How Amazon’s surveillance empire tracks “every aspect” of our lives

  • Amazon’s purchases of One Medical and iRobot have competition advocates and privacy experts worried.
  • Its business model relies on collecting data from customers and competitors, antitrust experts say.
  • Huge market share and its ability to buy out competitors makes Amazon “kind of unstoppable,” a data privacy expert told Insider.

Amazon’s recent multi-billion dollar purchases of One Medical and iRobot have raised concerns among lawmakers, competition advocates and privacy experts, but the company’s sprawling business model – and its reputation for monitoring consumers and competition – makes the company almost unstoppable. It’s “like the mythical Hydra, where you cut off one head and two more grow in its place,” a data privacy expert told Insider.

According to Evan Greer, director of the nonprofit advocacy group Fight for the Future.

“People tend to think of Amazon as an online marketplace, but really Amazon is a surveillance company,” Greer told Insider. “[E]the very aspect of their profit stems from their ability to amass and exploit data.”

Amazon’s monitoring of its employees is well documented, from its “time off task” metric that measures productivity to monitoring its delivery drivers with AI cameras. Standards so strict that employees report being afraid to take restroom breaks for fear of falling behind, drivers and warehouse workers reported.

Watch the competition — and you

Consumer data is particularly valuable – a 2019 Forbes report indicated that it is the more valuable for businesses – and Amazon makes heavy use of it.

Every click on the website, whether you decide to buy an item or not, collects consumer behavior data and tells the tech giant if you check reviews or price before completing a purchase and with which ads you interact with, plus details like your payment information and address.

“Amazon has all of this data available,” Greer told the Guardian. “They track what people search for, what they click on, what they don’t. Every time you search for something and don’t click, you’re telling Amazon there’s a gap.”

The data to which Amazon has access is not limited to its merchant site. The tech giant may also collect information about the movies and TV you watch on its Prime video platform, the books you read or listen to with its ownership of GoodReads and Audible, the podcasts you listen to through Wondery, the games you play on Twitch, your online browsing history through Eero Wi-Fi systems, and even the groceries you buy through Whole Foods and Amazon Fresh sites.

Among the top 10 U.S. industries by GDP (information, nondurable goods manufacturing, retail trade, wholesale trade, durable goods manufacturing, healthcare, finance and insurance, state and local government, professional services and commercial and real estate), The Guardian reported, Amazon has a finger in everything but real estate.

“It all works together because Amazon tries as best it can to channel information about its customers’ lives, their spending habits, their eating habits, their sleeping habits, their shopping habits,” Ron Knox, senior researcher and writer for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance — an anti-monopoly nonprofit that provides technical assistance to community businesses — told Insider. “They’re tracking all this data to better sell things to us. That’s what Amazon wants to do, that’s what their monopoly is based on.”

The impact of surveillance capitalism

Companies and services owned by Amazon have long raised concerns about data privacy. For example, the Ring doorbell camera (acquired by Amazon for $1 billion in 2018), which records activities outside consumers’ homes, partners with thousands of police departments. The company has shared recordings with law enforcement without warrants in some cases, Politico reported.

The ever-listening Echo, which acts as a personal home assistant and responds to voice commands, allegedly collects data without users’ consent to target ads. His recordings can be used in court.

Recent purchases from One Medical and iRobot, which create Roomba robotic vacuums, mean Amazon has consumer healthcare information and will soon have the ability to map the interiors of their homes. These purchases — totaling $5.6 billion in acquisitions three weeks apart — extend Amazon’s reach into consumers’ everyday lives.

“It goes far beyond what we usually think of when we talk about surveillance capitalism, scary ads and algorithms, etc.,” Greer told Insider. “We know they sell devices that record audio and video in and around our homes, offices, schools, hospitals, abortion clinics, and therapists’ offices. So the extent to which Amazon performs a supervision in almost all of its activities, it is difficult to overstate it.”

Amazon declined the insider’s request for an interview or to answer questions regarding data privacy concerns.

“They are absolute killers”

“Amazon is kind of like the mythical hydra, where you cut off one head and two more grow in its place,” Greer said, when asked what could be done to stop the sprawling growth of the hydra. ‘company.

The company uses data from its market retailers and competitors to further add to its value, currently estimated at $1357.19 billion.

“They’re killers,” Jason Boyce, the founder of Avenue 7 Media, an agency that helps sellers navigate the Amazon marketplace, told Insider. “They are absolute killers, they have no conscience when it comes to getting in and eating as much market share as possible.”

With its massive warehouse infrastructure and ability to manufacture branded goods, Amazon has developed a small business price reduction strategy – creating Amazon-branded counterfeits of hot sale items offered by small retailers at a price inferior – which led to a widespread scare of “Death by Amazon.”

“The way Amazon engages and kind of copies and kills self-preference, where they basically leverage surveillance of their place of business to crowd out small businesses, makes it impossible to compete with the products that they market on their own platforms,” Greer said. Initiated.

The lawsuit against Amazon

Data collection issues come with antitrust concerns as Amazon buys up market share weakens consumer privacy protections.

Although Amazon has not been called a monopoly by the Federal Trade Commission, it has a 56.7% market share of purchases made online and uses its massive mergers and acquisitions to maintain market dominance. When a company has a true monopoly, it has no competitors and has the ability to raise prices indefinitely, giving consumers no alternative and stifling innovation so that new products are not introduced to the market. .

“What I think is difficult for people to understand is the extent of monopoly power and abuse and that the harm of Amazon’s data collection is not just the individual harm added together ring camera surveillance,” Greer said. “That’s how all of these things coalesce into a kind of business that somehow becomes unstoppable and threatens to engulf almost every traditional institution we rely on – from web hosting to hospitals and all from the medical industry, to books, to the automotive industry.”

Building a ubiquitous business was part of founder Jeff Bezos’ original plan when creating the platform in 1994. Bezos’ premise was not to create an online bookstore or an online retailer, but rather a “utility” that would become essential to commerce.”

Two tech antitrust bills – S. 2992 and S. 2710, which propose rules that would prohibit dominant digital platforms like Amazon from discriminating against competitors, restrict self-preference marketing practices and guarantee consumers access to Competing app ecosystems – are currently making their way through Congress, in part in response to Amazon’s growing market share.

“[The bills are] isn’t going to end all of Amazon’s misdeeds and abuses, but it’s a type of head that can be severed and burned with the torch so it doesn’t grow back,” Greer said. “And then there’s there are others that we need to address through a strong federal data privacy law that would crack down on so many different aspects of Amazon’s privacy invasion devices and their surveillance partnerships with the police and well Moreover. We need to see action at the local and state level.”

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