Feb 15, 2019 - Technology

Amazon isn't exempt from public anger toward big tech

In this image, Jeff Bezo's forehead is visible against a light yellow background. A cartoon illustration on his forehead says "return to sender."

Photo: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Silicon Valley has been shaken over the past two years by the recognition that Americans don't always believe big tech is making the world a better place. It was a tough epiphany for the leaders of companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google, who have vacillated between defensive and apologetic — working through their stages of grief.

Why it matters: Amazon wasn't paying attention.

And when finally confronted with disapproval, it lashed out. Like the popular but insecure kid who just learned that some classmates said unkind thing behind his back.

  • Amazon spent more than a year, and countless dollars and hours, to determine the ideal location(s) to house tens of thousands of new employees. It was a strategic imperative. And now, suddenly, it's not?
  • What are shareholders to make of that reversal?

Amazon seems to feel burned by NYC Mayor De Blasio and NY Gov. Cuomo, likely following their advice to cut out certain local politicians from the negotiation process. But Amazon should have enough savvy to know that the success of any such project requires buy-in, or at least transparency, among all major stakeholders.

  • It's mind-numbing that certain NYC politicians, including AOC, are gloating over Amazon's decision to bail. Maybe if she and others had worked for months to negotiate and ultimately couldn't find a workable compromise. But that's not what happened.
  • And the notion that this somehow frees up $3 billion for other efforts is just plain wrong (the actual figure is around $500 million).

Our thought bubble: But, at the same time, it's disingenuous for an Amazon policy spox to tell NBC that AOC's criticism was a significant factor. AOC is a federal representative who has no say over state or local tax incentives. Plus, Amazon made its initial picks after progressives helped Democrats retake the House. The new politics were known.

The bottom line: New York City is now reminiscent of Washington, D.C., where both sides too often allow viral rhetoric to overwhelm common-sense compromise. And, although Jeff Bezos nor Donald Trump will appreciate the comparison, an ultimate arbiter who becomes capricious when criticized.

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