#AxisOfEasy 156: Amazon Met With Start-Up Founders, Then Ripped Off Their Product Ideas

Weekly Axis Of Easy #156

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Podcast:  Axis Of Easy #156
In this issue:  
  • Amazon met with start-up founders, then ripped off their product ideas
  • The Top Four Tech companies have more economic clout than many countries 
  • Garmin down hard after ransomware attack
  • Microsoft forcing Edge browser installation on all devices
  • FBI using travel company database as surveillance tool
  • Blueleaks reveals DHS worried that face masks will impair facial recognition 
  • Twitter hack reveals vibrant dark market for inside access
  • Axis Of Easy Salon #14: Jobageddon and the Coming Educational Revolts


Amazon met with start-up founders, then ripped off their product ideas

It’s already no secret that Amazon has a propensity to knock off their own third-party sellers and spin up competing products under Amazon’s own brand, and undercut those same sellers. We reported in AoE 144 how despite testifying to congress that they do not use their privileged vantage point on product data to create their own products, they were using their access to third-party seller data to create competing products.

Now the Wall Street Journal, who also broke the above news items, continues its exploration of The Company’s Store’s ethical compass in reporting how Amazon’s VC wing, Alexa Ventures, used its access to start-up founders over the process of investment talks, to garner information they would then use to launch their own competing products.
In some cases Amazon even went ahead with the investment and still launched competing products that directly undercut their investment’s bread-and-butter revenue generators.

In other cases, the firm merely used their position in negotiations in order to “better understand the prospect” gain enough insight to launch a competing product without proceeding on the investment.

Jeff Bezos (who claims “Amazon uses its scale for good” is set to testify before US Congress tomorrow so it will be interesting to see how that claim squares against realities like these.

Read: https://www.wsj.com/articles/amazon-tech-startup-echo-bezos-alexa-investment-fund-11595520249 (paywall)

And:  https://www.marketscreener.com/AMAZON-COM-INC-12864605/news/Amazon-Met-With-Startups-About-Investing-Then-Launched-Competing-Products-30978969/


The Top Four Tech Companies have more economic clout than many countries

This Axios piece takes a look at  the market cap, revenues, number of users and cash hordes of the top 4 tech companies (Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple, and also mentioning Microsoft as the 5th Beatle).

On their own they individually  have annual revenues exceeding that of the GDP of nation states, their combined market caps are north of 5 trillion USD.

Read: https://www.axios.com/big-techs-power-in-4-numbers-de8a5bc3-65b6-4064-a7cb-3466c68b2ea0.html

(Your humble newsletter purveyor has to compete head-to-head with three of these five largest companies in the world, so I found myself wondering, “Why is The Fed buying my biggest competitors bonds?”)


Garmin down hard after ransomware attack

The latest company to be hit with, and shut down by a ransomware attack is Garmin, makers of smart watches, wearables and aviation navigation gear.

They announced they will be taking their systems down, including the main website, and the user connect data sync-ing for a multi-day window in order to rebuild after the attack. 

All of the impacted services went down on Thursday (July 23) and while Garmin refused to comment or ascribe the outage to ransomware in media inquiries, several company employees posting to social media called it a ransomware attack.

A pilot I know, when I asked him if he was aware of the outage responded: 

“Absolutely. The whole aviation community is rocked by it. And they are f***ed. They can’t pay the ransom and are going to have a very tough time getting up and running without the ransom.”

Sounds like somebody was flying without backups? Oh dear.

Read: https://www.zdnet.com/article/garmin-services-and-production-go-down-after-ransomware-attack/

UPDATE: As we were going to press we received word via the same pilot that Garmin’s flyGarmin database is back online. Details here


Microsoft forcing Edge browser installation on all devices

Microsoft is causing no small amount of consternation among users by installing the newest version of their Chromium Edge browser on all computers via a forced Windows update.

While Edge was previously included in Windows, the new version attempts to navigate the user away from their current default browser and set the new default to Edge, it also “preempted [the] next website launch”, inserts itself onto the desktop and pins itself to the taskbar.

It also cannot be uninstalled. 

Read: https://www.theverge.com/21310611/microsoft-edge-browser-forced-update-chromium-editorial


FBI using travel company database as surveillance tool

This Forbes article details the history of Sabre, one of three global databases that tracks effectively all travel movements such as flights and hotel bookings of everybody. The other two are based in Europe, Amadeus in Madrid, and the UK’s Travelport. 

Sabre is uniquely situated so that it has data visibility across multiple airlines, multiple hotel chains and law enforcement agents can monitor a user with a single request to a single database. According to a former CEO of the Mexican division, who now works for the World Travel and Tourism Council, Sabre was the second largest privately owned database in the world as of 2010. On at least four known occasions, such requests were made for real time travel movements of targets, where Sabre would make reports on a weekly basis over a period of months outlining the movements of a given person of interest. 

The company is publicly traded (Nasdaq:SABR) and has a two billion dollar market cap.

Read: https://www.forbes.com/sites/thomasbrewster/2020/07/16/the-fbi-is-secretly-using-a-2-billion-company-for-global-travel-surveillance–the-us-could-do-the-same-to-track-covid-19/


Blueleaks reveals DHS worried that face masks will impair facial recognition 

We reported in AxisOfEasy 135 how in China they had advanced their facial recognition software to the point where it was able to identify people even when wearing a mask. 

Apparently the technology is not so advanced in the USA, where the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has expressed concerns that mask wearing among the public will thwart facial recognition systems.

(Does this mean we have a surveillance Gap with the CCP?)

Perhaps more interesting is that these concerns surfaced via Blueleaks, the Wikileaks-like whistle blowing site we reported on back in AxisOfEasy 152 which releases material that Wikileaks won’t. 

Read: https://theintercept.com/2020/07/16/face-masks-facial-recognition-dhs-blueleaks/


Twitter hack reveals vibrant dark market for inside access

After last week’s epic Twitter hack, cyber crime reporter Brian Krebs delves into the seemingly vibrant marketplace that operates primarily off of Discord, where hackers with access to Twitter employees manipulate accounts for bitcoin payoffs. Through them one can regain access to a suspended account or take over an “OG” account, a coveted Twitter handle comprising of one or two characters.

As I read it I wondered if this is how come those hallowed “blue checkmarks” seem to abound and multiply, especially across the cool-kid news journos, when Twitter has purportedly suspended new account verifications years ago. Maybe this is how Thoughts of a Dog got a blue check (the dog blocked me for wondering this out loud on twitter).

A separate article on Dark Reading relates how

“former employees told Reuters that the thousand-plus individuals had access to internal Twitter tools that can change user account settings and give third parties access to account controls.”

Twitter founder Jack Dorsey on an investor call after the hack promised to do better and that the company was searching for a new head of security. 

Read: https://krebsonsecurity.com/2020/07/twitter-hacking-for-profit-and-the-lols/

Also: https://www.darkreading.com/attacks-breaches/access-to-internal-twitter-admin-tools-is-widespread/d/d-id/1338453


Axis Of Easy Salon #14: Jobageddon and the Coming Educational Revolts

This week on the AxisOfEasy, Jesse explored the increasing control software code is poised to exert in our day-to-day lives in his Metaviews piece “When Your Boss is an Algorithm”, while Charles tried to sugar coat the overall socio-economic situation with “Welcome to the Crazed, Frantic Demise of Finance Capitalism”.

For my part I wondered “Why is The Fed buying our biggest competitor’s bonds?” Over on my Out of The Cave blog (formerly Guerrilla Capitalism).

On the Salon this week we zeroed in primarily on the future of education headed into a world with a lot fewer jobs and explored how the civil unrest in places like Portland portend more than meets the eye and the surface narratives ascribed to it.

View AxisOfEasy Salon #14: Jobageddon and the Coming Educational Revolts, here.

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