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A quarter-century ago, Jeff Bezos was a finance nerd with a tiny bookselling website. You know what happened next.
Bezos’s career arc tracks the shift of technology from a relatively fringe industry into a central force in the world. And that’s exactly why Bezos and the chief executives of three other American tech stars will be testifying this week at a congressional panel investigating possible abuses of their power. The congressional hot seat shows how far the industry has come.
I talked to Karen Weise, my colleague who covers Amazon, about how Bezos thinks and the meaning behind the scrutiny of Amazon.
Shira: How much of Amazon is Jeff Bezos?
Karen: He’s far less hands-on than most people realize, at least he was until recently. But Amazon is a reflection of Bezos. It’s built on his ideals and ideas, and Bezos has a clarity of thought about what the company should be.
Several of the most valuable companies in the world are tech companies. Bezos is the world’s richest person. Amazon is the second largest corporate employer in the United States. My coverage of Amazon touches on retail, transportation, labor, economics, consumer electronics and the functioning of cities.
Yes, and the company has had a sense that customers’ love and trust would carry it through everything. But people can love shopping on Amazon and not love its record on politics, labor or the environment.
We saw that in Amazon’s hometown, Seattle, where the company put a lot of money into City Council races last year, and it completely backfired. People felt that the company was trying to buy the vote. In New York City, there were people who believed that Amazon was trying to bully its way into building a big corporate campus.
Does Amazon understand that people may love the product but mistrust the company?
It understands it intellectually. I don’t think it does emotionally.
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In just a few hours yesterday, another video with false information about the coronavirus spread like wildfire on Facebook before the company started to stamp it out.
The video — which I won’t link to here, but you can find on Breitbart News — showed a group of purported doctors touting unproven treatments.
One of the videos racked up 14 million views in six hours, my colleague Kevin Roose tweeted. A few months ago, another video filled with coronavirus conspiracies, called “Plandemic,” was watched more than eight million times on YouTube, Facebook and other spots over multiple days.
Some of you may be wondering why it’s so bad for people to watch a couple of videos that go against the consensus of health experts. After all, there’s a lot about the virus we don’t understand.
The problem is that it’s not so easy to correct the record once someone sees bogus ideas. We’ve seen that good information doesn’t necessarily undo bad information. Doses of falsehoods can make people doubt the recommendations of proven health experts — or even, the validity of elections.
That’s why Facebook, YouTube and other internet companies, which have highlighted coronavirus information from authoritative sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have said they also would be aggressive about deleting false information related to the virus. (On Tuesday, Twitter temporarily limited some functions of the account of Donald Trump Jr., one of the president’s sons, as punishment for posting the video with misleading information.)
And yet, this latest bogus video went wild, again making me wonder whether Facebook and other popular internet sites are so sprawling that the companies can’t control even the most high-profile kinds of false information.
What to expect, and what’s the big deal: My colleagues explain why Congress is digging into how Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple use their influence, and the possible trouble areas for each company.
A related article: One of the questions about Apple is whether it drives up what we pay for online services because it charges up to a 30 percent commission on many app transactions, and most app makers have little choice but to pay Apple. The company is now starting to apply those fees to apps that never had to pay the fee before.
Is posting a glam selfie fun or activism? My colleague Taylor Lorenz has a thoughtful article about an Instagram trend of women challenging one another to post black-and-white self portraits as a celebration of female empowerment. To some participants this is lovely, but to others it’s a shallow form of activism or an excuse to post a fun photo that might otherwise seem tacky in tough times.
Netflix made a hit (and some haters) on multiple continents: Netflix wants to be the first global television network, and one element of its strategy is to make series that appeal to people in many different countries. It seems to have done that with its reality show about Indian matchmakers set in India and the United States, Bloomberg News writes. Some South Asians love the series, “Indian Matchmaking,” while others believe it enforces outdated stereotypes. Either way, the attention is good for Netflix.
Get prepped for Wednesday’s hearing by eyeballing a bag of sugar with a malicious glint in its eye and other delightfully weird drawings representing industrial monopolies that the U.S. government once broke apart. (Thanks to my colleague Cecilia Kang for sharing this document from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.)