with Tonya Riley
Most of the attention on Amazon Prime Day is on deals on products like Kindles and headphones.
But the company’s critics seized on the annual shopping event this week to highlight some of the company's longstanding political perils – particularly its treatment of warehouse workers who have been sounding the alarm about the company's handling of coronavirus for months.
These lines of attack could be front and center as the company has emerged as a punching bag for politicians from both parties, particularly Democrats, in the heated final weeks before Election Day. It could also add to the company's regulatory headaches in Washington, where it was among the companies accused of engaging in monopoly tactics in a key report on the findings of the House antitrust investigation. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Here are four stories we're watching:
1. Employees say the company is loosening its coronavirus safety precautions to meet Prime Day demands.
Amazon says employee safety is its top priority, but a lawsuit from employees at its Staten Island warehouse tells a different story. They allege that the company has recklessly reinstated dangerous warehouse productivity quotas that the company had previously said it would suspend during the pandemic, Josh Eidelson and Spencer Soper at Bloomberg News reports.
The accusations could reignite criticism that the company, run by the richest man in the world, has not done enough to keep its employees safe during the pandemic. Amazon recently disclosed that nearly 20,000 of its employees have tested positive for the coronavirus, after intense public criticism for keeping quiet about the numbers.
The plaintiffs allege that in the lead-up to the big sale, the company is again warning employees that slowness could get them fired and reminding them about productivity. One Staten Island employee reportedly had a “verbal coaching” from a manager.
Amazon acknowledged to Bloomberg that it reinstated performance quotas, though the company said workers have adequate time to wash hands and take other safety precautions.
“We have reinstated a portion of our process where a fraction of employees, less than 5% on average, may receive coaching for improvement as a result of extreme outliers in performance,” company spokeswoman Rachael Lighty said. “All of our measures continue to provide additional time for associates to practice social distancing, wash their hands and clean their work stations whenever needed.”
2. Employees are harnessing the public attention to pressure the company to improve working conditions.
Workers at a warehouse in Shakopee, Minn., held their third annual Prime Day protest. The workers said their protest was focused on growing concerns that Amazon was silencing employees who were speaking up about alleged unsafe work conditions, particularly during the pandemic.
“This is not fair. We are human beings. We need to be respected,” Fadumo, a worker at Amazon’s delivery station in Eagan, Minn., who said she would participate in yesterday's protest told the Hill. Fadumo, who asked to be identified only by her first name, said Amazon had an unsafe work environment.
And now the protests are spreading throughout the world. Amazon workers across Germany also held Prime Day protests, calling on the company to address low wages and working conditions. Amnesty International called on Amazon to respect worker's rights, including the right to unionize, across its global locations.
“We understand that some of our employees may want to join these events, and respect their rights to do so, but the fact is that Amazon provides much of what these groups are asking for - a safe work environment, industry-leading pay and competitive benefits,” the company told the Hill in a statement.
3. The spike in packages from Amazon Prime Day threatens to strain the Postal Service during a critical election period.
The system is already overwhelmed by packages, and now a surge is hitting at the same time millions of Americans are voting by mail for the first time because of concerns related to the pandemic, my colleagues Jacob Bogage and Abha Bhattarai report.
“No one has been through this before,” Gregg Zegras, president of global e-commerce at parcel delivery service Pitney Bowes, told my colleagues. “We’re dealing with covid, we’re dealing with huge volumes, and now, with mail-in ballots. That is certainly creating challenges for providers of all sizes.”
Amazon typically hosts its self-created holiday in July, but it pushed it back this year because of constraints related to the pandemic.
Postal Service spokesman David Partenheimer wrote in an email that delivering election mail, which includes ballots, ballot applications and voter information, remains the agency’s “number one priority,” my colleagues report.
4. Liberal politicians are calling for the company to be broken up.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), one of the e-commerce giant's top critics, used his megaphone to draw shoppers' attention to his long-standing push to break Amazon up. From Twitter:
The tweet highlights the antitrust scrutiny of Amazon building in Washington, especially after the recent House report highlighted the conflicts of Amazon's role as both a retailer of products and a marketplace where other sellers push their goods.
The company has strongly pushed back on the increased antitrust scrutiny, including the recent House report.
“All large organizations attract the attention of regulators, and we welcome that scrutiny. But large companies are not dominant by definition, and the presumption that success can only be the result of anti-competitive behavior is simply wrong,” Amazon said in a recent blog post.
Our top tabs
Social media companies are seeking to limit the spread of a New York Post report based on unsubstantiated documents.?
The Washington Post was unable to verify the authenticity of the alleged emails and other correspondence targeting the Biden family that formed the basis of a New York Post story published Wednesday. Several intelligence experts also were skeptical of the report, telling my colleagues Matt Viser, Paul Sonne and Annie Linskey that it “had the characteristics of a carefully planned information operation designed to affect an American election.”
Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani and his former top adviser Stephen K. Bannon facilitated the release of the private materials purported to belong to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s son. Both have attracted scrutiny by U.S. authorities in recent months. Here’s an explainer about what we know from Glenn Kessler.
Twitter's July hack shows social media companies need their own regulator, New York's financial watchdog says.
Recommendations from the New York State Department of Financial Services would subject social media companies to the same security oversight as many banks, James Rundle at the Wall Street Journal reports. The report stems from a July breach in which hackers were able to easily take over the accounts of prominent users including Joe Biden and Elon Musk to spread a financial scam.
“Social media platforms have quickly become the leading source of news and information, yet no regulator has adequate oversight of their cybersecurity. The fact that Twitter was vulnerable to an unsophisticated attack shows that self-regulation is not the answer,” Superintendent of Financial Services Linda Lacewell said in a statement.
The report called out Twitter's lack of a chief cybersecurity officer between December 2019 and this September, when it hired a new chief information security officer.
Twitter said it has made changes since the hack to strengthen its security.
“Protecting people’s privacy and security is a top priority for Twitter, and it is not a responsibility we take lightly,” the company told the Wall Street Journal in a statement.
YouTube will start removing videos spreading misinformation about a coronavirus vaccine.?
The policy specifically singles out claims that contradict global health experts such as the World Health Organization, Nicole Westman at the Verge reports.
The move demonstrates that social media companies are trying to get ahead of the next wave of misinformation that could coincide with a discovery of a vaccine. YouTube, Twitter and others have taken a hard line against coronavirus misinformation in written policies, but they've struggled to enforce them.
“A covid-19 vaccine may be imminent, therefore we’re ensuring we have the right policies in place to be able to remove misinformation related to a covid-19 vaccine,” Farshad Shadloo, a YouTube spokesman, told the Verge.
YouTube already bans videos that deny the coronavirus's existence or otherwise contradict medical experts on the disease. YouTube still allows anti-vaccination content, although it removed ads from the videos last year.
Unlabeled false information about voting is still reaching millions of Facebook users even after fact-checking, researchers say.
In a review of 50 posts spreading election claims already debunked by Facebook's independent fact-checkers, just over half contained labels showing the fact-check result, preliminary research from the global nonprofit Avaaz shows.
The report highlights that even when election misinformation gets fact-checked, unlabeled versions of the claims still persist, leaving users unaware that they're false or misleading.
For instance, on Sept. 28, conservative commentators Diamond and Silk shared an article alleging that anti-Trump postal workers were throwing mail-in ballots from Republican-leaning neighborhoods in the trash. Facebook added a label to post that “Independent fact-checkers say this information has no basis in fact.”
The research is just a sample of the content users are seeing leading up to Election Day. The 50 posts generated a combined 1.5 million interactions and 24 million estimated views. Avaaz researchers focused on the top debunked voting misinformation targeting swing state voters for sample set.
Facebook spokeswoman Andrea Vallone said that the company is working to improve its ability to use AI to scale fact-checks from its 70 fact-checking organizations to tackle duplicate posts.
“We share Avaaz’s goal of limiting misinformation, but their findings don’t reflect the actions we’ve taken,” Vallone said in a statement. “There’s no playbook for a program like ours and we’re constantly working to improve it."
Rant and rave
Everything is fine.
France will start taxing major U.S. tech companies in December after the White House failed to reach a deal.
The two nations agreed on a cease-fire in January in hopes of ironing out a new deal, but nothing has materialized, Politico Europe reports. The tax would be a huge blow to U.S. tech companies that have users in France. The White House has previously accused France of singling out U.S. tech companies with the tax.
More White House news:
- The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) will convene a virtual unclassified hearing entitled, “Misinformation, Conspiracy Theories, and ‘Infodemics’: Stopping the Spread Online" today at 1:30 p.m.
- The Aspen Tech Policy Hub will hold a forum highlighting tools to improve access to information about covid-19 during the pandemic on Wednesday at 12 p.m. ET
Before you log off
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