . But none of them revealed anything to the public about what sort of talks were underway.
As citizens got involved, they discovered – Garofalo writes – that “the meetings with Amazon were actually illegal.” In the end, “Amazon didn’t want to include the public in the proceedings or follow local anti-corruption regulations. So it took its ball and went home.”
But despite a few communities standing up to Amazon, the company is spreading into every area of the economy. Take healthcare, for example. This is from Insider just last week (Feb 9, 2022):
Amazon has expanded its new medical service to Boston, Dallas, Austin, and Los Angeles. Called Amazon Care, the venture provides primary care through an app to self-insured companies or those that pay for their employees’ medical expenses — and it’s already signed up big employers Whole Foods and Hilton.
Then there’s the auto industry: Car and Driver writes that Amazon is an automotive powerhouse, as it “worked its way into nearly every corner of the automotive industry.” And that was a little over a year ago, in 2020.
Finally, did you hear about the IRS requiring a selfie headshot in order for taxpayers to access their account? That got shut down, thankfully, by Senator Wyden and others. From the (Jeff Bezos-owned) Washington Post, IRS abandons facial recognition plan after firestorm of criticism (Feb 7, 2022). The kicker is that the facial recognition was being provided by Amazon, through its Rekognition product. (Source: Techdirt)
And all of this is before mentioning the Amazon surveillance devices that are, as I write this, quietly listening inside millions of homes. Alexa devices and Ring cameras are carrying people’s faces, voices, words, and relationships back to Amazon headquarters for analysis and permanent storage.
Don’t worry, Amazon says. You can trust us.
It’s time to cancel that Prime account. And as for those Alexa devices . . .
(Source: xkcd by Randall Munroe)
Until next time,
Mark Hurst, founder, Creative Good – see official announcement and join as a member
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