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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
In two decades, Amazon has erupted into one of the most successful juggernauts in history, pushing forward absent any apparent limits to its horizons, including this week into high-end computer chips. But its pathway has become decidedly more bruising, straddled by a groundswell of public recriminations in both the U.S. and Europe.
Axios' Erica Pandey writes: While it marches from industry to industry, Amazon has become a larger target with more dangerous enemies. "Any regulator that doesn't have one eye on Amazon is not doing their job," says Tim Wu, author of "The Curse of Bigness."
The big picture: In Amazon's biggest couple of years yet, it briefly surpassed $1 trillion in value, only the second company ever to do so. It barreled into groceries, pharma and package delivery. It pulled off one of the most successful public relations campaigns ever, capturing more than a year of rapt global attention for what amounted to a mere search for added office space. And yesterday, it unveiled a new chip for the application of artificial intelligence.
But all this high-profile activity has come at a cost, including calls for Amazon's breakup. Critics say that while it has offered cheap goods quickly delivered, it has also steamrollered business after business, and contributed to the national epidemic of relatively low, flat wages.
As we've reported before, analysts speculated that Amazon's decision to place a massive new office complex in the D.C. area was in part driven by a strategy to ward off anti-trust activism.
But, but, but: Thill, the Jefferies analyst, tells Axios that he does not perceive any real danger of a forced breakup. And Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy told CNBC that AWS has no plans to spin out the business.
GMB protest in the U.K. on Black Friday. Photo: GMB.
As Amazon sets the standard for fast and free consumer shipping in the U.S. and Europe, it also confronts a new challenge — employees who are rising up against what they say are unfair working conditions.
Erica writes: On Black Friday and Cyber Monday, GMB, a union in the U.K., organized protests against Amazon's 24 warehouses in the country for dangerous working conditions as supervisors demand faster and faster work. Their slogan was "we are not robots." And Amazon workers in three other European countries — Italy, Germany and Spain — walked out as well.
The labor unrest is in the U.S., too: In Minnesota, Somalian-born workers at an Amazon warehouse have entered negotiations with the company after protests of their working conditions, reports the NYT's Karen Weise. “Amazon has ended up becoming a flash point and a symbol for inequality in modern society,” says Beth Gutelius of the Great Cities Institute at the University of Chicago.
In the U.S., a Whole Foods worker who did not want to be identified told Axios that organizing efforts have picked up since Amazon's announcement two weeks ago that it will build giant new office complexes in New York and northern Virginia. "I've personally seen, in just the last month, a lot of Amazon organizing groups popping up, and we're all trying to coordinate," the worker said.
Private companies are helping the Pentagon automatically identify objects in drone photographs. Photo: Eren Bozkurt/Anadolu Agency/Getty
Google made headlines for walking away from a contract to provide intelligent software for the Pentagon — but its hesitation, a response to a staff uprising, may be an anomaly rather than an omen.
Increasingly, big tech companies and startups are flocking to show military and security officials their wares for everything from surveillance and detecting fake content to disaster relief.
In one example of the stakes, the Army announced yesterday that it had awarded a $480 million contract to Microsoft to develop an augmented reality system.
Turnout at the Defense Department event was "striking," said Gilmer. The organizers said attendance tripled since the first AI industry day last year, and Gilmer says the companies attending this year were considerably more diverse.
When it’s not inviting companies to its doorstep, the Pentagon is sending officials around the country to present a friendly face to the tech industry — and not just the defense stalwarts.
Go deeper: Microsoft defends work with U.S. military
Yemeni soldiers in Sanaa. Photo: Mohammed Hamoud/Getty
China accelerates spying on U.S. tech (David Sanger and Steven Myers — NYT)
How Yemen's civil war went cyber (Joe Uchill — Axios)
Inside Google’s secret China project (Ryan Gallagher — The Intercept)
U.S. life expectancy drops further (Betsy McKay — WSJ)
What happened when a private-equity firm took over nursing homes (Peter Whoriskey, Dan Keating — WashPost)
A crater lake in Mayotte. Photo: Christian Vaisse/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Two weeks ago, an odd pattern of seismic waves originating off the coast of Madagascar swept across continents and oceans, reaching as far as Hawaii.
But no one seems to have felt the waves despite 20 minutes of reverberation along a vast distance, reports Maya Wei-Haas for National Geographic.
Kaveh writes: An amateur seismologist who was watching real-time earthquake measurements picked up on the event, kicking off a worldwide hunt for the cause.
The unfelt tremor appears related to a recent series of quakes centered near Mayotte, a French-owned island between Madagascar and the mainland, National Geographic reports.
Fun fact: Since mid-July, magma pushing its way toward the earth’s surface has moved the entire island of Mayotte more than 2.4 inches to the east and 1.2 inches to the south.