A threat to internet freedom, and Amazon’s cash-cow.
Amazon employees have circulated a letter demanding that Jeff Bezos cancel sales of facial recognition software to ICE in protest of zero tolerance policies as to illegal border crossers. Those arrests have resulted in some children being temporarily separated from their arrested parents (as happens whenever U.S. citizens are arrested and incarcerated.)
If you read the headlines, you’d think the demand to stop sales to ICE was the big story. Here’s how The Washington Post headlined it:
Employees at Amazon.com are calling on chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos to end the sale of facial-recognition technology to law enforcement agencies and to discontinue partnerships with companies that work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
In a letter, a group of Amazon workers said they are also troubled by a recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union revealing the company’s sale and marketing of Rekognition, its facial-recognition technology, to police departments and government agencies. Workers at Amazon are protesting the recently halted Trump administration policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.
So you’re telling us that some Amazon employees bring their personal politics into the office including as to which companies Amazon should do business with?
That is not, of course, a shock to us: Amazon demonetizes conservative website (us).
While Amazon purported to give a non-political reason for termination (which we dispute), I believe that someone in Amazon wanted us gone. The attempt by employees to sever ties with ICE comes after a controversy of Amazon terminating a conservative law group’s participation in the Amazon Smile program, This is my *shocked* face: Amazon turns over policing of its charity program to SPLC
But that is not the big story about the Amazon employee letter demanding a halt to doing business with ICE.
Gizmodo, which first reported the story, notes a much more ominous additional demand, that the company Trump-supporter Peter Thiel founded be kicked off the Amazon cloud service:
In addition to its demands about Rekognition, the Amazon employee letter also calls on the company to boot Palantir, the Peter Thiel-founded firm that offers predictive policing tools to law enforcement and enjoys a hefty contract with ICE, from Amazon Web Services. (Thiel secretly funded a lawsuit that led to the bankruptcy of Gawker Media, Gizmodo’s former parent company.)
The Amazon letter appears to be the first time an employee demand letter has moved beyond calls to cancel a specific contract to demands to remove a customer from a cloud platform. Although it may seem like a small distinction, it’s an important one for tech companies. Leadership at Microsoft and Google have drawn a distinction between providing benign cloud services to ethically questionable customers and aiding these firms with specific tech that could be used to cause harm. Google, for instance, said that its AI should be used for “socially beneficial” purposes but that it would continue to work with the government for projects like search and rescue or cybersecurity.
“We refuse to build the platform that powers ICE,” the Amazon letter states, “and we refuse to contribute to tools that violate human rights.”
Here’s the language from the letter via Gizmodo:
“Stop providing infrastructure to Palantir and any other Amazon partners who enable ICE.”
The demand to kick Thiel’s company off Amazon’s cloud platform is not the first time politics has led to demands that Amazon and other tech giants deplatform companies. NRA-TV was such a target after the Parkland School shooting:
There is an ongoing campaign touted on social media by the small group of students but organizes by groups like Think Progress. Sleeping Giants and Moms Demand Action, who are targeting corporations that do business with the NRA, mostly though discounts offered to NRA members. Using a playbook refined against Glenn Beck, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and others, companies are being bombarded on social media with demands they sever ties.
It’s not surprising that they are having immediate success. Corporations are cowards when faced with such leftist campaigns. Hertz, Delta, United and many others have severed ties….
But it’s going further. People like Joe Scarborough have joined a campaign to deplatform NRA-TV. That is, to force companies like Apple, Amazon and YouTube to shut down NRA-TV’s ability to stream content….
Leftists have identified a weak point — private entities are not constrained by the 1st Amendment the way the government is, but they perform on the internet quasi-governmental functions over internet infrastructure and access.
NRA-TV was not the first such attempt to use the political leverage liberals and leftists have within the tech world to cut off political opponents from access to internet services:
Attempts to induce corporations to silence conservatives are nothing new. We have seen years of pressure tactics from groups such as Media Matter to shut down voices such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity by pressuring and harassing advertisers. Campaigns are currently underway to force advertisers away from websites such as Breitbart and Gateway Pundit….
That tactic now has gone to a completely different level with attempts to intimidate internet hosting companies and companies that provide internet infrastructure to cut off access to the internet. So far, the effort has been focused on the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer. People might not care that The Daily Stormer is taken down, but the history of leftist tactics show that the target universe will expand dramatically and it will not be long before efforts are directed, as they are now for advertisers, at mainstream conservative and right-of-center websites….
Companies like Cloudfare and others who provide internet infrastrucure will come under increasing pressure, and it won’t be limited to the Storm Fronts of the world. We know from history that the “hate” label is broadly applied for political purposes, and will be used only against right-of-center websites.
Being cut off from domain registrars and other aspects of the internet backbone is something we expect from totalitarian governments. Now that power is in the control of almost-uniformly left-wing corporate managers.
Don’t underestimate the impact the politicization of Amazon’s cloud service would have both on internet freedom and on Amazon itself. The cloud service accounts for essentially all of Amazon’s operating income:
Amazon raked in fourth quarter earnings and sales as the company took retail share to handily top estimates. Yet, operating income for its e-commerce units in U.S. and international were well below Amazon Web Services.
The company said net income for the fourth quarter was $1.9 billion, or $3.75 a share, on revenue of $60.5 billion, up 38 percent from a year ago. The fourth quarter earnings got a boost from a tax benefit of $789 million….
While the numbers from Amazon’s e-commerce operations were impressive, the cash cow remains Amazon Web Services. Consider:
- Amazon’s North America e-commerce business delivered fourth quarter operating income of $1.69 billion on revenue of $37.3 billion.
- International e-commerce sales were $18.04 billion with a operating loss of $919 million.
- AWS had operating income of $1.35 billion for the fourth quarter with sales of $5.11 billion.
- For the year, Amazon’s international e-commerce operating losses eclipsed the company’s North American operating profit. AWS had 2017 operating income of $4.33 billion on sales of $17.46 billion.
In other words, on an annual basis all of Amazon’s operating income derives from AWS.
The actions of these Amazon employees reveal a truth: Leftist politics have infused the tech giants on whom we rely for internet access and essential computing services. It is only a matter of time before the employees at places such as Amazon use that leverage.
In fact, one could argue it’s already happening.DONATE
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