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  1. A new report published by the Digital Citizens Alliance suggests that pirates sites earn more than a billion dollars in revenue per year, while pirate apps are good for another quarter. Part of the money comes from big brands such as Amazon, Facebook and Google. While Amazon appears to take the problem seriously, the report sees plenty of room for improvement at Google's end. Most pirate sites and apps won’t survive without advertising revenue. This is why the advertising industry is seen as an important partner to combat piracy. Major copyright holder groups hope to convince major players to stay clear from anything piracy-related to drain infringing sites of their income. Several voluntary initiatives have been set up to facilitate this process. This includes the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG), an anti-piracy certification program steered by giants including Amazon, Facebook, Google, Facebook, Disney and Warner Bros. Despite the involvement of these major players, the problem persists. A few days ago the Digital Citizens Alliance published the results of a study titled “Breaking (B)ads”, which takes a detailed look at the advertising ecosystem surrounding pirate sites and apps. $1 Billion+ Ad Revenue for Pirate Sites and Apps The overall conclusion is that there’s still plenty of advertising revenue going around in pirate circles. Based on data from 6,194 piracy websites and 884 piracy apps, the research estimates that pirate sites generated over $1.08 billion in ad revenue and apps added more than $259 million. The bulk of the money is made by a small group of pirates. The five most popular sites have an average estimated advertising income of $18.3 million. For apps, this number comes in even higher, at $27.6 million. The accuracy of these types of estimates can be debated, but it’s clear that pirate sites and apps can be very profitable. This income isn’t just coming from shady businesses either, major brands are involved as well. Major Brands Fund Pirates Fortune 500 companies, defined as ‘major brands’ in the research, paid the operators of pirate operators $100 million over the past year. On pirate sites, major brands fund 4% of all ads and for apps this percentage goes up to 24%. Thus far most initiatives have focused on stopping major brands from advertising on pirate sites. That seems to work, but the problem is still prevalent in the app ecosystem. “One in four ads on piracy apps are from well-known companies. This shift to apps comes after a concerted effort over the last eight years by these brands to stop their ads from showing up on illicit websites. The emergence of piracy apps threatens to undermine this progress” Digital Citizens Alliance, which is partly funded by the entertainment industries, commonly uses this type of research to demand tougher anti-piracy action. In the current report, it calls out several companies directly. Amazon, Facebook and Google The findings show that major tech companies such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google make up nearly three-quarters of all Fortune 500 company ads on pirate apps. As such, they are seen as major funders of the piracy ecosystem. “That means these three companies are supporting these piracy operators with potentially tens of millions of dollars in advertising on piracy apps alone,” the report highlights. Interestingly, these three companies are all part of and ‘certified’ by TAG, which strives to prevent just this. The report stresses that, through TAG, Amazon took swift action to reduce ads on pirate sites earlier this year. Google, however, presents a different story. Research Singles Out Google While Amazon and Facebook spend more on ‘pirate’ ads, the research report singles out Google and dedicates a separate section to the company. “Despite having a sophisticated and dedicated program to protect advertisers and block ads to illegal publishers, Google is a significant contributor to the piracy ecosystem,” the research notes. “Google paid pirate operators millions of dollars to place its own ads on their illicit piracy apps. Given the company’s boasts about its analytical prowess and data expertise, it seems far-fetched that Google doesn’t know how it’s spending millions of dollars” In addition to advertising on pirate sites and apps, Google is also called out for its role as an advertising platform. Through its ad platforms, the company facilitates ad placement for third-party brands as well. As shown above, Google’s tech role is particularly dominant on piracy apps, where Google CDN and Google Ad Tech serve more than 50% of all advertisements. Moving Forward This isn’t the first time that the Digital Citizens Alliance has researched the money flow to pirate services. An earlier study concluded that the pirate IPTV market generates a billion dollars a year in the United States alone. These types of studies are meant to provide insight into the scope of the piracy issue. They are regularly cited by copyright holders in legislative discussions, and also help to put pressure on the names companies directly. That pressure is also apparent from the closing lines on the report, which end with a Hobson’s choice. “Ultimately, it’s up to the advertising ecosystem to determine whether it wants to allow Ad Tech companies to serve both the reputable brands and publishers and the pirate operators, or instead to demand the entities choose whether to be exclusively on the legitimate or illegitimate side of the fence. “But after this report, turning a blind eye to the entities that facilitate funneling $1.34 billion to pirates can no longer be an option,” the report concludes. — A copy of the “Breaking (B)ads” report, which was prepared by Digital Citizens Alliance and piracy and advertising specialists White Bullet, is available here (pdf) Amazon, Facebook and Google Paid Millions to Pirates, Study Finds
  2. Middle-earth is shifting to the other side of Earth Amazon has decided to produce its upcoming Lord of the Rings TV series in the UK from the second season on. Although the first season was filmed in New Zealand, as with Peter Jackson’s movies, Amazon now says pre-production on season two will begin early next year in the UK while season one post-production continues in New Zealand through June. It’s not clear exactly where the series will be shot. Amazon is shipping the complex sets it built for the first season over to the UK and is currently booking stages for them, according to Deadline. The company films several Prime Video series in the UK already, including Neil Gaiman adaptations Good Omens and Anansi Boys. The move to the UK won’t be without controversy. Author J.R.R. Tolkien based Middle-earth’s Shire on his experiences living in rural England, but Jackson’s vivid depictions in the movies has made New Zealand’s landscapes just as closely associated with the franchise, and drove significant tourism to the country. “We want to thank the people and the government of New Zealand for their hospitality and dedication and for providing The Lord of the Rings series with an incredible place to begin this epic journey,” Amazon Studios VP Vernon Sanders says in a statement. “We are grateful to the New Zealand Film Commission, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Tourism New Zealand, Auckland Unlimited, and others for their tremendous collaboration that supported the New Zealand film sector and the local economy during the production of Season One.” Deadline reports that New Zealand’s strict handling of the COVID-19 pandemic was a factor in Amazon’s decision. More than half of the cast is British and has reportedly had to stay in New Zealand for around two years because of border restrictions and quarantine rules. With a base in the UK, the cast will be much closer to home, and the producers may also be able to make use of other locations around Europe. The first season of the Lord of the Rings show, which is set thousands of years before the original books and still doesn’t have a formal title, is set to come to Prime Video on September 2nd next year. This season alone is said to have cost the e-commerce giant $465 million to produce, with Amazon receiving a 20 percent tax credit from the New Zealand government. Amazon moves Lord of the Rings production from New Zealand to UK
  3. The battle has moved from JEDI to WildandStormy After spending years battling over the Defense Department’s $10 billion JEDI cloud services contract, Microsoft and Amazon are fighting over another government deal. Now it’s the National Security Agency offering a contract that could pay up to $10 billion as it shifts away from on-premises servers to a commercial provider. However, as Washington Technology reported first, this time around, Amazon Web Services won the $10 billion contest, and it’s Microsoft turn to file a protest with the Government Accountability Office. Washington Technology reports that Microsoft’s claim is the NSA didn’t conduct a proper evaluation while considering a provider for its new project, code-named WildandStormy. In a statement to NextGov, an NSA spokesperson confirmed the award and protests, saying, “The Agency will respond to the protest in accordance with appropriate federal regulations.” The NSA is pursuing a “Hybrid Compute Initiative” to meet its processing and analytical requirements while also holding onto intelligence data (although it might not need as much storage as it used to). AWS already holds many government cloud contracts, but the JEDI process revealed Microsoft as a formidable competitor. Last year the CIA split up its Commercial Cloud Enterprise contract between five companies, including Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Oracle, and IBM. Last year, a Microsoft blog post said it was pursuing US government accreditation for its Azure Government Top Secret regions to “meet the demand for greater agility in the classified space.” When Amazon was pushing for a review of the JEDI contract process, it cited “errors and unmistakable bias,” as former president Donald Trump reportedly stepped in, bringing his animosity toward then-CEO Jeff Bezos. Eventually, the DoD decided the program’s design no longer met its needs and scrapped the entire plan to pursue a multi-vendor solution called Joint Warfighter Cloud Capability. Will WildandStormy meet a similar fate? A step toward an answer will come within the next couple of months, as the GAO’s decision is due by October 29th. Now Microsoft is protesting after Amazon won a $10 billion NSA cloud contract
  4. Our first glimpse of the series is here The first image from Amazon’s yet-untitled Lord of the Rings series. Image: Amazon Studios One of Amazon’s most anticipated originals to date, a yet-unnamed Lord of the Rings original series, will officially debut on Prime Video on Friday, September 2nd, 2022. Along with a premiere date, Amazon Studios released an official first image from the forthcoming series, which will be set in Middle-earth’s Second Age. The series will take place thousands of years before the events chronicled in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books, and it will follow characters “both familiar and new, as they confront the long-feared re-emergence of evil to Middle-earth.” The image release is tied to the series’s production wrap after filming in New Zealand. Fans quickly speculated that the series will be set in Valinor, as the image depicts what appear to be the Two Trees. The untitled project is a huge investment by Amazon in its Prime Video streaming service. The series’s first season alone reportedly cost around $465 million to produce. For context about what a massive creative undertaking this series has been for Amazon Studios, the final season of Game of Thrones was reported to have cost as much as $15 million per episode (though its budget was originally around $5 million per episode). The headlining cast of the series includes Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Robert Aramayo, Owain Arthur, Maxim Baldry, Nazanin Boniadi, Morfydd Clark, Ismael Cruz Córdova, Charles Edwards, Trystan Gravelle, Sir Lenny Henry, Ema Horvath, Markella Kavenagh, Joseph Mawle, Tyroe Muhafidin, Sophia Nomvete, Lloyd Owen, Megan Richards, Dylan Smith, Charlie Vickers, Leon Wadham, Benjamin Walker, Daniel Weyman, and Sara Zwangobani. Showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay are executive producing the show. “As Bilbo says, ‘Now I think I am quite ready to go on another journey,’” Payne and McKay said in a joint statement. “Living and breathing Middle-earth these many months has been the adventure of a lifetime. We cannot wait for fans to have the chance to do so as well.” The series will premiere in more than 240 territories and countries when it arrives on Prime Video next year. Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series will premiere in September 2022
  5. Amazon fined massive $888 million by EU Privacy Regulator The Luxembourg data protection authority, the CNPD, has fined Amazon a massive $888 million for violating GDPR regulations, reports Bloomberg. Amazon is based in Luxembourg in the EU and the regulator has the power to fine Amazon for up to 4% of its global revenue. The fine is based on a 2018 complaint by French privacy rights group La Quadrature du Net who accused Amazon of processing the data of EU citizens without their consent. They wrote: Amazon is criticized for announcing that it is carrying out certain processing operations personal data concerning the persons in whose name the this complaint is lodged (2.2) without, however, basing this processing on one of the legal bases required by law (2.1), rendering therefore these illicit (2.3). The news was not announced by CNPD but was confirmed by Amazon who disclosed it in a regulatory filing today, saying it was “without merit.” “We strongly disagree with the CNPD’s ruling, and we intend to appeal. The decision relating to how we show customers relevant advertising relies on subjective and untested interpretations of European privacy law, and the proposed fine is entirely out of proportion with even that interpretation.” The original complainant is not running a victory lap either yet. “It’s a first step to see a fine that’s dissuasive, but we need to remain vigilant and see if the decision also includes an injunction to correct the infringing behaviour,” said Bastien Le Querrec, a member of La Quadrature’s litigation team, adding the group hadn’t received the decision yet. Amazon fined massive $888 million by EU Privacy Regulator
  6. We’re getting a Wheel of Time prequel film trilogy to augment Amazon series Films will focus on history of Robert Jordan's fictional world before events of books. Cover art for the first Wheel of Time novel. A prequel film trilogy is now in development, in addition to the Amazon TV series. Tor Books Expectations are high among fans for Amazon Studio's forthcoming adaptation of The Wheel of Time, the late Robert Jordan's bestselling 14-book series of epic fantasy novels, purportedly due to premiere later this year. And now it looks like we'll be getting a Wheel of Time film trilogy as well, according to Deadline Hollywood, focusing on the history of Jordan's fictional world before the events of the books. Most of the canonical pre-history of Jordan's fictional world is revealed in flashbacks and legends found in The Wheel of Time Companion, but it is otherwise largely unexplored territory. The intent is to complement rather than compete with the storyline in Amazon's adaptation for TV. Per Deadline: The first movie will be set several millennia before the time of the books, in a period known as the “Age of Legends”— a futuristic utopia powered by a magical force shared by men and women known as the “One Power.” When an unspeakable evil is unleashed upon the world, civilization descends into chaos, and war blankets the globe. When men using the One Power become insane and destroy much of the planet, a small band of women unite under the White Tower, and are humanity’s last hope of survival. Screenwriter Zack Stentz (Thor, X-Men: First Class, Jurassic World Camp Cretaceous) will take on screenwriting duties for the first film. “I’ve been a fan of Robert Jordan’s work for many years, and it is especially his allusions to the origins and backstory of The Wheel of Time that I have always found most intriguing. I’m excited to be bringing this era Robert Jordan conceptualized to life,” Stentz said in a statement. “A fusion of the fantasy and science-fiction genres, the Age of Legends is a tale of paradise lost, as a futuristic Garden of Eden devolves into a dangerous and broken world.” (Warning: a few book spoilers below, especially the first book in the series.) As I've written previously, The Wheel of Time is as popular as George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire, selling more than 90 million copies worldwide—the bestselling fantasy series since J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. The conclusion of the series was published after Jordan died and written from Jordan's notes by bestselling author Brandon Sanderson. There was one feeble prior attempt to jump-start a TV adaptation a few years ago. Entitled The Winter Dragon, the 30-minute short series pilot covered just the prologue of the first book in the series, The Eye of the World. The less said about it, the better. The Amazon series will center on Moiraine (Rosamund Pike), a member of a powerful, all-woman organization called the Aes Sedai. (In this world, magic exists, but only certain women can use it—i.e., the members of the Aes Sedai.) She identifies four young people, one of whom could be the reincarnation of a person who, prophecies say, will save or destroy humanity. Together, the youngsters embark on a journey across the world. The first round of casting, announced in 2019, included Josha Stradowski as Rand al'Thor, aka The Dragon Reborn, He Who Comes With the Dawn, the Coramoor, Shadowkiller, and who knows how many other monikers. Marcus Rutherford was cast as apprentice blacksmith and dream-walker Perrin Aybara. Zoe Robins plays healer Nynaeve al'Meara, and Madeleine Madden plays the powerful channeler Egwene al'Vere. Barney Harris was cast as series comic relief Matrim Cauthon. In December 2019, more cast members were announced, including Hammed Animashaun as Loail, a close friend to Perrin the dream walker and Rand al'Thor; Alexandre Willaume as Thom Merrilin, a "Gleeman and adventurer"—basically a traveling bard; Johann Myers as the villainous Padan Fain; and Alvaro Morte as Logain. Production on the Amazon series began in the autumn of 2019, but then there was a global pandemic, and everything shut down. Filming wrapped in the Czech Republic in May, and Amazon is so confident in the series, it has already renewed Wheel of Time for a second season, before S1 has even premiered, which is likely to happen later this year. "Getting a second season order before the first season has even premiered is such a vote of confidence in the work we are doing and the property itself, and we couldn’t be happier to be able to continue to live and work in the world Robert Jordan created,” showrunner Rafe Judkins told Deadline Hollywood. We’re getting a Wheel of Time prequel film trilogy to augment Amazon series
  7. The Futuristic Stink of Amazon’s Science Fiction For years, the megacorporation has churned out sci-fi—Electric Dreams, Upload, Solos—that ranges from obnoxious to just plain noxious. With Solos, Amazon stoops to a condescending science fiction that’s just like us, farts and all.Photograph: Jason LaVeris/Amazon Studios Farts linger, far into the future. So suggests Solos, the latest sci-fi show on Amazon Prime. Even though its characters deal with everything from time travel to superbabies to memory theft, they still get gassy. No fewer than three times, Peg, played by Helen Mirren, talks about her old-lady toots. (All hail Queen Elizabeth Number, ahem, Two.) Elsewhere, Anthony Mackie’s Tom describes, in celebratory detail, his wife’s code-red stink bombs. Twice! Actually, make it thrice. Thieving the selfsame memory in the finale, the great Morgan Freeman rehashes the stench. That Solos was made during a global pandemic, a time of endless sitting with ourselves and our smells, makes a certain olfactory sense. To watch it is to feel, if not seen, then sniffed. But as any gastroenterologist will tell you, excess gas usually points to a deeper issue, more chronic in nature. To diagnose it, then—this diegetic dyspepsia—a comprehensive examination of the patient must be performed. Amazon has shat out science-fiction programming for years, and it ranges, on the smell-o-meter, from the merely obnoxious to the just plain noxious—a flatulence that fluctuates. Early on, the company mostly Philip K. Dick’d around, first with an adaptation of Man in the High Castle and then with Electric Dreams, an anthology series based on that author’s short stories. The former collapsed in due course, and the latter was never more than off-brand, harder-trying Black Mirror, but at least neither tried to speak to our bowels. With Solos, Amazon stoops to a condescending science fiction that’s just like us, farts and all. As in Electric Dreams, each episode is self-contained, but the show squanders any advantage that format has—as a playground for ideas—by focusing on the people. On their so-called “humanity,” as David Weil puts it. He’s the creator of Solos, and what he’s creating, he says, is “human connection.” Never mind that, to establish it, he resorts to awkward world-building, stagey melodramatics, and characters who are, in every way, full of shit. Apologies for the potty mouth, but the fault lies with Amazon, whose science fiction practically overflows with bodily discharge. Enjoy the animated vomit, in Undone; in Upload, the dancing streams of computer-generated pee. Even the studio’s most artistic attempt at an adult drama, Tales From the Loop, occasionally finds its head in the toilet. A sort of Our Town of tomorrow that shifts its focus from one sad human (or robot) to another, the show truly plumbs the depths. In the ickiest scene, an older man goes number one, misses his target, and has to clean up the mess. The camera cuts to the stray yellow droplets and everything. Poor Jonathan Pryce, an actor of distinction, potential pissed away. When his character drops dead a while later, it seems less of health complications than of shame. Shame, too, is what we the audience feel, in watching. As these fictional future humans connect with us by way of that most universal of processes, expulsion, our own stomachs begin to bubble and ache. Is that all we are? Grotty, leaky fleshbags, mucking up clean, utopian futures? To Amazon, no shit. Humans have urges and needs, and Amazon exists to fulfill them. In fact, if you keep watching, it’ll even show you how. If there’s anything Amazon likes more, in its science fiction, than reminding humans of their disgusting humanity, it’s depictions of its megacorporate self. Sometimes, it’s right there in the title. In Tales From the Loop, the titular Loop is a mysterious organization whose societal contributions shape the course of daily life; the startup Upload, in the show of the same name, seeks to trap paying customers in a simulated existence for all eternity. Elsewhere, the institution interpenetrates reality, everywhere and nowhere at once: a simulation run by rich people in the Matrix knockoff Bliss, the AI company in episode 4 of Solos. (Uzo Aduba’s in that one, the most shamelessly Covid-centric.) In The Boys, the faux-edgy superhero shockfest that blows up brains in place of having one, it’s called Vought, an ultra-evil Pharma giant with fingers in every global conflict. Then there’s Autofac, from episode 2 of Electric Dreams. Behold the truest stand-in for Amazon. Autofac is a drone-delivery corporation, run entirely by machines, that populates the world with fake humans once the real ones die out, just so they have more customers to send products to. It’d be kind of a funny joke, if Autofac didn’t then turn those fake humans into sick slaves. Experiments with drones, automated factories and grocery stores, AIs in every home: These are Amazon’s real-world efforts as well as the subject of its “fictional” stories, schemes of subjugation and mass dehumanization infinitely mirroring each other into a collapsing oblivion. So to recap. There’s this megacorporation. It’s science-fictionalizing our everyday existence. At the same time, it’s selling us a science fiction of “human connection” premised on the inevitability of just such a dehumanized/megacorporatized future that’s also designed to either obscure or make light of—farts!—that very fact. Gross. It’ll only get messier. At a certain point, the other big tech companies will have to make meta-science-fictional moves of their own. So you’ll see blockbusters brought to you by Google, utopian series developed by Facebook. Apple TV already has its own burgeoning sci-fi empire, with three shows and counting, and Microsoft has sponsored a sci-fi anthology based on research from its own labs. “Science fiction prototyping,” the futurists call it. Why merely create the future, when you can also tell people how to live, breathe, and go to the bathroom in it? And none of these companies will ever claim influence over the creators they’ve commissioned for this purpose, of course. Full creative license, they’ll say. Tell whatever stories you want. Don’t fall for it. Whether it’s utopias or dystopias, art or trash, science fiction should never be underwritten by the institutions invested in making it science fact. Especially when so much original sci-fi exists outside the corridors of corporate power, even if it’s accessible only via enemy territory, on platforms like … Amazon Prime. Its catalog of rentables is, truth be told, unparalleled. Costs more money to tap into, yes. And the best stuff is hard to find amid the rows and rows of agitprop. But you know who’s there to help? Real people. So the next time you scroll over to Solos, or Upload, or The Tomorrow War on Prime—a science fiction in which you accept your lot as powerless in the face of global domination—try this. Don’t hit Play, but scroll down instead. There, you’ll find a category called “Customers who watched this item also watched.” It’s the last, best place on the site for human-generated recommendations. The more to the right you scroll, the weirder the stuff gets. Funky, forgotten space operas. Boisterous ’80s fantasy. Farther and farther you’ll travel from the control of Amazon, its tentacles, its overreach. You’ll be staging a rebellion from within, the way science fiction always intended, and you’ll notice a change. Your stomach will settle, the gas will pass, and you’ll breathe fresh air again. The Futuristic Stink of Amazon’s Science Fiction
  8. If you don't want Amazon devices to share your bandwidth with your neighbors, you need to opt-out! Amazon plans to enroll many of its hardware devices that are operated in the United States, including many Echo devices and Ring Spotlight and Floodlight Cams, into its Amazon Sidewalk system on June 8, 2021. Amazon Sidewalk is a shared network. According to Amazon, it is used to make devices work better, e.g. by extending the working range of devices, keeping devices running even if outside the range of the wireless network of the home, or finding pets. One of the ideas behind Sidewalk is that devices may continue to operate even if they lose access to the local wireless network; this works best in neighborhoods with lots of Amazon devices in the vicinity that all share some of their bandwidth. Another key element of Amazon Sidewalk is that it creates a network for roaming devices, e.g. devices similar to Apple AirTags, that Amazon could utilize to provide the functionality. Amazon explains: Amazon Sidewalk uses Bluetooth, the 900 MHz spectrum and other frequencies to extend coverage and provide these benefits. Each device, called Sidewalk Bridge by Amazon, shares up to 80kbps with the Sidewalk server when the feature is active. Amazon notes that the total monthly bandwidth is capped to 500 Megabytes for an account. Neighbors will see the approximate location of Amazon Sidewalk devices, and not the street address. Amazon Sidewalk will be enabled by default by Amazon on supported devices on June 8, 2021 in the United States. Amazon customers who operate Echo or Ring devices, need to opt-out of the program if they don't want their devices to join the shared network and spend some of the home bandwidth. The company published a privacy and security whitepaper that explains in detail how the system works and which privacy and security protections Amazon implemented. How to turn off Amazon Sidewalk Amazon explains on this page how Sidewalk can be turned off: Open the Alexa application. Select More > Settings. Select Account Settings. Select Amazon Sidewalk. Select Off to turn off Amazon Sidewalk for the account. Some users reported that Amazon reset the setting for their accounts after they disabled Sidewalk. It is probably a good idea to check the setting regularly to make sure it remains disabled. Closing Words Amazon is creating a large network of connected devices using Sidewalk. Most Echo and Ring customers will keep Sidewalk enabled as they may not even know that Amazon enabled the feature on their devices. For some, using Sidewalk may indeed be beneficial, but for the majority, privacy and security concerns outweigh all benefits that Sidewalk might provide. Source Your Amazon Devices to Automatically Share Your Wi-Fi With Neighbors- © The Hacker News
  9. Amazon is in talks to buy MGM for $9 billion The Information and Variety are both reporting the talks James Bond, The Handmaid’s Tale, Rocky, Stargate, Robocop, Legally Blonde, Vikings, a historic catalog of films dating back many decades, an array of production and distribution companies, and the content network Epix — these are the things that Amazon might own if it buys storied film giant MGM for billions of dollars in the very near future. Amazon has reportedly offered $9 billion for the company, according to Variety, following a scoop from The Information earlier in the day that suggested a range of $7-10 billion for a potential deal, and Variety suggests that $9 billion was also the amount that MGM was reportedly hoping to get. Between those factors, the fact that MGM has been up for sale since December 2020, and the jealousy that comes with the sudden impending existence of a new media giant earlier today as AT&T spins off WarnerMedia and combines it with Discovery, it wouldn’t be very surprising if Amazon and MGM made a deal. The Information was slightly less bullish in its report today, though, writing that “The status of Amazon’s discussions with MGM is unclear and it’s possible no deal will result.” In December, The Guardian reported that MGM has a library of 4,000 films and 17,000 hours of TV. James Bond in particular is one of the most valuable film franchises ever made — a list that’s only growing smaller as the Disney umbrella and Marvel Cinematic Universe swallow as many rivals as it can. Source: Amazon is in talks to buy MGM for $9 billion
  10. Amazon gives workers new wellness program, but not extra time to participate Amazon wants warehouse workers to take action to improve their health — but they won’t get extra time to do it. On Monday, Amazon announced wellness initiatives aimed at operations employees, with a focus on health education, mindfulness, and stretching. When Mashable reached the company via email to ask how employees would be empowered to engage in these activities during their highly regimented and surveilled days, the company said it's not giving employees extra break time. And when asked about reducing productivity requirements, it responded with a comment on how worker performance was judged on several factors. Amazon has been piloting components of the new program, called WorkingWell, since 2019. The company aims to roll it out to all operations centers — which include the fulfillment centers where Amazon workers prepare packages for shipment — by the end of 2021. WorkingWell is part of a $300 million investment to improve worker safety, with the goal of cutting reportable injury rates in half by the year's end. Data from 2020 obtained by The Center for Investigative Reporting show consistently rising injury rates at Amazon fulfillment centers that are higher than the industry average. WorkingWell aims to bring interactions with health and wellness principles directly to the warehouse floor. For example, videos in "Wellness Zones" will guide employees through stretching exercises. New "AmaZen" kiosks will let employees "watch short videos featuring easy-to-follow wellbeing activities, including guided meditations, positive affirmations, calming scenes with sounds, and more." Workers will get "hourly prompts" at their workstations, called "Mind & Body Moments," reminding workers to breathe, stretch, and do "mental reflections." Many Amazon workers have complained about rigid productivity quotas, with some saying they have to skip bathroom breaks to meet them. Documents obtained by The Verge in 2020 showed how Amazon automatically tracks employee productivity and downtime, and fires around 10 percent of its workforce annually for not meeting productivity standards. Amazon recently quelled a union drive by employees advocating for better working conditions through what experts described as union-busting tactics. Stretching, mindfulness, and meditation can have physical and mental health benefits. But they don't address the underlying cause of Amazon workers' stress and injuries, which is the threat of being fired if they don't handle packages quickly enough. While employees won't get additional time to do these activities, they will get rewarded for participating in them. Amazon said via email that one of the factors it will take into account when assessing an employee's performance is their participation in WorkingWell. That could encourage employees to use the resources available to them — or it could put another burden on their break time to make sure that, too, is productive. Amazon will solicit employee feedback on the program through "Connect & Comment Kiosks." Other components of WorkingWell include "EatWell," which involves placing healthier snacks in break rooms, and signage about healthy eating choices. "Health & Safety Huddles" will bring employees together for interactive videos and exercises. A new dedicated first aid area, called "Wellness Centers" — extremely different from "Wellness Zones" — will also bring "injury prevention experts" to the workplace. Outside of the workplace, Amazon announced it has partnered with a clinic called Crossover Health to provide primary care for employees. Amazon already offers healthcare plans for employees, which differ depending on an employee's status (e.g., whether they are full- or part-time, and permanent or seasonal). Amazon describes the Crossover Health partnership as an "affordable" option that focuses on preventative medicine, among other things. There will eventually be a WorkingWell app that will allow employees to access the wellness activities outside of the workplace. Providing new opportunities and access to healthcare for employees is a step in the right direction for Amazon. But ultimately, it's a bandaid, not a cure. Source: Amazon gives workers new wellness program, but not extra time to participate
  11. Amazon launches free video streaming service miniTV in India Image Credits: TechCrunch Amazon has long maintained that its video streaming service, Prime Video, helps it drive more sales on the shopping app. Now the e-commerce giant is testing what happens when it brings the video streaming service to the shopping app itself. The e-commerce giant on Saturday launched miniTV, an ad-supported video streaming service that is available within the Amazon shopping app and is “completely free.” miniTV is currently available only in India, Amazon said. miniTV features web-series, comedy shows, and content around tech news, food, beauty, fashion “to begin with,” Amazon said. Some of the titles currently available have been produced by leading studios such as TVF and Pocket Aces — two of the largest web studios in India — and comedians such as Ashish Chanchlani, Amit Bhadana, Round2Hell, Harsh Beniwal, Shruti Arjun Anand, Elvish Yadav, Prajakta Koli, Swagger Sharma, Aakash Gupta and Nishant Tanwar. “Viewers will be informed on latest products and trends by tech expert Trakin Tech, fashion and beauty experts such as Sejal Kumar, Malvika Sitlani, Jovita George, Prerna Chhabra and ShivShakti. Food lovers can enjoy content from Kabita’s Kitchen, Cook with Nisha, and Gobble. In the coming months, miniTV will add many more new and exclusive videos,” the company added, without sharing its future roadmap plans. (Amazon began integrating reviews and other web clippings — from media houses — on its shopping service in India for more than two years ago.) miniTV is currently available on Amazon’s Android app, and will arrive on the iOS counterpart and mobile web over the coming months, Amazon said. Amazon’s move follows a similar step by Walmart’s Flipkart, the company’s marquee rival in India, which rolled out video streaming service within its app in 2019. In recent years, scores of firms in India including Zomato have explored adding a video streaming offering to their own apps. The video streaming landscape in “N2B” countries — the nations with the potential to help firms find their next two billion users. (UBS) Amazon has also aggressively pushed to expand its Prime Video offerings in India in recent quarters. The company — which partnered with Indian telecom network Airtel earlier this year to launch a new monthly mobile-only, single-user, standard definition (SD) tier (for $1.22) — has secured rights to stream some cricket matches in the country. Amazon also offers Prime Video as part of its Amazon Prime subscription in India. The service is priced at 999 Indian rupees ($13.6) for a year and also includes access to Amazon Music and faster-delivery. Prime Video had over 60 million monthly active users in India in April, ahead of Netflix’s 40 million users, according to mobile insight firm App Annie (data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch). Netflix, which spent about $420 million on locally produced Indian content in 2019 and 2020, said in March that it will invest “significantly more this year” in India. But in the company’s recent earnings call, founder and co-CEO Reed Hastings said investment in India was more “speculative” than those in other markets. Times Internet’s MX Player had over 180 million users during the same period, and DIsney+ Hotstar had about 120 million. Their biggest competition in India remains YouTube, which has amassed over 450 million monthly active users. But other than competition, video streaming services face another challenge in India. In late March, Amazon issued a rare apology to users in India for an original political drama series over allegations that a few scenes in the nine-part mini series hurt religious sentiments of some people in the key overseas market. Amazon’s apology came days after New Delhi announced new rules for on-demand video streaming services and social media firms. Source: Amazon launches free video streaming service miniTV in India
  12. Amazon updates Echo Show line with a pan and zoom camera and a kids model Image Credits: Amazon Amazon this morning announced a handful of updates across its Echo Show line of smart screens. The top-level most interesting bit here is the addition of a pan and zoom camera to the mid-tier Echo Show. The feature is similar to ones found on Facebook’s various Portal devices and Google’s high-end Nest Hub Max. Essentially, it’s designed to keep the subject in frame – Apple also recently introduced the similar Center Stage features for the latest iPad Pro. It comes after Amazon introduced a far less subtle version in the Echo Show 10, which actually follows the subject around by swiveling the display around the base. I know I’m not alone in being a little creeped out, seeing it in action. The new feature arrives on the Show 8’s 13-megapixel camera, which is coupled with a built-in physical shutter – a mainstay as Amazon is look to stay ahead of the privacy conversations. The eight-inch HD display is powered by an upgrade octa-core processors and coupled with stereo speakers. The new Show 8 runs $130. The other biggest news here is the arrival of the Echo Show 5 Kids – the one really new product in the bunch. At $95, the kid-focused version of the screen features a customizable home screen, colorful design, a two-year warranty in case of creaks and a one-year subscription to Amazon Kids+. There’s a new version of the regular Show 5, too, featuring an upgraded HD camera, new colors and additional software features. That runs $85. The new devices go up for preorder today and start shipping later this month. Source: Amazon updates Echo Show line with a pan and zoom camera and a kids model
  13. Amazon blocked 10 billion listings in counterfeit crackdown FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2019, file photo, people stand in the lobby for Amazon offices in New York. Amazon, which has been under pressure from shoppers, brands and lawmakers to crack down on counterfeits on its site, said Monday, May 10, 2021, that it blocked more than 10 billion suspected phony listings last year before any of their offerings could be sold. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File) NEW YORK (AP) — Amazon, which has been under pressure from shoppers, brands and lawmakers to crack down on counterfeits on its site, said Monday that it blocked more than 10 billion suspected phony listings last year before any of their offerings could be sold. The numbers were released in Amazon’s first report on its anti-counterfeiting efforts since it announced new tools and technologies in 2019. The number of blocked phony listings last year was up about 67% from the year before. The Seattle-based e-commerce behemoth said the number of counterfeiters attempting to sell on the site rose as scammers tried to take advantage of shoppers who were buying more online during the pandemic. Amazon has been wrestling with counterfeits for years. But since 2019, it has warned investors in government filings that the sale of phony goods poses a risk to the company and its image. Brands may not want to sell their items on the site if they know there are fake versions being offered. And knock-offs could cause shoppers to lose their trust in Amazon. Counterfeiters try to get their products on Amazon through its third-party marketplace, where sellers can list their items directly on the site. The company destroyed 2 million counterfeit products sent to its warehouses last year before they could be sold. And it said fewer than 0.01% of all items bought on the site received counterfeit complaints from shoppers. Amazon said it can stop counterfeiters before they can sell anything thanks to machine-learning technology, which automatically scans listings to remove suspected counterfeits. The company also gives brands a way to remove fake items from the site themselves, rather than reporting them to Amazon and waiting for it to do something. The company’s efforts comes as lawmakers are looking at ways to reduce counterfeits online. Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois re-introduced the INFORM Consumers Act this year. It would require third-party sellers to be verified and to disclose their name and address to shoppers. The bill was introduced last year, but wasn’t voted on. Amazon and smaller online stores, such as eBay and Etsy, oppose the bill for reasons including concerns it could discourage people from starting a small business and selling online. But groups that represent big-box physical retailers, such as Home Depot and Lowe’s, support it because they say it levels the playing field, since physical retailers already make sure their shelves are free of fakes. Amazon said it spent more than $700 million last year on its anti-counterfeiting efforts and has 10,000 people working on it. The company has also been filing joint lawsuits with brands, including one earlier this year with Salvatore Ferragamo against counterfeiters who were selling knock-offs of the high-end brand’s belts on the site. —- This story has been corrected. Sen. Bill Cassidy is a Republican, not a Democrat. Source: Amazon blocked 10 billion listings in counterfeit crackdown
  14. Amazon Drivers Are Instructed to Drive Recklessly to Meet Delivery Quotas Drivers say they’re being asked to quietly disable a driver safety system partway through their shifts. (PHOTO BY PAUL HENNESSY/NURPHOTO VIA GETTY IMAGES) Amazon delivery companies around the United States are encouraging reckless and dangerous driving by ordering delivery drivers to shut off an app called Mentor that Amazon uses to monitor drivers' speed and give them a safety score to prevent accidents. Drivers say they are being ordered to turn the app off by their bosses so that they can speed through their delivery routes in order to hit Amazon's delivery targets. "Sign out of Mentor if you haven't already," an dispatcher at an Amazon delivery company texted a delivery driver at DDT2, an Amazon warehouse in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan a little after noon on a day in March, according to a screenshot obtained by Motherboard. This was less than five hours into his 10-hour shift. "Starting tomorrow everyone needs to be logged into Mentor for at least 2 hours no more no less, so make sure that's one of the first things we're doing in the mornings," a dispatcher at DAT2, an Amazon delivery station in the suburbs of Atlanta told drivers who work 10-hour shifts in a group chat in May 2020. Mentor is a smartphone app made by a company called eDriving, which partners with Amazon to monitor the driving behaviors of delivery drivers at Amazon Delivery Service Partners, which are quasi-independent companies who are contracted by Amazon to deliver packages in Amazon-branded vans. Using sensors in a driver's smartphone, Mentor collects information about a driver's acceleration, braking, cornering, and speeding. It also detects "phone distraction" based on how much a driver is using their phone outside of the Mentor app. It then gives drivers a "FICO Safe Driving Score" in order to "objectively measure how safe a driver is." Amazon ties driver bonuses to several metrics, including a delivery worker's driving score. Motherboard spoke to Amazon delivery drivers in New York, Texas, Michigan, Tennessee, and Georgia who say their delivery companies have ordered them to log off the app, turn on airplane mode, or shut off their phones in the middle of their shifts to prevent the Mentor app from collecting data about their driving over the past year. Five drivers we spoke to said that they were asked to keep the Mentor app on for at a few hours of their shift and then to turn it off, ostensibly because Amazon or eDriving would have a harder time detecting anything was wrong if the app was on for at least part of a shift. These drivers say their bosses, who own Delivery Service Partner companies are demanding they turn off the app so that drivers can drive recklessly to hit Amazon quotas without being detected by Mentor and Amazon. The drivers feel they are being threatened and pressured to break traffic laws and risk their own safety while delivering Amazon packages. Though they're employed by contractors, Amazon delivery drivers are subject to Amazon's delivery route algorithms and productivity targets. "Speeding was the main thing. They were harsh on drivers that weren’t going as fast as they wanted," a former driver at the delivery station in Romulus, Michigan who quit in late April, told Motherboard. "I complied when they asked me to turn off the app because I didn't want to cause friction. But it was a lot of stress, high blood pressure, seething anger and frustration." “This behavior is unacceptable and does not adhere to the safety standards that we expect of all Delivery Service Partners," Rena Lunak, a spokesperson for Amazon told Motherboard. "It’s also misleading to suggest that this behavior is necessary – in fact, more than 90% of all drivers are able to complete their deliveries before the scheduled time while following all safety procedures.” Ed Dubens, the founder and CEO of eDriving declined to comment. Dubens' FICO Safe Driving Score of 766 is in his email signature; Amazon's "basic expectation for a successful [delivery driver] is an 800+ FICO score, delivering your route in 10 hours or less, and all other metrics that go into weekly consideration of a 'fantastic driver,'" a message from an Amazon delivery company to drivers viewed by Motherboard stated. Amazon knows this work is dangerous—and has strategically placed the liability for its drivers on the small delivery companies, who employ the drivers. Amazon has more than 1,300 delivery companies worldwide that employ hundreds of thousands of drivers. Drivers have reportedly been beaten, bitten, carjacked, robbed, shot, on the job. Under pressure from Amazon and their contractors to work quickly, drivers have died in accidents and killed and maimed other drivers, passengers, and pedestrians, including a nine month year old baby. By getting drivers to turn off the Mentor app, Amazon's delivery companies—small contractors which are paid by Amazon to facilitate package delivery around the United States—can push drivers to circumvent Amazon's strict driving rules intended to prevent accidents in turn raising stats that can increase revenue in a cutthroat landscape where many delivery companies are barely scraping by, and get paid per package delivered on time in addition to bonuses that are earned through efficient, safe driving recorded by the Mentor app. "The issue here is Amazon does not compensate delivery companies fairly for what they're asking us to do. Everything is done on a shoestring budget," the owner of an Amazon delivery company near Seattle, Washington, told Motherboard. "Companies that tell their drivers to turn off the app are trying to get a perfect score so they can get their incentives. In my opinion, this is not ethical." Amazon delivery drivers are asked to deliver upwards of 400 packages a day on grueling 10-hour shifts under pressure from contractors who earn extra revenue from Amazon when their drivers deliver packages quickly and efficiently. Amazon adds an additional revenue per package delivered, in addition to bonuses that can be pocketed by delivery companies or distributed to drivers at their discretion. These bonuses are only offered if drivers' stats on the Mentor app collectively average to above 800 on a 100-850 scale. Because of these bonuses, drivers say their companies ask them to drive a few hours or a couple stops, while minding their speed and braking, so that the app registers a high score, and then turn off the app for the rest of their shift. A pattern of low Mentor scores can potentially jeopardize a company's access to routes from Amazon, according to Amazon drivers and an Amazon delivery company owner. "Our dispatcher told us after three or four hours you can turn Mentor off, and sign off, because when the thing with Mentor is when it's on, it's regulating things," an Amazon delivery driver who works at DNA1, an Amazon delivery station in Nashville Tennessee, told Motherboard. "People are driving slower and following traffic laws and rules Amazon wants us to follow, turning off vans, putting on hazards, wearing seatbelts." "Once it's turned off there's no tracking of speed, how fast you're taking corners," he continued. "I turned off the app around lunch everyday," a 23-year-old former Amazon driver in Rosemead, California, who quit in April told Motherboard. "I would be constantly stressed, worried all the time about making my quotas." After Motherboard asked for comment for this story, at least one delivery station announced a pay increase to delivery drivers and said that it would no longer use driving scores as a bonus metric, in a message to drivers obtained by Motherboard. The driver who worked at DDT1, the warehouse in Romulus, Michigan until late April, was only halfway through his 10-hour shift, which began at 7:20am when he received a text message from his dispatcher at the contractor called Prime Presence that said "We sign out of Mentor at 11am everyday." Amazon requires that drivers remain logged into the Mentor app throughout their 10-hour routes. The driver frequently received text messages from the dispatcher at Prime Presence, which operates out of the Amazon warehouse in Romulus, Michigan, demanding he complete his routes faster, according to screenshots obtained by Motherboard. "Gotta pick up the pace man," "FYI this route should not take you until 5," text messages from the dispatcher to the driver from March and April, reviewed by Motherboard said. These jobs are advertised online as 10-hour driving shifts, but the driver in Michigan said he was under constant pressure to finish in seven hours. Motherboard granted the driver anonymity because he feared retaliation. Prime Presence did not return Motherboard’s calls for comment. Two Amazon delivery drivers also told Motherboard that their delivery companies told them not to record damages, maintenance, or safety issues with their Amazon vans into the app during a daily vehicle inspection, because Amazon would ground those vehicles, but to report issues to the delivery service partner directly. "My vehicle had a damaged roof, rain leaked inside, the side door was broken for months. It also needed an oil change and tire pressure was low, but we weren't allowed to report anything, because Amazon would ground the van, and that's one less route that delivery company would have," Leonard Hodges, a former Amazon delivery driver at the warehouse DHO4 in Houston, Texas who quit in early 2020, told Motherboard. Motherboard reviewed a text message where Hodges complained about his right turn signal for his van going out. "Ok don't put it on e-Mentor... I will change it by morning," his manager responded. Some Amazon delivery drivers say they turn off the Mentor app during their routes because driving in a way that would lead to a high Mentor score while completing their quotas for the day is nearly impossible. Drivers say the app is also full of glitches, for example, it often marks the jostling of a phone as "distracted driving." On the Apple Store, Mentor has a one star rating out of five stars, and on Reddit, Amazon delivery drivers have posted about "the best way to cheat Mentor." "The app itself is so problematic," a former Amazon delivery driver in Buffalo, New York, who quit in May told Motherboard. "I’ve gotten hit with phone distractions when I’ve never touched the phone. It’s almost impossible to keep a good score. The app is terrible. " "It's really a catch-22 situation," she continued. "Either you turn the app off so you can deliver faster or you leave it on and deliver slower and don't get your bonuses." In early 2020, Amazon announced that it would be installing AI-powered cameras that use facial recognition technology, made by Netradyne, into all of its vans in order to improve safety. Drivers have been forced to sign biometric consent forms agreeing to allow the cameras to collect their biometric data, or lose their jobs. Amazon did not respond to a question about whether the new Netradyne cameras, which also track speed, acceleration, breaking and turns, will eventually replace the Mentor app. Currently, some drivers in the United States are monitored by both Netradyne and Mentor. Other drivers still only have Mentor. Source: Amazon Drivers Are Instructed to Drive Recklessly to Meet Delivery Quotas
  15. Amazon’s exclusive ‘Thursday Night Football’ package will begin in 2022 instead of 2023 KEY POINTS Amazon said it will begin streaming ‘Thursday Night Football’ games exclusively beginning in 2022. The company had previously announced it would begin exclusively streaming games in 2023. Amazon is paying $1 billion per year to exclusively stream NFL games outside of local broadcast networks. Amazon’s 11-year agreement marks the first time games will be provided by a streaming video provider. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) talks with Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy in game action during the Super Bowl LIV game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers on February 2, 2020 at Hard Rock Stadium, in Miami Gardens, FL. Robin Alam | Icon Sportswire | Getty Images Amazon Prime Video’s exclusive 15-game “Thursday Night Football” package will now debut in 2022, a year earlier than previously announced, the company said Monday. Amazon made history last month when it became the first all-streaming provider to agree to carry a weekly package of National Football League games. The technology giant is paying $1 billion per season for the exclusive rights. Amazon’s deal will now run 11 years, matching the length of the Sunday and Monday packages acquired by Disney, Comcast, ViacomCBS and Fox. The Prime Video package is for 15 Thursday night games and one pre-season game each season. Amazon had always intended to have an 11-year package but needed to wait a month for the NFL to contractually end its deal with Fox a year earlier, according to a person familiar with the matter. “We look forward to bringing Thursday Night Football exclusively to Prime members in 2022, a year earlier than previously announced,” said Marie Donoghue, vice president of global sports video at Amazon, in a statement. “This expedited deal is an immediate differentiator for us as a service, as it gives Prime members exclusive access to the most popular sport in the United States.” Amazon views “Thursday Night Football” as a sweetener to keep people paying for Prime, the company’s subscription service that includes free shipping on many Amazon-purchased products. Amazon founder, CEO and Chairman Jeff Bezos disclosed last month that the company surpassed 200 million global Prime subscribers. A Prime Video membership costs $8.99 per month, but it’s also included with Amazon Prime which costs $12.99 per month or $119 a year. All Thursday Night games will also be broadcast over the air in local markets. Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal, which owns CNBC. Source: Amazon’s exclusive ‘Thursday Night Football’ package will begin in 2022 instead of 2023
  16. Amazon’s cashierless checkout technology is coming to its new supermarkets KEY POINTS Amazon could soon introduce its cashierless checkout technology at its growing line of Fresh grocery stores. Signs of Amazon’s “Just Walk Out” technology, including gated turnstiles and hardware to potentially house ceiling-mounted cameras, appear in planning documents for a store under construction in Brookfield, Connecticut. Inside Amazon’s first Amazon Fresh grocery store in Los Angeles. Amazon Amazon’s cashierless checkout technology could soon be coming to its growing line of Fresh grocery stores. Features of Amazon’s automated checkout technology, called “Just Walk Out,” appear in planning documents for a store under construction in a suburban shopping plaza in Brookfield, Connecticut. The technology allows customers to skip the checkout line by tracking any items they grab and charging them when they leave. Amazon declined to comment. News of Amazon’s plans was first reported by Bloomberg. The documents show gated entry and exit lanes at the front of the store, where shoppers would presumably scan an app or credit card as they come in, as well as hardware to potentially house ceiling-mounted cameras that track which items shoppers pick up in the store. The documents also mention an electronic shelving system, a feature Amazon has deployed in its Fresh and cashierless Go convenience stores. Additionally, a large staging area appears at the front of the proposed store layout. Fresh stores have a dedicated section where customers can pick up amazon.com or grocery orders placed online or return their packages for free. It’s unclear if the store will incorporate other high-tech elements featured in Fresh stores, such as its recently launched Dash Carts, which are smart shopping carts that let shoppers check out without waiting in line. In September, Amazon opened its first Fresh grocery store in Los Angeles’ Woodland Hills neighborhood. It has since opened a dozen stores, located in southern California and in several suburbs of Chicago. The company also plans to open a handful of stores on the East Coast. If Amazon ends up launching cashierless checkout technology in Fresh stores, it would represent an industry feat. Start-ups such as Standard Cognition, AiFi and Grabango have all developed autonomous systems for retailers, but widespread adoption has been slow, as the technology remains costly and challenging to deploy in large store formats. Amazon Fresh stores are roughly 35,000 square feet, or about the size of a store in Amazon’s other grocery chain, Whole Foods. The format incorporates a blend of in-store and online shopping, while offering consumers a variety of products at lower price points than the largely upscale options offered at Whole Foods. Source: Amazon’s cashierless checkout technology is coming to its new supermarkets
  17. Jeff Bezos says Amazon needs to do a better job for employees in final shareholder letter Bezos pointed to the recent union election outcome at one of Amazon’s Alabama warehouses as an example of why the company needs to address challenges within its workforce. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos provides the keynote address at the Air Force Association's Annual Air, Space & Cyber Conference in Oxen Hill, MD. - September 9, 2018.Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images file In his final letter to shareholders, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said Thursday that the company needs to “do a better job for our employees.” Bezos pointed to the recent union election outcome at one of Amazon’s Alabama warehouses as an example of why the company needs to address challenges within its workforce. Last week, Amazon secured enough votes to defeat a unionization drive at its Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse. “While the voting results were lopsided and our direct relationship with employees is strong, it’s clear to me that we need a better vision for how we create value for employees – a vision for their success,” Bezos wrote. Bezos also disputed previous media coverage of working conditions at the company, including the criticism that the pace of work inside its warehouses is too strenuous. Bezos said there’s an impression of Amazon workers “being desperate souls and treated as robots,” but that that’s inaccurate. “We don’t set unreasonable performance goals,” Bezos said. “We set achievable performance performance goals that take into account tenure and actual performance data.” The letter is Bezos’ final annual letter to shareholders as he’s set to step down as CEO in the third quarter. Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web Services, will take over his role. Source: Jeff Bezos says Amazon needs to do a better job for employees in final shareholder letter
  18. Amazon's union vote: What's at stake in the Alabama warehouse election Nearly 6,000 Bessemer workers could kick off a movement that takes Amazon's reputation for reliable delivery out of its control. The warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, where a union vote will be tallied this week. Historically, the region had strong steel and coal unions, but industry died out in the late 20th century. Bloomberg via Getty Images For the first time in seven years, Amazon warehouse workers are deciding whether to unionize, which could give them more say in their hours, pay and working conditions. Union drives rarely make it to a vote in Amazon warehouses, and those that have, failed. Now employees in Alabama have the opportunity to break this pattern and become the first unionized Amazon warehouse workers in the US. The 5,800 workers in Bessemer, a small industrial city outside of Birmingham, have been casting ballots in a union election for more than a month. The potentially historic outcome is being tallied now. If it succeeds, it could kick off more Amazon warehouse unionization efforts around the country. Whether or not the workers certify the union, the vote itself is remarkable. Union advocates have long told stories of intense anti-union pressure from Amazon that snuffed out unionizing efforts before a vote, as well as interrogations of workers who protested working conditions. Additionally, the vote is taking place in the South, a region historically viewed as anti-union and a haven for corporations trying to avoid cooperation among their workers. The vote also brings the story of warehouse workers to the fore as the coronavirus pandemic rages. Amazon's warehouse employees, deemed essential workers, have made sure customers have toilet paper and other necessary items while working from home -- a luxury the warehouse workers themselves don't have. Instead, workers have faced possible COVID-19 infection and long hours fulfilling online orders. In the meantime, Amazon made hefty profits in 2020, which ended with the company growing its net sales 44% over the previous year, bringing in $125.6 billion in the fourth quarter. On March 30, 2020, Amazon warehouse workers held a protest and walkout over conditions at the company's Staten Island distribution facility, where a number of employees had tested positive for the coronavirus. Spencer Platt/Getty Images The online retail giant has long opposed unionization. A union would give employees rights to strike and conduct work-stoppages, which could make it harder for Amazon to make good on its reputation of fast, reliable delivery. One unionized warehouse likely wouldn't disrupt the whole system, but if the organizing drive inspires more union efforts, the company will be in trouble, said Michael Pachter, a financial analyst at Wedbush. While Amazon also wants to look like a good-guy company that already treats its workers right, he added, "It's far more important that nothing disrupts two-day delivery." Amazon argues that workers don't want a union. "Our employees know the truth -- starting wages of $15 or more, health care from day one, and a safe and inclusive workplace," an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement Monday. "We encouraged all of our employees to vote and hope they did so." Amazon has tried to steer the conversation about working conditions at its warehouses by using newspaper ads to push for a federal $15-an-hour minimum wage to match its own starting wage and by using public statements and conversations with reporters to highlight its benefits and tuition reimbursement programs. These are the benefits Amazon believes make a union unnecessary for its workers. At the start of the pandemic, it also temporarily increased worker wages by $2 per hour from their base pay -- a short-lived policy that many workers want to return. Union advocates point to a different picture of warehouse work. Amazon has a uniquely high turnover in an industry that already churns through workers, according to the Seattle Times. Counting all Amazon and Whole Foods employees, the company had to refill positions at a rate of more than 96% between March and mid-September in 2020. Its warehouse employees report that the job involves intense physical exhaustion and the risk of injury, coupled with Amazon tracking their every move. (That applies to delivery drivers too, who recently were required to consent to monitoring from AI-powered cameras in their vans.) Added to that is unpredictable scheduling and mandatory overtime. The union advocates aim their efforts at these issues, arguing that union representation would give workers better job security and help them advocate for adequate rest and better safety measures. Workers who've spoken publicly against unionizing say they don't want a third party involved in making decisions or getting between them and their managers. Bloomberg reported in February that opinions in the warehouse are divided. Testifying before the Senate Budget Committee in March, Bessemer warehouse worker Jennifer Bates said the company seems "to think you are another machine." Amazon's first US union could form in the South The Bessemer warehouse workers are deciding whether to form a bargaining unit represented by RWDSU, which also speaks for workers at meat packing plants, cereal factories and department stores. The union would negotiate contracts with Amazon on the workers' behalf and oversee a grievance process when workers want to dispute discipline against them. The union would only include the 5,800 workers at the Bessemer warehouse, and none would be required to join or pay dues if the vote certifies the union. If people opt not to join, they still benefit from higher-pay negotiations or the grievance system, but they wouldn't be able to vote on contracts or participate in union activities like choosing politicians to endorse or running for office within the union. "Alabama is a union state. I remember seeing the steel workers picketing." Erica Iheme, Bessemer community organizer While Alabama, and Bessemer in particular, historically had strong steel and coal mining unions, organized labor generally lost its hold on the South after World War II. The fact that the largest unionizing effort at a US Amazon facility is in the South is "fascinating," said Erik Gellman, a labor historian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 1946, the Congress of Industrial Organizations made an ill-fated effort in Operation Dixie to organize southern workers, focusing on textile factories and other industrial worksites. Its failure is attributed to the union's inability to bring white and Black workers together, pressures created by Jim Crow segregation and a lack of regional understanding from northern organizers, Gellman said. Afterward, several southern states passed laws that made union organizing much harder in the South. Large corporations have used those difficulties to their advantage. Some have moved their workforces to the South -- or at least threatened to do so -- to weaken unionization efforts at facilities in union-friendly states. Boeing, for example, began moving its plane assembly operations to South Carolina in 2009. By 2013, Boeing had access to non-union labor in the South and offered its unionized Washington workers a take-it-or-leave-it contract that cut wages and pension contributions. Still, not everyone agrees with characterizations of Alabama as an anti-union state. Erica Iheme, a community organizer who grew up in Bessemer, is part of a coalition of local organizations supporting the Amazon workers' union drive called Alabama for Community Benefits. The state has 8.7% union density, making it the most unionized southern state other than Kentucky (based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics' definition of the South), where 9.4% of the workforce was represented by a union in 2020. From her childhood, Iheme remembers when her school bus passed a unionized steel plant. "Alabama is a union state," she said. "I remember seeing the steel workers picketing that plant growing up." Bessemer, which is named after a steel processing method created by Englishman Henry Bessemer, is full of people whose grandparents were in unions, Iheme said, adding that the Amazon vote could revive that trend. "That's going to open the door for so many other workers across Alabama to think, 'That could happen to us.'" But it's not just Alabama or the South at stake. Amazon's business strategy requires it to have warehouses in every state, and a success in the South could mean unionization is possible anywhere, especially regions with labor-friendly laws. Employers will always use the threat of closing down a facility to stop union efforts, but Amazon doesn't appear poised to leave the Birmingham area, said George Davies, a labor lawyer who serves as lead counsel for the RWDSU effort in Bessemer. Amazon is slated to build another facility at the site of a shuttered mall in Birmingham. Other protest and union efforts have failed and led to firings Amazon isn't treating the organizing drive as an idle threat. Bessemer employees and RWDSU representatives have said that Amazon put anti-union messages in the warehouse's bathroom stalls, held mandatory anti-union trainings, sent anti-union messages through corporate apps and brought in corporate employees for one-on-one meetings to gauge their levels of union support. (Union organizers have called workers to persuade them to vote yes and stationed activists outside the Bessemer warehouse to send a pro-union message.) The actions echo Amazon's previously reported approaches to employee organizing. The last union vote at an Amazon warehouse took place in 2014. A small group of equipment maintenance and repair technicians at a Delaware warehouse voted overwhelmingly not to certify the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers as their union. Amazon said the vote made it clear the employees "want a direct connection with Amazon," but the union blamed Amazon's anti-union pressure for the outcome. An Amazon Prime warehouse in Manhattan, back in 2015. Sarah Tew/CNET Shortly after, a machinist in a Virginia warehouse led a union drive in 2014 and 2015 and told The New York Times that he faced intense anti-union pressure from Amazon as a result. After a National Labor Relations Board investigation, Amazon agreed to post a notice saying it wouldn't retaliate against employees who tried to organize a union and to rescind a warning to the machinist that he was on the verge of being fired, according to the Times. The machinist, Bill Hough Jr., was fired later that year. The pandemic has ignited further protests over working conditions, especially the company's COVID safety measures in March and April of 2020, when some employees said there weren't sufficient masks. That's when a small group of Staten Island warehouse workers walked out in protest after a co-worker tested positive for COVID-19. Christian Smalls, one of the protest organizers who was exposed to a colleague with COVID-19, was subsequently fired for attending the protest at Amazon's facility. Amazon later came under fire when a leaked memo showed that the company's top legal executive David Zapolsky called Smalls, who is Black, "not smart or articulate." Last week, Vice reported that a worker who organized a March 2020 protest over COVID protections at a Queens, New York, warehouse was questioned for 90 minutes and disciplined for his role in planning the walkout, in seeming violation of US labor laws. Amazon confirmed a settlement with the NLRB over the incident and said it didn't agree with the details of the complaint. Exhausted warehouse workers Amid the union drives and worker walkouts, Amazon warehouse employees have expressed a desire to slow down at work, for safety and to keep their bodies from breaking down. Working at an Amazon warehouse is like "a nine-hour intense workout every day," Bates, the Bessemer warehouse worker, told federal lawmakers in March. Bates said she wants workers to get enough rest to recover from repetitive movements and extended physical exertion. Amazon said it appreciated the feedback from Bates but that it didn't think her views reflected those of most warehouse workers. The company added that 90% of her fulfillment center colleagues "say they'd recommend Amazon as a great place to work to friends and family." Amazon spokesperson Heather Knox emphasized that employees receive two 30-minute breaks per 10-hour shift, as well as paid breaks to go to the bathroom or get a snack. Iheme, the community organizer, said Amazon workers deserve to have enough energy to function outside of work. If warehouse employees aren't "exhausted when they get off work," or running off to a second job to make ends meet, they can be better parents. They might also get involved in the community and even take vacations to other parts of the state, she added, all of which would be good for Bessemer and the state's economy. "When you have that time to invest in your home," she said, "you have that time to invest in your community." First published on March 29, 2021 at 5:00 a.m. PT. Source: Amazon's union vote: What's at stake in the Alabama warehouse election
  19. Amazon offers rare apology, says it will look for solutions to drivers peeing in bottles An Amazon Prime truck in downtown Seattle near Amazon HQ. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser) Amazon issued a rare apology Friday night, stepping back from comments made on Twitter last week in a response to Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin over whether its delivery drivers felt the need to urinate in bottles since bathroom breaks were challenging to achieve. The apology is an unusual admission by the Seattle-based company, which has aggressively defended itself against criticism on Twitter lately. It also comes as Amazon workers at a fulfillment center in Bessemer, Ala., consider a unionization effort, with a vote tally expected some time next week. Here’s the tweet from Pocan on March 24 that set things off. Paying workers $15/hr doesn't make you a "progressive workplace" when you union-bust & make workers urinate in water bottles. https://t.co/CnFTtTKA9q — Rep. Mark Pocan (@repmarkpocan) March 25, 2021 The official Amazon Twitter account @AmazonNews shot back at Pocan: 1/2 You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us. The truth is that we have over a million incredible employees around the world who are proud of what they do, and have great wages and health care from day one. — Amazon News (@amazonnews) March 25, 2021 Pocan replied that he believed Amazon’s workers. And, as GeekWire reported, thousands of other users on Twitter joined in the debate. Amazon said Friday that the tweet was “incorrect,” and “did not contemplate our large driver population and instead wrongly focused only on our fulfillment centers.” The company also said the tweet did not receive proper scrutiny and called its process “flawed.” However, Amazon did defend itself a bit, saying that drivers having trouble finding restrooms “is a long-standing, industry-wide issue and is not specific to Amazon.” It included several links to related stories and tweets. “Regardless of the fact that this is industry-wide, we would like to solve it,” the company wrote Friday. “We don’t yet know how, but will look for solutions.” Last week’s saga was an unusual PR pissing match for Amazon, which usually avoids such controversies. The matter took on elevated importance after Recode reported this week that the responses were coming from the top, directed by none other than founder Jeff Bezos. Historically, Amazon has let criticism bounce off its teflon shell. And the apology points to an increased sensitivity as labor tensions rise, Bezos hands over the CEO reins to AWS chief Andy Jassy, and ongoing antitrust scrutiny. Here’s the full apology as posted to the Amazon blog: On Wednesday last week, the @amazonnews Twitter account tweeted the following back to Representative Mark Pocan: 1/2 You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us. The truth is that we have over a million incredible employees around the world who are proud of what they do, and have great wages and health care from day one. — Amazon News (@amazonnews) March 25, 2021 This was an own-goal, we’re unhappy about it, and we owe an apology to Representative Pocan. First, the tweet was incorrect. It did not contemplate our large driver population and instead wrongly focused only on our fulfillment centers. A typical Amazon fulfillment center has dozens of restrooms, and employees are able to step away from their work station at any time. If any employee in a fulfillment center has a different experience, we encourage them to speak to their manager and we’ll work to fix it. Second, our process was flawed. The tweet did not receive proper scrutiny. We need to hold ourselves to an extremely high accuracy bar at all times, and that is especially so when we are criticizing the comments of others. Third, we know that drivers can and do have trouble finding restrooms because of traffic or sometimes rural routes, and this has been especially the case during Covid when many public restrooms have been closed. This is a long-standing, industry-wide issue and is not specific to Amazon. We’ve included just a few links below that discuss the issue. Regardless of the fact that this is industry-wide, we would like to solve it. We don’t yet know how, but will look for solutions. We will continue to speak out when misrepresented, but we will also work hard to always be accurate. We apologize to Representative Pocan. Source: Amazon offers rare apology, says it will look for solutions to drivers peeing in bottles
  20. Amazon gets FDA authorization for an at-home COVID-19 test kit The company plans to use it for its employee testing program Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge Amazon received Food and Drug Administration authorization for a COVID-19 test made by its subsidiary STS Lab Holdco, and it plans to use it for its onsite coronavirus testing programs. The test is done using a nasal self swab that can be done either under the supervision of a health care provider or as part of an at-home kit where a patient takes their own sample and mails it to a centralized lab. “Amazon plans to use the Amazon Real-Time RT-PCR Test for Detecting SARS-CoV-2 (Amazon Test) as part of the company’s overall Coronavirus Disease 2019 (“COVID-19”) preparedness and response program,” the FDA’s authorization reads. The authorization also describes Amazon’s employee-screening program. Some Amazon employees will be automatically given testing appointments around every 14 days. The tests are voluntary. “Amazon has partnered with a third-party healthcare provider who will issue the necessary prescriptions and individual test orders,” the authorization said. The authorization letter is addressed to Cem Sibay, the vice president of Amazon Labs. Last summer, Amazon tapped Sibay to build its in-house COVID-19 testing lab, Business Insider reported. In October, the company said it had the infrastructure to run tens of thousands of tests for employees each day. The new test is a modification of another COVID-19 test made by BGI Genomics, which the authorization said Amazon used at the end of August. The company began using the modified version that would become the Amazon test on August 28th, 2020. Between late September and early December 2020, it ran over 560,000 samples, according to the authorization. Amazon started selling at-home COVID-19 testing kits made by genomics company DxTerity in January. That test sells for $110. The company continues to expand into health care: last week, it announced that it would start offering its in-house telehealth and at-home health care program to other companies. Amazon has also expressed interest in medical testing before. In 2018, the company was in talks to buy diagnostics company Confer Health. Source: Amazon gets FDA authorization for an at-home COVID-19 test kit
  21. Amazon is launching on-site Covid-19 vaccinations at some warehouses KEY POINTS Amazon announced Thursday that it’s setting up on-site vaccination clinics at fulfillment centers in Missouri, followed by Nevada and Kansas in the coming weeks. The company said it expects to launch vaccination clinics at additional warehouses across the country as more vaccine supply becomes available to front-line employees in other states. A worker loads customer orders into a waiting tractor-trailer inside the million-square foot Amazon distribution warehouse that opened last fall in Fall River, MA on Mar. 23, 2017. John Tlumacki | Boston Globe | Getty Images Some Amazon warehouse workers will soon be able to get vaccinated against Covid-19 at their workplace. Amazon announced Thursday that it’s setting up on-site vaccination clinics at fulfillment centers in Missouri, followed by Nevada and Kansas in the coming weeks. At the clinics, which are expected to run for about five days, vaccines will be administered to employees by licensed health-care providers. The company said it expects to launch vaccination clinics at additional warehouses across the country as more vaccine supply becomes available to front-line employees in other states. It comes as the U.S. continues to pick up the pace of vaccinations, with the nation administering more than 2.5 million shots per day. Companies with essential workers, including Amazon, have been vying to give their workers priority access to the shots. Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance that employers with a large workforce can begin setting up Covid-19 vaccine clinics on site. Agriculture giant Cargill, Tyson Foods and some automakers and manufacturers in Detroit are among a growing list of employers that have launched on-site clinics at some of their facilities. Heather MacDougall, Amazon’s vice president for worldwide workplace health and safety, told CNBC in an interview that the company has been working with a third-party administrator who secures the Covid vaccines on Amazon’s behalf. “Most of these conversations go on at the state and local level where those decisions are being made, in terms of who’s eligible for the vaccine,” MacDougall added. Some of Amazon’s front-line workers have already been vaccinated in states where they’re eligible. The company has nudged its front-line workers to get vaccinated off-site by offering them a bonus of up to $80, or $40 for each dose. Employees who experience side effects from the Covid vaccine are eligible to take unpaid time off, Amazon said. Inside its warehouses, Amazon has taken steps to alleviate fears or concerns around the vaccine among its front-line workers. In private Facebook groups, some warehouse workers in the U.S. have expressed skepticism and uncertainty around the vaccine’s side effects or the potential that Amazon will mandate vaccinations among its workforce. Amazon has posted educational information and positive messaging about the vaccine around warehouses, including in “inSTALLments,” the informational sheets posted in facility bathrooms. One message viewed by CNBC told workers the vaccine is “safe and effective” and is the “quickest way for life to return to normal.” The company also sent out a questionnaire to warehouse workers via Amazon Connections, an internal survey system, to gauge their attitudes about the Covid vaccine and other coronavirus safety measures. One prompt sent to workers said “Covid vaccines and regular Covid testing can help keep you and those you care about safe,” with workers given the option to answer “OK” or “I’d rather not answer,” according to a separate document viewed by CNBC. Amazon is already seeing sizable interest in the on-site vaccination clinics. More than 1,000 front-line employees have signed up to get vaccinated at Amazon’s first on-site clinic at a warehouse outside of St. Louis, Missouri, which opened Thursday, the company said. — CNBC’s Bertha Coombs contributed reporting to this article. Source: Amazon is launching on-site Covid-19 vaccinations at some warehouses
  22. Parler sues Amazon again, this time in Washington state The company filed the lawsuit on the same day it dropped its previous one. Igor Bonifacic / Engadget Parler may have voluntarily withdrawn its federal lawsuit against Amazon, but the company isn’t ready to give up its legal battle just yet. On the same day it dropped that previous suit, the company filed a new one against Amazon in a Washington state court, according to The Verge. At the center of Parler’s complaint is the claim that Amazon broke its contract with the company when it didn’t honor a provision that allows clients 30 days to address an issue before service is terminated. Parler says it wouldn’t have signed up with Amazon if that provision hadn’t been in place. “Immediate termination — going dark — is unbelievably damaging,” it says in the complaint. “Getting 30 days either to cure or find another host is absolutely essentially [sic] to avoid millions of dollars in damages and potentially irreparable harm.” It also alleges Amazon “tried to justify the repudiation based on allegations against Parler that it “knew were false.” Suit claims before AWS soured on Parler, Amazon knew Trump was considering joining Parler and that AWS was interesting in financing Parler as part of a "program for startups with high potential." — Bobby Allyn (@BobbyAllyn) March 3, 2021 An Amazon Web Services spokesperson dismissed the lawsuit as meritless. “… as shown by the evidence in Parler’s federal lawsuit, it was clear that there was significant content on Parler that encouraged and incited violence against others, which is a violation of our terms of service,” the spokesperson told Engadget. “Further, Parler was unable or unwilling to promptly identify and remove this content, which coupled with an increase in this type of dangerous violent content, led to our suspension of their services.” We’ve asked Parler for comment. Amazon cut Parler off from AWS on January 9th. And while it was eventually able to make its way back online, it’s still not possible to download its mobile app from the App Store and Google Play. It’s also dealt with internal drama after the dismal of former CEO John Matze. Source: Parler sues Amazon again, this time in Washington state
  23. Microsoft slams Amazon’s AWS over Solarwinds silence While testifying in front of the House of Representatives, Microsoft’s President Brad Smith slammed Amazon’s AWS for lack of transparency regarding the Solarwinds attack, which compromised more than 18,000 companies. AWS admitted Thursday the SolarWinds hackers used its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) in their attack. “You have other companies, some of the largest companies in our industry, that are well-known to have been involved in this, that still have not spoken publicly about what they felt,” Smith said. “There’s no indication that they even informed customers.” Smith told Congress Microsoft has published 32 blog posts on the topic and Amazon has published nothing. Amazon in fact refused to testify in front of Congress, with some Representatives threatening to subpoena Amazon representatives. DomainTools Senior Security Researcher Joe Slowik said Amazon’s AWS could contribute financial information on how the SolarWinds hackers paid for its services, network traffic data showing whom the hackers interacted with on the internet, and data stored on AWS servers themselves showing what other activity the hackers were engaged in and possibly what other tools they were using. “I’m worried that, to some degree, some other companies – some of our competitors even – just didn’t look very hard,” Smith said. “If you don’t look, you won’t find, and you’ll go to bed every night being blissfully ignorant thinking you don’t have a problem when, in fact, you do.” “Silence is not going to make this country stronger,” Smith said. “And so, I think we have to encourage, and I think, even mandate that certain companies do this kind of reporting … We at Microsoft have been reporting this kind of information, sharing data and publishing blogs without any legal duty to do so.” via CRN Microsoft slams Amazon’s AWS over Solarwinds silence
  24. Amazon's MMO New World Delayed The MMO has been pushed back from Spring to August. Amazon's long-awaited MMO New World has been delayed. The game was originally scheduled to launch in Spring 2021, but it's now slated for August 31, 2021. "We've been hard at work on compelling end-game features we believe are important to include at launch," Amazon said in a blog post. "These features won't be ready for the Spring timeframe that we had communicated. With that in mind, we will release New World on August 31, 2021. With this extra time we'll be able to add these substantial improvements while polishing and fine tuning the whole game before we open Aeternum's shores to the world." The alpha for New World will continue and Amazon plans to expand it by adding more EU servers on March 30, 2021. A closed beta is scheduled to start on July 20, 2021. Everyone who has pre-ordered New World will be able to play the closed beta. Amazon also announced what's in the closed beta, and it's a lot. Players can travel to an end-game zone called Ebonscale Reach, take part in five-played instanced expedition events, and also try out 20 v 20 battles called Outpost Rush. Check out the full blog post on Amazon's New World site to learn more. This isn't the only MMO that Amazon is working on right now, as Amazon Game Studios is also producing a brand-new Lord of the Rings MMO, though it is not connected to Amazon's TV show. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is stepping down, and his replacement--Andy Jassy--has pledged to support the company's gaming efforts, even though they haven't worked out so well thus far. Jassy said in an email to staff, obtained by Bloomberg, that Amazon Game Studios might not have succeeded right away, but he's in it for the long-haul. "Some businesses take off in the first year, and others take many years," Jassy said. "Though we haven't consistently succeeded yet in AGS, I believe we will if we hang in there." Amazon's highest-profile games to date have not broken out in the way the company might have wanted. The multiplayer game Crucible failed to find an audience at launch, and Amazon moved the game back into closed beta and then eventually canceled it prior to release. The company's other big multiplayer game, Breakaway, was canceled completely. Source: Amazon's MMO New World Delayed
  25. Amazon & eBay Make Progress With Their Pirate Streaming Box Problem After being heavily criticized due to the prevalence of pirate streaming devices offered for sale on their platforms, Amazon and eBay now appear to be getting on top of the problem. While they haven't been completely eliminated, illegal devices are now much harder to find. The same cannot be said of pirate IPTV subscriptions, however. Three years ago, “Kodi Box” fever was ripping through piracy circles, with the popular media player persistently linked to infringing addons providing free access to the latest movies and TV shows. As time progressed the term “Kodi Box” was regularly used to describe any set-top device that could be used to obtain pirated content for free, while Kodi itself found itself playing a diminishing role as more convenient piracy-focused Android apps came to the fore. While piracy veterans were more than capable of making their own “Kodi Box”, newcomers and those with less time or patience sought out pre-configured devices on platforms such as Amazon and eBay. In 2017, with both platforms (eBay in particular) hosting thousands of listings for these devices, news of a crackdown emerged. Amazon Announces New Policy As previously reported, Amazon updated its terms and conditions, noting that no product offered for sale should “promote, suggest the facilitation of, or actively enable the infringement of or unauthorized access to digital media or other protected content.” More specifically, Amazon stated that “any streaming media player or other device that violates this policy is prohibited from sale on Amazon.” Then, in the summer of 2017, media reports suggested that eBay had followed suit but three months later there seemed little change on the platform. So-called “Kodi Boxes” and other piracy-configured devices were still easily found using even the most basic of searches. Given that almost three years have passed since the Amazon announcement, this week we decided to take a fresh look at both platforms. Copyright holders should be broadly pleased with today’s state of play. Pirate Devices Are Less Readily Found In common with our tests in 2017, our first port of call was a basic search for the old favorite – “Kodi Box”. Unlike three years ago, when a fully-loaded device and many others like it filled the first set of results (and indeed the first few pages), eBay in both the US and UK produces not a single result for a “fully-loaded” pirate device in the first pages. In fact, eBay.co.uk shows just five results and six from international sellers, none of which are devices pre-configured for piracy – a big change from 2017. The same is roughly true for eBay.com, which produces way more results but mainly for remote control units for set-top devices, cufflinks, nail polish, and baseball cards. The term “fully loaded” – another pirate staple – is also dramatically less useful than it once was. It doesn’t really matter how that term is used now either. “Fully loaded boxes” reveals listings for fishing tackle, “fully loaded” returns high-spec cars, “fully loaded Android” shows books, and “fully loaded TV” conjures up Herbie DVDs. Other once-popular terms are useless too. “Showbox” delivers display cases for watches and “Popcorn Time” reveals listings for popcorn machines. It’s like 2017 never happened. On top, devices that do claim to be “fully loaded” appear to be loaded with Netflix, iPlayer and similar apps – not exactly what pirates are looking for. While Amazon was always less of a problem, the same is broadly true there as well. It is still possible to find listings for pirate devices but the easy and traditional ways of finding them don’t work like they used to and casual buyers will probably try somewhere else out of frustration. Big Improvements – With One Caveat While pre-configured piracy devices are now harder to find on both platforms, it isn’t particularly difficult to find pirate IPTV subscriptions on eBay or Amazon. The former platform is much more helpful since when typing in the text “IPTV” the site provides some automatic suggestions that send people to the appropriate listings. Again, the situation is vastly improved or degraded (depending on perspective) when compared to 2017 but for those prepared to keep digging, the products people are looking for are still around. That they are considerably harder to find will probably prove a deterrent to novices, and that will be welcomed by copyright holders. Amazon & eBay Make Progress With Their Pirate Streaming Box Problem
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