Everybody uses Amazon, even if nobody wants to have them in their backyard. Kind of like condoms. Also like condoms: Amazon is not always 100 percent effective. Of course, the ability to stream TV in your bathtub while ensuring that chocolate bars and video games will appear at your door the following morning has changed the world, but these improvements come with a dark side that should make you feel at least a little guilty for ordering rush shipping for that Voltron body pillow.
Smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home will be in over 55 percent of American households by 2021, because nothing beats the convenience of screaming at a robot to tell you the weather while you shit. But any new technology comes with growing pains. Just take this weird case from Portland, wherein an Echo recorded a conversation between a married couple, then sent the conversation to one of the husband's employees.
This wasn't the rise of the gossipy machines so much as a series of odd coincidences. Some words said in the conversation were misinterpreted by Alexa to be a prompt for attention, then a "send message" request, then a contact name, then a confirmation. It's an unlikely event, but enough Alexa oddities have popped up to ding Amazon's reputation. There was that time Echoes started issuing creepy laughter, children have accidentally ordered expensive toys through the device, and then there are the variety of security vulnerabilities. Voice command records can even be examined by law enforcement, if you've somehow reached that point in your life. The smart devices of other brands aren't immune to bad press either, as Google Home devices were once exploited by a Burger King ad which made them parrot information about BK products to annoyed listeners.
We never thought there could be an ad that would make us actively not want a hamburger, but here's the proof.
None of this means that your smart speakers are spying on you 24/7. There's a huge difference between the spooky-sounding "always on" and the less ominous but more accurate "passive listening mode." With the latter, the devices are doing nothing but waiting for the keywords that activate them. You don't have to throw all your smart speakers in a soundproof garbage can out of concern that Jeff Bezos is mocking you because you admitted in the privacy of your own home that you thought cats were nothing but big squirrels. But you do need to employ some common sense and recognize that they have their flaws. And sometimes that flaw is the off-chance that your sister-in-law learns about your hemorrhoid problem.
The Amazon offices are infamous, and not for their wild abandon during Margarita Mondays. A 2015 New York Times profile found that corporate employees would go for days without sleep, routinely work 85-hour weeks, and have to call into meetings on Thanksgiving. Employees were ranked -- possibly by how much of their soul had been successfully sucked out and used to power delivery Roombas -- and every year, the lowest were cut.
But hey, that's white-collar work. There are worse fates than having to stare at spreadsheets all week, and the pay probably makes the sacrifice at least somewhat worth it. The same cannot be said for Amazon's warehouses, which annihilate one's body and soul in exchange for a paycheck insufficient to afford most of what Amazon offers.
One survey found that 74 percent of Amazon warehouse workers avoid bathroom breaks to "prevent disciplinary action." Over half said they'd become more depressed or anxious since joining. Exhaustion is common, as is intimidation from management, dangerous working conditions, and warehouse temperatures exceeding 100 degrees or dropping below freezing. Injured employees have been discouraged from seeking treatment, pushed out, or fired. Drivers don't have it any better. Amazon legally considers them "temporary workers," even if they remain on the job for years. That means random firings, inconsistent payments and scheduling, and 11-hour driving days that force them to relieve themselves on the road. Everything that gets out about working at Amazon makes the back of an Arby's look like paradise.
A three-and-a-half-week undercover stint by a British journalist confirmed and expanded on much of what's been made public, including demerits for calling in sick, even with a doctor's note (six demerits would equal one firing), electronic reminders when a worker was behind pace, and the discovery of a bottle of urine presumably left by a worker trying to avoid exactly that. All for what Amazon says is a median warehouse salary of $28,446 a year ... assuming your nine-month contract gets renewed.
Amazon, naturally, has disputed many of these claims, and no one is expecting a warehouse job to be the height of human accomplishment. But there is such a thing as a low-level job that treats its employees with basic dignity, which is something to remember the next time an Amazon parcel arrives at your door. Because there's a good chance it was brought to you by people who were absolutely chock-full to bursting with pee.
E-readers like the Kindle have revolutionized how we consume written work. Now, instead of having to go all the way to a bookstore to buy a book that you'll put on your shelf and never read, you can buy dozens of books you'll never get around to reading from the comfort of your home. But you should at least try to get through The Hate U Give 2: Haters Gonna H8, and soon, because you don't technically own anything on your Kindle; you're licensing it.
The distinction means that Amazon can revoke access to some -- or all -- of your purchases if you've broken their terms of service, or if they just think you have. One Norwegian woman found her Kindle wiped. Her lifetime Amazon ban appears to stem from her use of a friend's UK address to buy Amazon UK books for use on her Norwegian Kindle, and while that is technically a circumvention of licensing agreements, it feels like there are possible solutions beyond "Fuck absolutely all of your books forever."
Amazon can also remove books from your account if any rights issues come up, as users discovered when two works by George Orwell, of all people, vanished from their Kindles without explanation. The issue was traced to the publisher, which didn't have the rights to sell Orwell's work, but it was a heavy-handed solution that punished consumers when Amazon didn't catch the problem in the first place.
The same problem exists on Amazon Video, where, much like Netflix, shows will vanish with little warning because the rights have expired. The difference is that Netflix is a subscription service -- you're paying for monthly access to its entire library, whatever it might contain at any given time. With Amazon Video, you're buying individual titles, but you don't own them. You're renting them for an indefinite period that could end at any moment. For example, Consumerist reported on a man who had bought Horton Hears A Who for his son, only for the video to one day vanish from his online library. You can download blurry, tablet-friendly SD copies of the videos you buy, but otherwise, you have to hope that Amazon doesn't one day lose the rights to Grown Ups 2: Grow Harder. Well, that or kill the entire service and take your digital movie collection with it.
Hey, remember when we said that you shouldn't worry about Alexa spying on you 24/7? You maybe should worry about Amazon Assistant doing that, and not just because you basically spend 18 hours a day on the internet. For the unfamiliar, Amazon Assistant is a browser plugin that lets you compare product prices as you browse other sites, maintains a universal wish list across the whole dang web, and alerts you to upcoming deals. It's useful if you're the sort of person who's so reliant on Amazon that you rarely leave the house. It's also tracking everything you do online.
The information Assistant gathers is connected to your IP address and can be shared with third parties, so prepare for a lifetime of getting weird ads every time you do a lonely Saturday night Google search. No seriously strange or abusive results have been reported yet, but Amazon wants that data for a reason, and if you're the sort of person who values your privacy, you may not want to add another element to the panopticon that is the modern world. Even if you have no interest in Amazon Assistant, you still need to keep an eye out for it. Java tries to sneak it onboard with its updates, and malware that mimics it has been seen roaming the internet wilds.
The appeal of Amazon Prime is obvious. You can log on at 1 a.m. and guarantee that four seasons of Mork & Mindy, a bag of cat litter, half a dozen light bulbs, a stormtrooper helmet, and several bottles of red wine will arrive on your doorstep within two days -- a logistical feat that people of previous centuries would dismiss as witchcraft. But until all those lazy scientists finally get off their asses and invent teleportation, this convenience is absolutely terrible for the environment.
For starters, the typical Amazon package comes with enough excess material that you can start building your own Amazon warehouse out of cardboard after a few orders. And the ease of Prime means that we no longer wait to consolidate a bunch of necessities into one order, but instead mash the order button whenever we run low on paper towels. So instead of one efficiently packed box (or one trip to the grocery store), we get half a dozen slapdash boxes delivered by half a dozen different drivers.
It's the pollution created by all those vehicles rushing erotic novelty silverware to your home where things get really problematic. In theory, e-commerce should be great for the environment. Consolidating 50 deliveries into one vehicle should produce far few carbon emissions than having 50 people all drive to 7-Eleven to buy a pack of gum. But that only works if there's a universal delivery window of, say, Friday evening, and not individual delivery times for every consumer.
Amazon is all about convenience, even when you don't really need it. So consumers place a dozen orders over the span of a week instead of one, then these mundane items are rushed around the country by planes instead of taking the greener (but slower) ground route, and then record amounts of cardboard waste piles up. Expediency is such a huge part of Amazon's marketing push that their competitors are trying to match their efficiency. Which, of course, is even worse for the environment. So try to hold off on ordering individual bags of chips, one at a time, to be delivered every single day of the week. We know it gives you a reason to wake up in the morning, but it's killing the world.
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