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Surveillance Capitalism

Avril Haines, Palantir & the Biden Administration

Recent disclosures of enormous fees earned from Wall Street by Joe Biden’s prospective Cabinet and other appointees have focused more on Janet Yellen for Treasury Secretary and proposed Secretary of State Blinken, but an especially troubling example is Avril Haines for Director of National Intelligence. Haines was paid $180,000 to consult for the data-mining company Palantir, which has raised liberal hackles for providing data and surveillance services to law enforcement, including the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Even more troubling, her affiliation with Palantir was the subject of an effort to bury the facts in the memory hole. According to The Intercept, “Haines’s biography page at the Brookings Institute, where she is listed as a nonresident senior fellow, boasted of this affiliation until at least last week, when it suddenly no longer appeared on the page.

“The nature of the consulting work that Haines did for Palantir is not clear. As of press time, requests for comment to her, the Biden campaign, Palantir, and Brookings were not answered. Prior to being removed from the Brookings page, the connection to the data-mining company was listed alongside a long list of other affiliations that were similarly pared down.”

https://theintercept.com/2020/06/26/biden-adviser-avril-haines-palantir/?menu=1

Read more about Amazon’s relationship with Palantir here.

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Amazon/Whole Foods Monopoly Power Surveillance Capitalism

Amazon Wants Skintight Data

Amazon’s new “Halo” wearable device can listen to every word you say, determine your mood, and monitor your sleep.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/27/opinion/amazon-halo-surveillance.html

NY Times Op Ed EXCERPT:

Halo is Amazon’s attempt to compete with the Apple Watch and Google (which is awaiting approval of its acquisition of Fitbit) in the health-tracking arena. I got on the wait list for it as soon as it was introduced in the summer, and it arrived on Halloween. I strapped on the attractive band and turned on all the intrusive bells and whistles, which Amazon had trumpeted as good for me.

<snip>

The company has been on an endless quest for information about me (and you, too). The device widens the reach of the company’s personal-data grab, adding a user’s body tone and a body-fat analysis to the information it vacuums up, which required photos of me in as pared down a state of dress as possible.

<snip>

Doubling down on owning the consumption grid, Amazon last week announced a major push into the prescription drug arena, since it needs to move into ever bigger markets like health and wellness in order to keep up its explosive growth. The announcement of Amazon Pharmacy to deliver prescription drugs to the home sent the stock prices of drugstore chains crashing. …

In the last few weeks of using Halo, it finally clicked as to why Amazon needs a device that tracks sleep and movement and body fat and even body tone: An Echo is too far away from our bodies, and the consumer goods we order give the company much information about us but not enough. Amazon needs even more, and to be even closer — skintight — to understand the state of me at all times. Then the company can begin to really determine what I might need or want at any moment.

Another link and review:

Amazon Halo Review: The Fitness Gadget We Don’t Deserve or Need – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

Excerpt:

Another of Halo’s unique features is Tone, which uses the bracelet’s microphone to periodically eavesdrop on your conversations to tell you what your mood sounds like. I turned the feature off after two days because it felt like a creepy invasion of privacy. But I left it on long enough to complain to my wife about what a bad idea it was.

After analyzing the conversation, the Halo app said I sounded irritated and disgusted. That, at least, was accurate.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/12/10/amazon-halo-band-review/

Excerpt:

The Halo collects the most intimate information we’ve seen from a consumer health gadget — and makes the absolute least use of it.

This wearable is much better at helping Amazon gather data than at helping you get healthy and happy.

Since August, the Halo has been listed by Amazon as an “early access” product that requires an “invitation” to buy. (It will cost $100 plus a $4 monthly fee once it’s sold widely.) We’re reviewing the Halo now because Amazon’s first digital wellness product offers a glimpse of how one of tech’s most influential companies thinks about the future of health. And what could be better to do when we’re lonely during a pandemic than have an always-listening device point out our flaws? Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, but we review all technology with the same critical eye.

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Amazon/Whole Foods Monopoly Power Labor actions Surveillance Capitalism

Leaks Expose Amazon spying on labor, environmentalists, social movements

https://www.vice.com/en/article/5dp3yn/amazon-leaked-reports-expose-spying-warehouse-workers-labor-union-environmental-groups-social-movements

EXCERPT:

A trove of more than two dozen internal Amazon reports reveal in stark detail the company’s obsessive monitoring of organized labor and social and environmental movements in Europe, particularly during Amazon’s “peak season” between Black Friday and Christmas. The reports, obtained by Motherboard, were written in 2019 by Amazon intelligence analysts who work for the Global Security Operations Center, the company’s security division tasked with protecting Amazon employees, vendors, and assets at Amazon facilities around the world.

The documents show Amazon analysts closely monitor the labor and union-organizing activity of their workers throughout Europe, as well as environmentalist and social justice groups on Facebook and Instagram. They also indicate, and an Amazon spokesperson confirmed, that Amazon has hired Pinkerton operatives—from the notorious spy agency known for its union-busting activities—to gather intelligence on warehouse workers.

Pinkerton’s today: not your grandpa’s detective agency

Internal emails sent to Amazon’s Global Security Operations Center obtained by Motherboard reveal that all the division’s team members around the world receive updates on labor organizing activities at warehouses that include the exact date, time, location, the source who reported the action, the number of participants at an event (and in some cases a turnout rate of those expected to participate in a labor action), and a description of what happened, such as a “strike” or “the distribution of leaflets.”

<snip>

Amazon intelligence analysts appear to gather information on labor organizing and social movements to prevent any disruptions to order fulfillment operations. The new intelligence reports obtained by Motherboard reveal in detail how Amazon uses social media to track environmental activism and social movements in Europe—including Greenpeace and Fridays For Future, environmental activist Greta Thunberg’s global climate strike movement—and perceives such groups as a threat to its operations. In 2019, Amazon monitored the Yellow Vests movement, also known as the gilet jaunes, a grassroots uprising for economic justice that spread across France—and solidarity movements in Vienna and protests against state repression in Iran.

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Surveillance Capitalism

Amazon Adds Illegal Drones to Illegal Ring

https://www.vice.com/en/article/z3vvga/amazons-surveillance-drones-violate-fcc-rules-its-time-to-enforce-them

Excerpt:

The walls may not yet have ears, but nearly everything else in the typical American household does. With digital assistants and a growing list of increasingly invasive “internet of things” devices, we’re constantly being monitored by the likes of Siri, Alexa, Ring, and Google. These constant companions have not only become more prevalent, they’re also becoming more powerful.

Amazon’s newest home spy tool, Ring Always Home Cam, is an indoor camera-enabled drone. The flying robot independently dislodges from its base to investigate noises or periodically patrol your house when it senses no one is home. While a static camera can be controlled, this Ring-enabled drone will use Amazon’s home surveillance platform to record everyone and everything it sees.

We often think of a Big Brother mass-surveillance state being imposed by governments, when in reality we are building it ourselves with the devices we willingly purchase. What many people don’t realize is that these invasive products are already illegal in the US—it’s just that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) hasn’t been enforcing its own rules.

Under an FCC rule from 1989, people are barred from using devices capable of “overhearing or recording the private conversations of others unless such use is authorized by all of the parties engaging in the conversation.” In short: you can’t install your own wiretap.

AUTHORS:

Albert Fox Cahn is the founder and executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (S.T.O.P.) at the Urban Justice Center and a fellow at the Engelberg Center for Innovation Law & Policy at N.Y.U. School of Law.

Evan Greer is an activist, musician, and writer based in Boston. She is the deputy director of the viral digital rights group Fight for the Future, and writes regularly for the Washington Post, The Guardian, Buzzfeed, and Wired.

Categories
Boycott Amazon Campaign Surveillance Capitalism

Ring Doorbells Subject to Recall Over Fire Hazard

In addition to dangers to privacy and  being a step towards a “total surveillance society” hooked into law enforcement, Amazon’s Ring doorbells have been the subject of a recall by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission over a threat of causing fires. Some 350,000 units in the U.S. and 8,700 in Canada are being recalled over fire and burn concerns. The devices were on sale through Amazon’s sites and retail locations.

https://www.cpsc.gov/Recalls/2020/ring-recalls-video-doorbells-2nd-generation-due-to-fire-hazard

According to the CPSC, “This recall involves Ring Video Doorbell (2nd Generation), model number 5UM5E5 smart doorbell cameras.  The video doorbells have a blue ring at the front and come in two color combinations:  (black and silver) and (black and bronze).  They were sold with a mounting bracket and a USB charging cable.  The two-way audio doorbell can be hardwired or battery-powered and supports night vision[Emphasis added.]

“The Ring logo is printed on the bottom front of the doorbell and the model and serial number are on a label on the back of the doorbell and the outer packaging.  Consumers can determine if their doorbell is included in this recall by entering the doorbell’s serial number at http://support.ring.com/ring-2nd-gen-recall. Only Ring Video Doorbell (2nd Generation) models with certain serial numbers are included.”

The recall, joined in by Canada, notes that the doorbells are imported by Ring LLC of Santa Monica, CA from China. Perhaps we should consider Ring of Santa Monica as a site for a protest of Amazon’s surveillance activities and other involvements.

The CSPC advises that: “Consumers should immediately stop installing the recalled video doorbells and contact Ring for revised installation instructions or download them here.  Consumers can check if their video doorbell is part of this recall through Ring’s website or app.”
There have been a number of reported incidents or injuries:

The CSPC says that Ring has received 85 incident reports of incorrect doorbell screws installed with 23 of those doorbells igniting, resulting in minor property damage.  The firm has received eight reports of minor burns.

Categories
Boycott Amazon Campaign Surveillance Capitalism

Palantir Extending Reach into British COVID Contact Tracing

https://www.cnbc.com/amp/2020/11/04/palantir-in-talks-to-help-britain-with-covid-contact-tracing.html

Excerpt:

The U.K. government is considering using software from U.S. data analytics firm Palantir for coronavirus contact tracing in England, according to reports from Bloomberg and The Financial Times, citing anonymous sources familiar with the matter.

[NOTE: Palantir’s data mining functions on the backbone of Amazon Web Services (AWS).]

Officials are reportedly in talks about using the company’s Foundry software to manage sensitive contact-tracing data on the spread of the virus. It comes after the government failed to report 15,841 positive cases because an Excel spreadsheet containing contact-tracing data reached its maximum size and failed to automatically update.

<snip>

Palantir has been described as the company that “knows everything about you” and its software is used by government surveillance agencies around the world for spying purposes.

From the Bloomberg Business news piece linked to above:

Founded in 2004 by Peter Thiel and some fellow PayPal alumni, Palantir cut its teeth working for the Pentagon and the CIA in Afghanistan and Iraq. The company’s engineers and products don’t do any spying themselves; they’re more like a spy’s brain, collecting and analyzing information that’s fed in from the hands, eyes, nose, and ears. The software combs through disparate data sources—financial documents, airline reservations, cellphone records, social media postings—and searches for connections that human analysts might miss. It then presents the linkages in colorful, easy-to-interpret graphics that look like spider webs. U.S. spies and special forces loved it immediately; they deployed Palantir to synthesize and sort the blizzard of battlefield intelligence.

From LA Magazine on Peter Thiel’s relationship with Donald Trump:

In 2016, billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel became the first openly gay person to speak at a Republican convention in nearly a generation. Thiel was an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump from the get-go, ultimately donating around $1.25 million to help him become president. But, [t]hese days, Thiel reportedly describes the Trump campaign as the “S.S. Minnow,” a reference to the shipwrecked boat from Gilligan’s Island, and insiders say he has “ghosted” the campaign’s overtures.

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Amazon/Whole Foods Monopoly Power Surveillance Capitalism

Palantir, riding Amazon Web Services, Knows Too Much

From the New York Times:

The U.S. Army uses Palantir’s technologies for logistics. The investment bank Credit Suisse uses it to guard against money laundering. The pharmaceutical company Merck, in Germany, uses it to expedite the development of new drugs. Ferrari Scuderia uses it to try to make its Formula 1 cars faster. In the United States, the Department of Health and Human Services is using Palantir’s software to analyze virus-related data. In the NY Times magazine cover story, Michael Steinberger reports on Palantir, the secretive tech company that’s seen by some as:

a particularly malignant avatar of the Big Data revolution.

Unmentioned by the NY Times in their teaser above, Palantir has contracts with many US police departments to provide “big data” for so-called “predictive policing,” (referred to by some as PREDATORY policing) which is the draping of a scientific veneer of “objectivity” on racial profiling and the criminalization og Black, Indigenous and other People of Color communties

Categories
Surveillance Capitalism

Amazon Introduces “Pay With Palm”

Chips? We don’t need no stinking chips? We’ll use biometrics!”

World Economic Forum
@wef
Amazon introduces Amazon One, a way to pay with your palm when entering stores bit.ly/30T6l6I #Technology #Innovation
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Surveillance Capitalism

Amazon’s latest drone a harbinger of total surveillance

https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/09/24/amazon-ring-security-drone/

Jeff Bezos, head of Amazon, personally owns the Washington Post, but its technology writer is quite vocal with criticisms and questions of Amazon’s latest “security” offerings and their dystopian potentials.

EXCERPT:

The new Amazon devices most likely to raise eyebrows use cameras, not just microphones. That starts with the $250 Always Home Cam, part of its Ring brand of connected doorbells and security systems. This camera is an autonomous drone that flies inside your house so you can check in from afar. “We wanted to create one camera that could give users the flexibility of every viewpoint they want around the home,” Ring founder Jamie Siminoff said in a blog post.

Before you ask: No the drone doesn’t contain lasers for entertaining the cats — they’re likely to be terrified, anyway. Amazon says the Always Home Cam does have obstacle-avoidance technology so it doesn’t run into anything unexpected.

Siminoff said the idea was you could use your phone to remotely see if you left a window open, or the stove on, which is convenient. But the scary part is we know those aren’t the only ways it could be used. Amazon said the drone always hums at a “certain volume” so people are aware it is running, and can’t be manually controlled — it only flies along a preset path.

But as we’ve learned from Ring’s other products, what’s to stop it from spying on family members or neighbors, becoming a tool for police — or being used to watch you? Once again, Ring’s products raise more social questions than the company seems to want to address. Ring said Siminoff was not available for an interview.

Categories
Amazon/Whole Foods Monopoly Power Surveillance Capitalism

Amazon Hawking Q-Anon Conspiracy Products

https://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-selling-qanon-shirts-masks-products-2020-8

Excerpt:

  • Amazon currently displays hundreds of results for products associated with QAnon, the far-right conspiracy theory, which the FBI has deemed as posing potential domestic terrorism threats.
  • Business Insider found hundreds of results for t-shirts, books, stickers, masks, and other items when searching for “QAnon” in Amazon’s marketplace.
  • However, not all of the results were directly tied to the far-right fringe conspiracy theory — some were pro-Trump propaganda or messaging associated with “Blue Lives Matter.”
  • Amazon’s third-party seller policy prohibits the sale of “products that promote, incite or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual or religious intolerance or promote organizations with such views.”
  • While Amazon lists hundreds of QAnon-related items for sale, other tech companies including Twitter, TikTok, and Facebook have declared a hardened stance against QAnon-related content leading up to the 2020 presidential election.