Amazon becomes the latest giant to face Europe’s antitrust wrath

The European Commission has formally opened an antitrust investigation into Amazon’s dual role as a retailer and marketplace and how it uses data derived from independent retailers.

Europe has a track-record of taking on the industry’s biggest players on the grounds of antitrust and Amazon is next in-line. The case which the European Commission will attempt to prove is that Amazon abused its position of power as a leading eCommerce platform, using this position to aid it in selling its own products.

“European consumers are increasingly shopping online,” said Margrethe Vestager, Commissioner for competition policy. “eCommerce has boosted retail competition and brought more choice and better prices.

“We need to ensure that large online platforms don’t eliminate these benefits through anti-competitive behaviour. I have therefore decided to take a very close look at Amazon’s business practices and its dual role as marketplace and retailer, to assess its compliance with EU competition rules.”

This investigation is based around two points which the European Commission hopes to prove are anticompetitive. Firstly, Amazon collects marketplace data from its third-party partners to inform its own sales strategies. Secondly, with a ‘buy box’ only available to certain partners, and the Commission wants to understand what impact this differentiation has on competition.

On the first point, as the overarching platform owner, Amazon is privy to sensitive marketplace information from independent retailers who sell products through the platform. Using this insight to create more effective sales strategies is very likely to fall foul of Europe’s competition rules, should Vestager be able to prove a competitive advantage.

On the subject of Vestager, perhaps this is not the last we will hear from the bureaucrat. Vestager has worked up a reputation over the last few years for taking on some of the US’ most influential, and sometimes slippery, technology companies. With Vestager’s tenure at the European Commission ending in October, perhaps she will be aiming to make a bigger splash.

This is also not the first time Amazon has found itself on the bad-side of Vestager either. In 2017, Amazon was forced to pay €250 million in back taxes to Luxembourg, after the relief which was offered to the internet giant between 2003 and 2016 was deemed illegal.

The second point focuses on the ‘buy box’. This feature allows customers to add items from some retailers directly to their shopping carts. As not all retailers are able to access the feature, the European Commission would like to understand how this impacts competition. It is also not entirely clear why some retailers are able to access this feature and others are not.

Unfortunately for Amazon, this difficult situation is not one which will be resolved quickly. In such cases, due to the complexity of digital businesses and the vast amount of information involved, the European Commission has not set itself a deadline to conduct the investigation.

Another element to consider is the criticism faced by Amazon in the US. Not only has the eCommerce platform found itself as an enemy of the White House, the other aisle is poking. Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat candidate for the 2020 Presidential campaign, wants to ban companies from operating and selling on a platform simultaneously.

With an antitrust case in Europe, potential enemies on both sides of the Presidential campaign, various Congressional committees investigating big tech, Germany’s anti-trust authority sniffing at the front door and its fulfilment centres never too far away from controversy, Amazon is not in the most comfortable of positions.

Amazon takes one small step for satellite connectivity

Amazon has submitted its application to the FCC to deliver home broadband services to rural communities in the US through its Kuiper Systems satellite programme.

In a filing with the FCC, Kuiper Systems, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Amazon.com, plans to deliver high-speed, low-latency broadband services to consumers, businesses, and other customers worldwide through a constellation of 3,236 satellites in 98 orbital planes at altitudes of 590 km, 610 km, and 630 km, us Ka-band radio frequencies.

Aside from providing broadband solutions to rural and hard-to-reach communities, the plan is also to enable MNOs to expand wireless services to unserved and underserved mobile customers and provide high-throughput mobile broadband connectivity services for aircraft, maritime vessels, and land vehicles.

While Amazon has plugged its bank account to entice the FCC, it is also leaning on its existing operations as a means to support the new venture. It has stated it has the ‘global terrestrial networking and compute infrastructure required for the Kuiper System’, as well as the ‘customer operations capabilities’ acquired through its various businesses from eCommerce through to AWS cloud computing.

It’s a comprehensive filing from Amazon, and we suspect it peak some interest at the offices of the FCC.

“The Kuiper System will deliver satellite broadband communications services to tens of millions of unserved and underserved consumers and businesses in the United States and around the globe,” the application states.

“According to the FCC’s 2019 Broadband Deployment Report, 21.3 million Americans lack access to fixed terrestrial broadband with benchmark download and upload speeds of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps, and more than 33 million Americans do not have access to mobile LTE broadband speeds of 10 Mbps/3 Mbps. Amazon will help close this digital divide by offering fixed broadband communications services to rural and hard-to-reach areas.”

Once the ugly duckling of the communications family, the satellite segment has been given a new lease of life in recent months. Amazon and Tesla are two companies which are attracting the lion’s share of headlines, but there are several firms, such as OneWeb, Telesat and LeoSat Technologies, with grand plans to launch constellations over the next few years to bridge the connectivity gap.

And it isn’t just satellites which might be filling the skies over the next few years. Google’s Loon is another business attempting to break the mould when it comes to connectivity. Last week, Google finally received the relevant permissions to start testing its balloons to deliver connectivity, with commercial services set to launch over the coming months.

Even internally the telco industry is seeking to disrupt the status quo. Fixed wireless access for broadband solutions are becoming increasingly popular as a means to deliver connectivity over ‘the last mile’. AT&T and Verizon are charging ahead in the US, with companies like Starry challenging, while numerous telcos have announced their own ambitions in Europe, including Vodafone and Three in the UK.

Although there are still ambitions to deliver the full-fibre dream, the commercial realities seem to be getting in the way. It is incredibly expensive to deliver home broadband through wires, especially when you go to regions such as the US, where the geography is so diverse and vast, or Africa, where ARPU remains a problem in justifying ROI. The digital divide is present everywhere, to varying extremes, and it seems the traditional approach to home broadband is not going to be able to meet demands.

That said, some territories are even out of the reach of Bezos. In the application, Amazon has requested a waiver from delivering connectivity to Alaska, as it would be too far north for the constellation. It perhaps undermines the validation Amazon has put forward, delivering connectivity where it is too difficult for others, though whether this has any material impact remains to be seen.

Although progress is clearly being made here, what is absent from the application are any details on the design of the satellites or timetables for launches. Should permission be granted, we suspect Amazon would move forward very quickly however, Bezos is a space-buff after all.

Interestingly enough, Bezos’ side venture Blue Origin could be in the running to launch the satellites, though Amazon would have to be very careful here. As a publicly-traded company, this could be viewed as a conflict of interest.

The OTTs have constantly been a threat to the delivery of connectivity, a segment owned by the telcos to date, and have faced numerous complications is staging a coup (see Google Fiber). Using satellites might just be a way to carve a niche. It will be an expensive job, but these are companies which have the funds, the desire and the culture to make such a dream a reality.

OTTs Telcos
Cash Cash rich organizations, with incredibly profitable core business models to fuel expansion Incredibly constrained thanks to disruptions to profit-machines such as voice and SMS. Already committed to expensive business of traditional connectivity leaving limited funds for cash-intensive R&D outside bread and butter operations
Desire Constantly searching for new ideas to fuel growth on the spreadsheets. Expectations are high with shareholders and core models will slow down at some point. Do not have the same limitations placed on them (legacy business models and technologies) as the telcos Seem to be fighting too many short-term fires to cast an eye on the horizon. 5G and fibre are taking up so much attention, there seems to be little desire to disrupt themselves. Focusing on protecting what they have
Culture Cultivated a culture of exploration and fail-fast. Willing to fuel ideas without immediate commercial gains if there is potential for profits. More of a big-picture mentality to business Traditional businesses, with traditional leadership and traditional employees. Rarely search beyond the norm for profitability

The threat of Amazon is forcing supermarkets into drastic changes

UK supermarket giant Tesco is undergoing trials with Israeli AI surveillance business Trigo Vision to trial the concept of cashier-less stores, supposedly due to pressure from Amazon.

When Amazon first emerged, few could have imagined the revolution which would have been thrust upon the retailing industry. Even now, more than two decades after Amazon was founded, there are businesses which are still struggling to adapt to life in the digital epoch. The writing has been on the wall for a long-time in retail, and now it seems Tesco is attempting to get ahead of trends for the supermarket segment.

According to The Telegraph, Tesco is currently in trials with Trigo Vision to create a cashier-less store, a concept which Amazon has been playing with in the US for years. Don’t be fooled by the absurdity of the vision, it will soon enough be a presence on the High Street and once the benefits can be seen by all, it will become much more common place.

Take self-checkout tills as an example. When these first emerged everyone hated them, and in some regions, they still do. But you cannot walk into a Tesco or Sainsbury’s in an urban environment anymore without seeing them. And most importantly, no-one really cares anymore. The idea took some time to bed in, but once the bugs were worked out and people saw how much more efficient the system was, they accepted it. The same trend will most likely occur with cashier-less stores.

What is worth noting is that Tesco is not alone in pursuing the future. Sainsbury’s has also announced it is toying with the cashier-less idea, opening its first store in Holborn, Central London, in April this year.

Trigo Vision, the provider of the underlying technology, was founded in 2017 and has been through one round of funding thus far, attracting $7 million from Hetz Ventures and Vertex Ventures Israel. The team already has a partnership with Shufersal, Israel’s largest supermarket chain, to roll-out its automated retail platform in over 272 stores across the country.

The firm supplies both high-resolution RGB cameras, installed on ceilings and an on-premises processing unit that runs machine learning-powered tracking software. The algorithms are continuously honed by Trigo Vision through the data collected at various sites and the team can also help develop customisable apps and kiosks to improve experience.

The technology makes use of artificial intelligence and a dense series of surveillance cameras to track what items are being placed into a customer’s shopping trolley. Customers will be prompted to download an app and enter payment details, or an alternative for sceptics could be using a screen at the exit to complete the purchases.

As it stands, Amazon Go, the eCommerce’s cashier-less business, has launched in several cities across the US and has plans to open its first store in the UK at Oxford Circus in London. This will act as the flagship store for the UK though Amazon is reportedly on the hunt for more sites, 3,000 to 5,000 square feet in size, to expand the footprint.

The stores have been hailed as a success in the US and Amazon is reportedly targeting 3,000 locations within three years. Although this is far from proof the idea is profitable right now, the internet giants tend to run with unprofitable ideas they know will change the world, it should be viewed as a massive red flag for traditional supermarkets.

And while the bookstore segment did little until it was too late, Tesco is at least attempting to get ahead of trends. Another example of this is the ‘Scan Pay Go’ initiative. Here, customers can download an app and carry around a scanner to register products themselves as they wander the aisles, helping keep an eye on spending while also speeding up the check-out process at the end of the trip.

Many companies will state they want to disrupt themselves before being disrupted, though there is little evidence of this. The majority of the time there is an outside influence, a threat from a new player, to alter the status quo. This seems to be the case here, as Amazon is forcing the hand of Tesco, though future success of the Amazon Go business will depend on the ability of the traditional players to scale quickly.

HMD moves Nokia phone user data storage to Finland

HMD Global, the maker of Nokia-branded smartphones, announced that it is moving the storage of user data to Google Cloud servers located in Finland, to ease concerns about data security.

The phone maker announced the move in the context of its new partnership with CGI, a consulting firm that specialises in data collection and analytics, and Google Cloud, which will provide HMD Global with its machine learning technologies. The new models, Nokia 4.2, Nokia 3.2 and the Nokia 2.2, will be the first ones to have the user data stored in the Google Cloud servers in Hamina, southern Finland. Older models that will be eligible for upgrading to Android Q will move the storage to Finland at the upgrade, expected to take place from late 2019 to early 2020. HMD Global commits to two years’ OS upgrades and three years’ security upgrades to its products.

HMD Global claims the move will support its target to be the first Android OEMs to bring OS updates to its users, and to improve its compliance with European security measures and legislation, including GDPR. “We want to remain open and transparent about how we collect and store device activation data and want to ensure people understand why and how it improves their phone experience,” said Juho Sarvikas, HMD Global’s Chief Product Officer. “This change aims to further reinforce our promise to our fans for a pure, secure and up to date Android, with an emphasis on security and privacy through our data servers in Finland.”

Sarvikas denied to the Finnish news outlet Ilta-Sanomat that the move was a direct response to privacy concerns triggered by the controversy earlier this year when Nokia-branded phones sold in Norway were sending activation data to servers in China. At that time HMD Global told Telecoms.com that user data of phones purchased outside of China is stored in AWS servers in Singapore, which, the company said, “follows very strict privacy laws.” However, according to GDPR, to take user data outside of the EU, the company would have had to obtain explicit consent from its EU-based users.

Sarvikas claimed that the latest decision to move storage to Finland has been a year in the making and is part of the company’s overall cloud service vendor swap from Amazon to Google. “Staying true to our Finnish heritage, we’ve decided to partner with CGI and Google Cloud platform for our growing data storage needs and increasing investment in our European home,” Sarvikas added in the press release.

Francisco Jeronimo, Associate VP at IDC, saw this move a positive action by HMD Global, calling it a good move “to address concerns about data privacy” on Twitter.

DoJ antitrust chief readies for battle against big tech

There have been plenty of whispers in the back alleys of Silicon Valley of the antitrust boogeyman and now the nightmares are turning into reality.

Speaking at an industry conference in Israel, Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim outlined his views on competitiveness in the technology industry. Those who were anticipating an antitrust battle in the US can feel suitably vindicated, as Delrahim effectively confirms he has Google and Apple firmly in the crosshairs.

“The digital economy is a fact of life, but it is not all things to all people,” said Delrahim. “There has been robust public discussion about whether the broader economy, undoubtedly transformed by digital technologies, is working well for everyone.”

Although this is not necessarily shocking news, it is a nuanced confirmation of the up-coming assault against big tech.

Last week, the US took the first tentative steps towards addressing the influence of technology on today’s society. The House Antitrust Subcommittee announced the launch of a bipartisan investigation into competition in digital markets, potentially offering a threat to solid foundation of the technology giants. Diluting the dominance of big tech is going to be a very difficult task, but it does appear the groundwork is being laid.

In this speech, Delrahim is effectively outlining the Department of Justice’s plan, as well as the justification for tackling big tech.

“Where there are credible concerns that a transaction or business practice is anticompetitive, timely and effective antitrust enforcement is imperative,” said Delrahim.

“…After all, the government’s successful antitrust case against Microsoft arguably paved the way for companies like Google, Yahoo, and Apple to enter the market with their own desktop and mobile products.”

Microsoft’s dominance of the technology world in the 90s should not be underplayed and perhaps can be very accurately likened to Google’s influence today. Although the US Government was not successful in breaking-up Microsoft as an organization, it did manage to dilute its power and broaden the spread of wealth. When a company starts to dictate play in the way Microsoft did, the US Government starts to get a bit twitchy.

This is the issue which the likes of Google, Amazon and Apple are facing today. Such is the success of the business, through the creation of best-in-class products and strategic acquisitions to stutter the progress of competitors, the fortunes of the technology industry are incredibly concentrated. This is what Delrahim and his colleagues want to address.

Specifics are often lost in such conference speeches, but an interesting point raised by Delrahim focused on “network effects”. In short, an organization has such control over the supporting ecosystem competition is suffocated before it has any genuine chance to be competitive. Perhaps this is done through acquiring nascent competitors or manipulating the ecosystem.

Although there have been some hints of strategy from Delrahim, the specifics are still evading the industry. That said, it is becoming increasingly clear that the US Government wants to dilute the power and influence of big tech.

Amazon almost takes to the skies and rids itself of pesky humans

Amazon has announced another step forward towards the promise of drone delivery and the ambition of a human free business.

Speaking at the re:MARS Conference in Las Vegas, Amazon’s show looking at machine learning, automation, robotics and space, the eCommerce giant has suggested it is close to introducing autonomous drones to its delivery force. Reports suggest the business could be ready to scale during 2020.

“Can we deliver packages to customers even faster?” said Jeff Wilke, CEO of Amazon Worldwide Customer. “We think the answer is yes, and one of the ways we’re pursuing that goal is by pioneering autonomous drone technology.

“We’ve been hard at work building fully electric drones that can fly up to 15 miles and deliver packages under five pounds to customers in less than 30 minutes. And, with the help of our world-class fulfilment and delivery network, we expect to scale Prime Air both quickly and efficiently, delivering packages to customers within months.”

Looking at the wider business model, not only does this enable Amazon to further streamline delivery operations, one of the largest overheads at the business, but it potentially takes it towards new revenues.

With the promise of delivery within 30 minutes, there is potential for Amazon not only to move into the same day delivery world, but also offer services for takeaways, coffee shops and supermarkets. If the focus of this service can be honed, perishable items can be factored into the logistics mix.

And this is not the only new idea which Amazon is testing to get rid of that pesky reliance on fragile humans and their troublesome right to rest.

Scout is another interesting development. Here, the team are developing a small, autonomous robot with six wheels, which will be able to deliver small packages. Currently the small robot is being tested in Washington, accompanied by one of the Amazon testers, but it does look like it can deliver on the same promise as the drone; small deliveries in the local area.

It’s not hard to see the greater ambitions of the Amazon business here. Yes, this is one of the most influential companies on the planet, one of the most trusted brands, revenues are astonishingly large, but it is actually quite a poor profit generator. Over 2018, roughly 59% of profit could be attributed to the 12% share of revenues brought in by the cloud computing business AWS.

Total sales Percentage Net income Percentage
Consumer $207,119 billion 88% $5,125 billion 41%
AWS $25,655 billion 12% $7,296 billion 59%
Total $232,774 billion $12,421 billion

The core eCommerce platform might have made Bezos and Amazon famous, it may well have offered the brand recognition and scale which is enabling profitability elsewhere, but it is not a massive money maker.

There is a solution to this financial conundrum; generate more efficiencies in the most expensive part of the business. At Amazon, as with everywhere else, the biggest financial outlay is down to us, the human employees of the business. Not only do we insist on getting paid, but also require sleep, time to go to the toilet and those irritating laws mean Bezos has to allow his staff a break to eat, the cheek!

Reports constantly emerge that Amazon is a bit of a horror place to work, but Bezos and co. seem to be trying to do something about that; removing the necessity for humans.

Google and Amazon are feeling the antitrust heat in the US

US tech giants Google and Amazon are set to face antitrust investigations in the US according to multiple reports.

All the usual suspects among US media seem to have got the same leak that the US justice department is preparing an antitrust investigation into Google. Bloomberg, for example, thinks it could get pretty serious for Google since the political climate has turned fairly hostile to big tech. The investigation seems likely to be a broad one, as opposed to focusing on any single alleged abuse of its dominant market position.

Meanwhile the Washington Post reckons Amazon is also going to get increased antitrust scrutiny, although not necessarily the formal investigation Google is threatened with. This will be the responsibility of the Federal Trade Commission thanks to the two regulatory bodies apparently deciding to pick a tech giant each for a spot of antitrust aggro.

Tech giants such as these two, Facebook, etc, have increasingly become political footballs in the US, not just for their market dominance but for their perceived influence over the political process. The role of social media in elections has been under intense scrutiny, especially from those who were unhappy with the Trump and Brexit elections, and Google owns YouTube, which is where a lot of independent political commentary takes place.

President Trump is increasingly of the opinion that Silicon Valley companies are biased against conservative viewpoints, which affects their decisions on who to censor from their platforms. On top of that fairly solid precedent has been set in Europe when it comes to this sort of action and their commercial dominance means the US tech giants have few allies, even on their home turf.

Amazon rumoured to be rummaging around Boost

Amazon is rumoured to be one of the parties interested in purchasing Sprint’s prepaid Boost, and while it might be a long-shot, all rumours eventually seem lead back to Amazon at some point.

According to Reuters, two individuals have suggested Amazon is in the market to purchase the prepaid brand, a casualty of concessions put in front of the telco if it is to realise its merger ambitions with T-Mobile US. While any divestment in Boost is only a potential outcome for the moment, if Sprint and T-Mobile US want to get the merger greenlight from the FCC, ditching one of the prepaid brands would be one of the three conditions.

Of course, what is worth noting is that Amazon is not the only interested party. Boost founder Peter Adderton has also shown interest in buying back the company he sold to Sprint in 2006. Funnily enough, Adderton has been one of the critics of the merger, though his tune seems to have changed since the opportunity to get a deal on Boost emerged…

This is nothing but speculation for the moment. Any divestment in Boost would depend on the merger between Sprint and T-Mobile US being approved, an outcome which is far from guaranteed considering alleged objections from the Department of Justice on the grounds of competition.

That said, a yes is a distinct (but fleeting…) possibility. And Amazon would of course be in the picture.

If Amazon is good at anything, it is a master at selling the brand and draining customer’s wallets for an extra couple of quid each month. Connectivity is an interesting prospect for Amazon, as while some might question why it would want to get involved in such a messy and decreasingly profitable industry, but there is an opportunity to create innovative products through bundling.

According to Ovum’s lead analyst for fixed and mobile Dario Talmesio, this could be an option for disruption. For the core eCommerce business, Amazon offers a premium delivery service for physical goods. For its digital assets, such as the content offering, why couldn’t it do the same? Connectivity is the delivery function of online services, so it is a similar concept.

The big idea here is adding value. Amazon might not necessarily make a significant profit from connectivity, but connectivity as a value add could have a compounding effect on the digital content business.

“Amazon is known for regularly screening the horizon for all kind of opportunities,” said Talmesio. “When it comes to MVNO-like connectivity, Kindle was in industry-first example of providing free (data) delivery, which was included in the cost of the subscription or purchase of the electronic books being downloaded. There is a reason why there should not be looking at replicating the same business to other services.

“Connectivity is a mean to an end: if you want to provide a frictionless retail shopping experience, for instance, why not include connectivity as part of Amazon Prime or Prime video or, in B2B why adding it to AWS services.

“The boundaries between connectivity and cloud are blurring, and the timing could be right for Amazon to redesign the connectivity business the same way they redesigned logistics, retail, and public cloud businesses.  Amazon is all about introducing excellence in processes that need to be turned into customer-first and digital first, adding connectivity to their existing plans makes sense, as long as it also makes financial sense.”

A new approach to telecommunications and connectivity is perhaps something which the industry, or more accurately, customers are craving.

Some might consider the telcos are in a slightly precarious position. For years, customers service and experience has been considered an afterthought, and it shows. This has the potential to create a scenario where the retail business of the telcos can be disrupted by those who take a more attentive approach to customer service.

A recent survey from Matrixx suggests 85% of UK and US consumers would consider switching to an Amazon mobile connectivity contract if the option was available. 64% also said they would switch providers to get a similar experience to their favourite apps. The internet giants might not be set up to manage infrastructure, but there may well be interest for alternative brands to manage the customer relationship.

Over in the US, Google Fi is looking like it could be a success as an MVNO, though it is still early days, while in the UK, Giffgaff is gaining traction month on month. Both of these brands demonstrate that an attentive approach to customer service and delivering an innovative service to customers will gain interest from bewildered and frustrated consumers.

Of course, what is worth noting is that this is not the first time Amazon rumours have focused on the connectivity world. Back in 2012, Amazon launched an MVNO service in Japan. In 2014, it launched the Amazon Fire Mobile, though this was pretty much a disaster. In 2015, there were rumours of a US MVNO service. Earlier this year, it was revealed Amazon had partnered with low-orbit nanosatellites firm Kuiper Systems. And of course, customers can buy embedded connectivity with Kindle products.

This is nothing but market speculation for the moment, and while it would surprise a few to see Amazon connected with connectivity, there is a nice fit with other aspects of the business.

Amazon wants to be more in-tune with your emotions

Amazon is reportedly working on new technology which will be able to detect users’ emotional state by analysing their vocal patterns.

According to Bloomberg, the tech giant is working in collaboration with Lab126 to create a wearable device, which would be paired with a smartphone, to perceive emotions of the user. With eyes on 2017 patent that uses vocal pattern analysis to determine someone’s emotional state, the insight could be used through various health and wellbeing products, or even in the online advertising world.

This is perhaps one of the trickiest aspects of hyper-targeted advertising or personalisation. Context is king when it comes to serving people relevant adverts or products, though this not only depends on browsing history or financial circumstance, but also the emotional state of that individual at that time.

For example, an individual might have searching for new trainers or workout gear over the last few weeks, but if they are feeling frustrated, presenting an expensive gym membership at that point is unlikely to be the most profitable exercise.

Right now, this technology is nothing more than an idea, while the reports have not been confirmed by Amazon. It might prove to be too much of a complex equation to solve, but it will certainly be of interest to the thousands of brands around the world who are constantly searching for new ways to engage consumers, forcing an extra couple of quid out of the constrained wallets.

This also might prove to be one step too far for the consumer. To get this concept off the ground, buy-in would have to gained from the mass market. Consumers are already being asked to reveal a lot of data in exchange for ‘free’ services, but emotional wellbeing might be the breaking point. This is incredibly personal information therefore the value exchange would have to be very tempting.

The concept itself sounds very futuristic, which to some is daunting. The pace which the technology world is moving forward is staggering at times, though we are not entirely convinced there would be buy-in from consumers. It sounds like an interesting idea, but it might be too much too soon.

Amazon’s vigilante division Ring moves into crime reporting

Internet retail giant Amazon is making a big push into the neighbourhood watch world and now it even wants to report on local crime itself.

This is what is indicated by a recent Amazon job listing, which is looking for a News Managing Editor, who ‘will work on an exciting new opportunity within Ring to manage a team of news editors who deliver breaking crime news alerts to our neighbors.’ Ring, which makes connected doorbells with mounted video cameras, was acquired by Amazon for around a billion bucks last year.

Why would a smart doorbell outfit want to get into crime reporting? Good question, the answer for which seems to be found in the Neighbors by Ring app. This app essentially creates a local social network through which virtual curtain-twitchers can share footage of an undesirable types they’ve spotted lurking around their property through their sentient doorbells.

The idea is clearly an attempt to bring the concept of neighbourhood watch into the connected era, which is fine on the surface. After all, who wouldn’t want to know if there are dodgy people in their area? But as we’ve seen with regular social media, this does have the potential to create a self-reinforcing loop, with almost anything being potentially identifiable as a threat. And then there are the privacy and legal implications of sharing an image taken of someone without their permission and flagging them as a likely criminal.

Rather than seeking to minimise the possibility of this app whipping paranoid communities into a fervour of vigilantism, Amazon seems to think even more crime reporting is needed and is prepared to invest in it, hence this appointment. According to the job spec this person needs to have ‘a knack for engaging storytelling that packs a punch’.

The Neighbors by Ring app page paints a picture of a network of parochial snitches with the cops on speed dial, an Orwellian dynamic that’s sure to end well. The underlying strategic aim for Amazon seems to be to create as big an installed base of Ring doorbells as possible to drive demand for its nascent in-home delivery service. But it may inadvertently end up driving demand for handguns, snarling guard-dogs and panic rooms in the process.