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Amazon seller’s account suspended after changing profile name on Kindle Fire (reddit.com)
576 points by ikeboy on Dec 7, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 212 comments

Something similar happened to my wife as an Amazon affiliate. It took quite a while to piece together, but after about 4 or 5 back and forths, we figured out what happened.

Someone had clicked on her affiliate link, then copy and pasted it onto reddit to share the Amazon product with some people (without knowing it had the affiliate link as ?tag=....). Because reddit is a site you are not allowed to share affiliate links, Amazon suspended the account.

The person who had shared the link was obviously even a legitimate reddit user, and the post was pretty minor only getting a few upvotes (we only found it via a search). But because of this, Amazon suspended over $500 of earnings, and killed a site that took many months to build and establish. And now my wife is now on a "refuse to respond" to list for trying to contact them multiple times to get someone who can apply a little bit of reason to the situation.

I think in hindsight we made the mistake of not trying to publicize the issue and Amazon could just ignore it. So here's an upvote for the OP

How about fighting fire with fire? Write a script that copies all affiliate links it can find to reddit until the damage is so big they will have to take note and fix the process for everyone.

And screw over countless innocent bystanders in the process?

I think GP believes that if too many people are effected by a dumb policy the policy will be revoked (perhaps true)... if this is the case no one would be screwed over.

If you run a business through Amazon or rely on the money generated by these links, then you're in a very dire position if your account gets suspended until Amazon fixes the issue.

How would you feel if someone had a gripe with your cellphone provider or bank and got your accounts suspended until their issue was resolved? How would that impact your life? What if it took weeks or months to resolve?

The flip side is if no one does a blanket policy attack, then it will be easy for a malicious actor to target individuals for suspension. If those individuals are not tech savy, they then have zero chance of ever getting their money.

In fact, this was a previous attack vector for Google Adsense accounts. Eventually Google added a whitelist for your owned websites. Before that, someone could just snag a few simple lines of Javascript and put them somewhere that would get the account owner banned the following day.

These companies know what they are doing. They have a set of policies in place that allow them to boost their margins by not spending too much money on policy enforcement, while at the same time pruning accounts below some classification threshold daily. They don't pay out but they get to keep the earnings. Small companies do this too when they find their cashflow inverted. It is a very dirty game.

You can't innocently be part of someone else's bad actions. Amazon is doing bad things to the market and wantonly destroying lives.

It's their choice to align with an entity seeking monopoly control of a market, and using their status to arbitrarily ruin lives.

These people are materially supporting that entity, so they're fair game for fallout from retaliation.

No, no, wrong. Just because someone lives in a firetrap doesn't mean you can set their house on fire while they're sleeping.

Your position is completely amoral, evil.

I would argue that's a false analogy: they're much more like manor owners serving a particular liege. They could change allegience easily, they'd just rather benefit from the behaviors, because it benefits them personally. Lesser nobles have always been valid targets in combat.

No one is forced to use Amazon, they're choosing to.

So you're endorsing Feudalism?

Well, I actually do think some kinds of neo-feudalism would be interesting experiments for city or county level governments, with an overarching government based around republicanism (and is probably closer to reality than we like to admit), but that wasn't what my comment was about, at all.

Rather, my comment was that a useful conceptual model for understanding a corporation and its supporting players is feudalism, though there are obvious differences, such as that a "manor" can be picked up and moved to another "kingdom", or even serve two "kingdoms" at once. It was meant as an imperfect analogy to their social relationships, as they actually exist, by drawing on our knowledge of older social relationships, ie, the relationship is closer to a manor owner serving a liege than a tennant in a firetrap, because of the willful support of their business practices, that they are receiving benefits from their service, and the (mostly) voluntary nature of their association.

My point was that merchants using the platform being hurt is no more important than staff supporting the platform being hurt, and that we can't simply abide evil "kings" just because some of their voluntary supporters would lose their privileges (or even be actually hurt) if we stopped them.

We were discuss the ethics of harming an affiliate to gain the attention of a merchant, not about harming the merchant or it's staff. I would agree that it's equally bad to harm both an affiliate or a merchant's staff just to bring attention to an issue with the merchant.

To use your feudalism analogy. It's like destroying a freeman's crop because the lord failed to secure the land. In the end it's the freeman who is harmed and not the lord because the freeman must still pay rent to lord even if he has no crop to sell at market.

The same holds true for getting an affiliate's account banned because the links to Amazon still work and customers can purchase items using affiliate links, the affiliate just receives no credit for the traffic. It's only the affiliate who loses out.

Using your reasoning, it becomes permissible to poison an aquifer to demonstrate that a city doesn't do enough to protect a customer who received a high water bill because a gardener broke their water line digging in the yard.

If you manage to make Amazon screw over enough of them that they can no longer be ignored, everyone wins.

Do they? How many people do you have to screw over until Amazon takes notice? How long does it take for you to screw over those people?

Suppose it takes 2 months to do and during that 2 month period everyone with a suspended account misses out on any sales of their products on Amazon or any commission from referral links. Suppose some of those people rely on the revenue they get form Amazon to pay their bills.

When Amazon resumes their accounts are they now winners?

You just need to do it for prominent bloggers & tech publications.

The downside is that they might just implement a "referrer whitelist"

> And screw over countless innocent by-standards in the process?

This is my same logic for going really slow through TSA checkpoints. It's intentionally to screw over everybody else that's traveling to make a point about how asinine the entire process is.

Who exactly is the point being made to? The travelers who are missing their flights?

The difference between the TSA policy and Amazon's policy is that one is mandated and the other is self imposed. The TSA is tasked with protecting people and has to demonstrate that it's doing that regardless of how effective it is. Amazon's policy is self serving to protect itself from abuse.

So while screwing people in both cases is a horrible thing to do, the former is less likely to affect change than the later.

> Who exactly is the point being made to? The travelers who are missing their flights?

Yes them. Because there's no better way to bring the problem to light then to make people experience it first hand. The more people in line, the more people impacted, the further the message spreads.

So your only opposition to the TSA Security Checkpoints is that they're too slow for you? Or that a rogue agent in the queue can make people miss their flights or cause undue stress upon other travelers?

That's all you're really calling to light.

The quick fix for that is the introduction of additional agents who pull stragglers from the line and detain them until they miss their flights.

If you're hoping that slowing down lines will some how make people feel that the checkpoints are too invasive or violate civil liberties then you're very very mistaken. People might side with you but they won't rally around your cause and as soon as their concerns are met they will vanish and you'll be back where you started.

So you're adding inconvenience in an effort to reduce security for your own convenience; extra security is a little different than a seller account getting suspended, and I'm not willing to sacrifice my security for your convenience.

I disagree with koolba's methods (I think they're a galling combination of ineffectual and sociopathic), but I also don't believe that the TSA helps much with security.

The TSA gives the perception of security to the masses, it doesn't actually provide it. Ideally what you want is for people to be secure and feel it. Thus far we've only managed to do one or the other.

Do you honestly think that any of us has any impact on federal law?

I am a speck, a nothing, nada, zilch. When it comes to federal decision-making. I am a non-entity.

I despise the TSA. I utterly hate the fact that the Patriot act was passed in both House and Senate without so much as a sneeze for a discussion. But what can I do? That's right; sign some worthless petition on change.org lol... change. I haven't believe in that "phrase since mid-2009 when it was apparent that change wasn't going to happen, especially the dems lost their supermajority.

Edit; And there I go.... Politics.

innocent bystanders

Thanks, I rely too heavily on spellcheck.

So... sharing affiliate links on reddit will ruin the sellers account?

Devil's advocate says that this is the most effective way to target this bad policy. Use it to ruin the accounts of a few very big sellers, and have them do the publicity work for you.

I would like to see what happen when someone like The Wirecutter, owned by The New York Times, has one of its affiliate links shared on Reddit and then has its affiliate account shut down. They are certainly responsible for millions of dollars of Amazon revenue.

The really big affiliates almost definitely in a separate bucket that requires a higher bar or human review to disable the account.

Bless your heart.

Sucks that Amazon doesn't take the approach that a lot of APIs do my letting one restrict key usage based on referrers. So like an affiliate should be able to say "This affiliate code should only try to credit my account if the referrer is for example.com"

Not the seller but the affiliate, surely?

Huh, strange. I was convinced it was Reddit banning affiliate links, not Amazon.

There probably goes my passive income idea: Make blogs where I present merchandizing for fandoms and other niches, and promote the blogs on Reddit. :-) I wonder if the indirection makes it "legal".

I think it's against Amazon's policy because it's against reddit's. Either way, I hold Amazon 100% fault. When you go to an affiliate link, e.g.


They don't do a redirect or use pushState to remove the "tag" part, so it's completely expected that people might copy and paste the URL to share. And that's even without the person acting maliciously, god help you if someone wants to kill your affiliate account.

All attempts to contacted them ended in a dead end of "sorry, abuses are handled by a special team who can not be directly contacted". And when we finally got the abuse team to respond, the most they ever did was confirmed the affiliate link was posted on reddit. And we have in writing them saying that a single instance of someone posting the link on reddit is grounds for your account suspension, even if that wasn't you.

I really regret now not making a big deal about it, and writing a shaming blog. But at the time I just wanted my wife to move on and focus on something more productive. It was a huge emotional blow to her, as the site was something she was very proud of and something she did on her source of money (As a family we are financially fine, but having her own little stream of money she could use on random silly/unnecessary purchases made her feel a lot better).

> Because reddit is a site you are not allowed to share affiliate links, Amazon suspended the account.

Wait, really? I see "buy this poster" affiliate links on Reddit ads all the time.

Ads are different than posts/comments.

I'm talking about the "pay $5 to get your normal post to show up in the featured spot" ones. I can't imagine Amazon makes any distinction there.

its not a featured spot, its an ad. you set it up through their advertising platform, its not something you do as an afterthought just because you see a "promote" button on a post (which afaik doesnt exist)


> This will essentially let an advertiser identify an organic post that they find especially relevant to their brand or product, and promote that in the Sponsored unit you guys are already used to.

That's wierd.. back when I was doing amazon affiliate I posted a lot on Reddit. I'd find threads about products and post a link to the product using my affiliate code. It worked "okay" - I made a lot more doing other things.

Is this a recent change, in the last year or so?

You are allowed to share affiliate links on reddit. Well on some subreddits you could. It's all up to the subreddit. And even if reddit banned the link, that's nothing to do with Amazon. Amazon don't enforce reddit policies.

You've got it the wrong way round. Amazon doesn't allow you to post your affiliate links on sites you don't control.

Ah yes, I remember and forgot that change. Stopped being an affiliate many years ago.

email Jeff.

I have run into this kind of automated bureaucracy several times in the last decade. It is both infuriating and frightening.

My mortgage was sold to a new company that had a weird computer-directed policy that rejected my home owner's insurance. They then flagged me as not having insurance and charged me over $1,000 for providing insurance. I spent hours on the phone speaking with people in India who absolutely would not send my proof of insurance up the chain of command. It wasn't until I was able to find the CEO of the mortgage company and contact her directly to explain my situation that it was finally resolved... for six months when the automated system rejected my home owners insurance again. I eventually had to refinance the home to get out from under this soulless company's grip.

Institutions like the Better Business Bureau used to protect consumers from this kind of abuse, but the complaints I have registered with them have achieved nothing. If I was poor, this situation would have financially ruined me. I would have missed mortgage payments, my home would have been foreclosed on, and my credit would have been ruined for years.

I highly recommend the science fiction film "Brazil" to anyone who wants to see the dystopia this kind of automated rules-enforcement could create. "Brazil" is the book "Nineteen Eighty-Four" but the totalitarian government rules with a system of overwhelming bureaucracy. The problem here is that it is the Capitalists who are the oppressors.

Yes, the fact that you're already upset, combined with seemingly no ability to resolve the situation is incredibly infuriating.

I guess the side benefit of today's age is that it's not too difficult to find people high up in the company to contact. I usually do these things to resolve issues that can't be resolved through support systems:

1) Search LinkedIn for higher ups in the company who could help

2) Search Google to try and find the email format the company uses for it's company email... e.g. first.last@company.com or flast@company.com

3) Write a clear and concise account of the problem and either include every executive you find or BCC them all

I had an issue with Babies R Us where they shipped me a piece of furniture that was destroyed at some point in the logistics process. I contacted support about it and they kept wanting to charge me return shipping fees and told me to take it to a B&M store to avoid that. So I took it to a local store and they said they couldn't process the return but would ship the item back for me and that I needed to contact the phone support to update them on the situation. I did that and phone support had no ability to sort things out with the store. At that point it had been nearly two weeks and I was charged the money but no longer had the item, as I had left it at the store. I began the charge back process but executed my tactics above and got multiple executive responses by the end of the day.

I've done this with multiple companies in the past and it has ALWAYS worked. It sucks that this is what you have to do but at least it's an option.

That's an excellent way to go about it. Also similar, and effective, is to write a formal letter on actual paper, outlining the issue clearly, and send it Fedex overnight to the executive in question. That'll usually get some kind of response. Sending it to the attention of the General Counsel of the company can be particularly effective, since it can generate the kind of attention that an attorney letter would get, even though you haven't had to pay an attorney.

AnyMail helps shortcut this process, used it several times with much success.

This also reminds me of a talk by Maxim Februari at the most recent TEDx Amsterdam[0]. From the description:

The infrastructure of connected things [..] imposes norms on citizens. Not in the form of written laws: the norms are hidden in the design of things. Citizens can’t protest the new laws, or change them, because they do not know them. And because decisions are made automatically, the laws can’t even be violated [..]

[0]: https://youtu.be/qIVTKBeiabI (skip to 2:30 to get to the meat directly)

The BBB does nothing. It's just the Yelp of the past. They don't help mediate disputes they just extort business owners. If the owner pays enough money they can get rid of negative reviews. It's crap.

The only thing that will do you any good against a company like that is hiring a lawyer and it sounds like you should have done that in the first month.

The cost of a lawyer was more than the amount of money under dispute. It may have felt good to take the company to court and win, but the cost of representation plus the leave time I would have had to burn to spend time in court and satisfy all the discovery paperwork requests would have cost much much more than what the company was charging me. How does it make sense to spend so much time and money over such a small claim?

And what about people who can't afford lawyers? Why does any American citizen have to spend exorbitant amounts of time and money disputing something that should be resolvable with a phone call?

You said you were charged over $1,000 and that this went on for six months. All it likely would have taken is a letter from a lawyer. The cost of having a lawyer send a letter isn't that much unless you're only considering super expensive lawyers.

Small Claims Court is often a much more affordable option. Still have to take some leave, though.

If one can't afford a lawyer, the state should provide one. Is this not how it works? Please correct me if I'm wrong.

I have a professor who's also a lawyer, and he said something that resonated with me: "The law isn't about what's convenient [or profitable], it's about what's right." People who have been wronged can take things far beyond what would be "reasonable".

The mere presence of a lawyer changes every interaction you have with any institution. It makes ignoring you a far more risky endeavor.

In actuality, the state will only provide you a lawyer to defend you in a criminal case, and then only certain criminal cases (I think in Missouri it is cases where the penalty is normally jail time, not cases where they normally only fine you, like traffic ticket). Even then, state provided legal defense is usually horrendous- public defenders are very over worked and simply don't have the time to help their clients.

There should be legal counsel available, and it should be a lot easier to navigate the system; but unfortunate in the US (and probably most other countries) that is simply not the reality.

In the U.S., there is no right to a lawyer for any civil case, and for that matter not even in a criminal case. You have to be both destitute and a criminal defendant to receive a court-appointed lawyer.

Many people believe that all criminal defendants are entitled to a lawyer at government expense, but in fact they are not. Unless you are indigent, you'll be required to hire a lawyer yourself or do without.

> If one can't afford a lawyer, the state should provide one.

Not for civil matters, at least in the US. You are only guaranteed a lawyer for criminal charges.

> It's just the Yelp of the past.

More accurately it's the Yelp of a generation. I work for a 100+ year old charity that is trying to modernize while not abandoning it's constituent base which is primarily seniors at this point. There's a weird internal schism going on because we're trying to appeal to the younger generation but we have to keep one foot in the past and maintain crap like our BBB rating because our base demands it.

As the Greatest Generation dies off, I think so too will old institutions like the BBB but for businesses that cater to that generation they're still relevant.

Sorry to hear that. I want to add a side note on this for people considering a mortgage. We never think about the fact that your mortgage could be sold to another company when going for a mortgage. So unless you get the mortgage from one of the big guns like wells fargo etc, there is a good chance that the "smaller" mortgage firm that gave you a great rate will repackage your mortgage and wash their hands off it. This can throw things off for you as you are left to deal with a new company who can impose their shitty policies on you and you didn't even choose them.

That's not necessarily accurate. The smaller mortgage BROKERS will likely sell your loan to the highest bidder. If you go with a small town bank, they're often self-funding the loans and won't ever sell them off (which is exactly why I went with a small-town bank). Every small bank I've ever dealt with was extremely easy to work with and up-front about whether or not they'll sell the loan.

I wouldn't count on this. My wife and I got a mortgage through our local bank which has two branches, both in towns under 40,000 people, and the loan was sold to Fanny Mae and their ilk before the ink had dried on the closing papers.

They were up front about it, which I appreciated, but it goes to show that using a small town bank does not guarantee your loan will stay local.

>If you go with a small town bank, they're often self-funding the loans and won't ever sell them off (which is exactly why I went with a small-town bank).

I think a lot of small banks have quit writing mortgages, rather than deal with the Dodd-Frank rules.

How exactly does this work? You have a contract with company X. Company X sells your payments to company Y. Your payments per the contract should still be going to company X unless the contract stipulates otherwise - that they can have you do the payment forwarding for them. Neither company can alter the contract you signed; that's not how contacts work. Any policy that is material to your mortgage should be in the contract. So what kind of shitty things can company Y do?

Your mortgage contract will undoubtedly include language indicating it can be sold to another company.

Yep, and pretty much every mortgage I've had (or seen - I worked at a mortgage company for a while) included this language, and was pretty up front about it. I've never seen terms change (like prepayment penalties, etc), but who you send payments to can change.

ONE time, I had a mortgage sold to another servicer, and that servicer had "each electronic payment requires a $3 fee". THAT one ticked me off. Yes, I can still send paper checks, which are subject to getting 'lost' or 'delayed', but electronic xfer? $3. I did not sign up for that, but have no choice about who services this loan. :/ (refinanced and left - that's about the only recourse you have, and it often involves hefty fees as well)

This is the frustrating part to me. I bought a house with a broker I used a lot (flipped abused houses for a few years). He sold the loan to company A, which was great. They sold the loan to company B after a year, and the nightmare started.

One month, they withdrew my mortgage twice on the same day (found out when my debit card declined at the grocery store).

They sent a mortgage interest statement in January. I filled out my taxes, then after I had gotten my refund, they sent a corrected mortgage interest statement. I had to make a judgement call on whether this required re-filing taxes and the expense that entailed.

The worst was when we got a $2500 check from the mortgage company, saying they had recalculated our escrow, and they had overestimated it initially. We spent most of that money on setting up a nursery for a new baby. Two months later, we received another letter saying, "whoops, our bad, we actually did have escrow calculated correctly the first time. Pay us $2500 in 30 days or your house note is going up by $200 a month until escrow is funded again".

EDIT: Recalled another issue with this company. I'd get e-mails monthly: "You're late on your payment. We're about to foreclose on your house". This would be followed by an e-mail: "Our computer system is being upgraded. Please disregard late payment e-mails if you've paid your mortgage. We should have this fixed within three months".

yay.... ugh, horrible. would love for someone to 'disrupt' the mortgage industry, specifically servicing. I don't particularly care about the upfront stuff - you only go through that once, but you live with a servicer for years, you have little or no control, and it's generally crappy.

I refuse to let others handle my escrow, and pay taxes myself. I've had companies 'miss' tax payments, or pay the wrong amount, and I'm still stuck holding the bag, and potentially losing my house, but I didn't have the money to cover it - the mortgage servicer did.

That's mostly country-specific, I think; many countries have strict (consumer) protection rules on mortgages, which doesn't allow such changes.

The Better Business Bureau is not a US govt organization. It's a 501c3. They only provide moderation to businesses that subscribe to them ($€£¥) and even then its non binding. BBB is a decades old joke.

Glad you mentioned Brazil. Was thinking the same thing as I was reading the first part of your comment.

I mentioned it below, but the Federal Government's Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the CFPB, has been very helpful to me in the past with PayPal. http://www.consumerfinance.gov/

Complaints to the insurance commissioners can be surprisingly effective.

Also, depending on the problem, a complaint to the Federal Government's Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the CFPB, can be highly influential. I had an issue with PayPal and got a direct response from the CFO who cleared up the issue. http://www.consumerfinance.gov/

I feel really bad for the guy and I hope this gets enough media attention for Amazon to actually care about helping him.

But this is the world we are headed toward with people continuing to stake their entire livelihoods on services with almost non-existent customer service. Companies like Amazon, Google, Paypal, you name it.

If they won't give you a phone number that rings through to an actual human being promptly, you shouldn't allow yourself to become dependent upon said service continuing to work. Let alone base your entire income and the incomes of employees under you on it. That's just incredibly irresponsible.

Why is a phone the gold standard for support? If I have to talk to someone on the phone, it means I have exhausted every other possible method to resolve my problem, and I am furious with the company for making me talk to an idiot in real time.

What I want is an issue tracker that has responsive, accountable, people on the other end. That's my ideal support experience. Phones are the worst case scenario.

> Why is a phone the gold standard for support?

The phone provides a means of contacting a human being who is (more or less) constrained to respond to you in some fashion, rather than being able to simply fail to acknowledge what you say.

Any system that provided contact with a human who actually responded would be satisfactory. Bonus points if the human has the authority to escalate things they THEY (not the irate customer) believe that they need to be escalated.

I'd love to start a company that offered this sort of communication AS A SERVICE. In fact, I could run a very successful business just offering "talk to a human" services for one or two big companies (Google, I'm talking to you). But the problem is how to get the company to cooperate -- it would require "political connections" within a company with poor customer service.

> I'd love to start a company that offered this sort of communication AS A SERVICE.

My company does exactly this (mostly for multilingual support), and I'm pretty sure it's pretty common (and in some cases exceedingly disliked by customers -- I'm looking at you, offshore support) to outsource your phone customer service.

> it's pretty common (and in some cases exceedingly disliked by customers -- I'm looking at you, offshore support) to outsource your phone customer service.

Good point. It _is_ disliked by customers. The only thing worse than outsourced customer service is ABSOLUTELY NO customer service.

> Why is a phone the gold standard for support?

Bandwidth and latency. You can convey, to a human at least, much more with your tone, cadence, etc, than over email or even chat. You will also get much quicker responses and more empathy because of this, and because of the cultural norms around polite conversation (answering when spoken to, etc). You will also be able to judge better the listener's level of empathy and react accordingly.

Text is great for recording and distributing facts, but not so for emotions and the rest of the human psyche, which play a huge part in support and customer service.

You are assuming a case where both the caller and callee speak the same language and speak it with a proficiency that allows them to convey and pick up on tone, cadence, etc. I'd rather take my chances with good email support.

In addition, phone support almost always involves waiting for ~5-10 min, with a good chance you'll be transferred 3 times and have your call dropped increases to ~50% odds the longer you're on the call. Each time you start over from the beginning.

Email and chat support doesn't have this UX issue.

That's exactly why many companies offer support in multiple languages (with a phone menu or separate numbers) and hire people who are fluent in those languages specifically for phone support. I can say this with certainty because it's one of the services my current employer provides.

For the kind of difficult issues being discussed here it is already challenging to train staff in a single language capable and with the proper authority to resolve. A company operating in Europe has 20+ languages to deal with... (I work for a company doing customer service in 12 languages, we deliberately do not offer phone support because escalating or forwarding anything becomes unmanageable)

It's not unmanageable, but it does depend on the user base and the expectations set from the first sales call. My current employer is a truly worldwide company - we officially provide support in 6 languages via phone and email and make it clear that English is the business language when we don't have a dedicated language support team. Our users are told quite clearly by regional sales teams that higher tier support is done in English and local major languages only. (I.e,. Apac escalated cases only have Chinese and English as options)

While there are occasional hiccups, more often our biggest complaint is time zone differences not language, since calls are routed to the proper language queue world wide. Our support staff is chosen for tech knowledge and comfort with language and customer service skills.

Now I mention userbase mattering since were primarily working with it professionals not your average computer user. There seems to be a higher likelihood that tech people world wide know at least some English or have someone in office who speaks it. If truly no one in the customer's business speaks English, we've gotten by on translate tools and a lot of patience and understanding. The rather specific nature of our product allows a narrower vocabulary to be used, and support works well even if we don't understand each other through spoken word.

This obviously couldn't work for all things - a large enough userbase tends to have no common denominator you can rely on. But if your product Has a clear customer in mind with a certain background multi lingual phone support is plenty possible.

True, but now you have 1000x the latency, and possible dropped packets.

> Why is a phone the gold standard for support?

It's not so much "on the phone", as "talking to an actual human being whose job it is to help solve problems like mine". The 'phone' part of it is mostly incidental, although obviously it works better than typing for people who aren't as comfortable with keyboards.

That makes sense. I mean, I'm also frustrated by the inhuman and inhumane support provided by companies like Google, Amazon, PayPal, etc. I just don't like that the thing people fixate on is whether you can call the company. You can call Comcast on the phone, but nobody is going to say Comcast has good customer service.

Even for non-technical, non-complicated stuff, where going off-script isn't a concern, it's still such a tedious waste of time to have to call someone. I get angry at T-Mobile about once every couple of months (I've got a complicated and expensive mobile broadband habit, spread across two providers, so I spend a lot of time fiddling with my mobile data plans), because their website often won't let me change service without talking to a human.

Because you're pretty much guaranteed an instant answer for every question you ask. It's live 1 to 1 and instant. They can't patch you or put you in some backlog.

I don't want instant answers. I want right answers, in a timely manner. That's entirely doable in a ticket system. Not so much with phone support...at least, not in my experience. Phone support generally has a script. When your problem diverges from the script, the person on the phone is of negative value. I want my problem triaged to someone who can solve it, not hear how very sorry they are and how much they appreciate my patience.

If I sound bitter...well, I really hate phones. My favorite support experiences have never been on the phone. Chat maybe, email maybe, phone never.

> I don't want instant answers. I want right answers, in a timely manner.


Call centers put pressure on employees, especially good ones to wrap up calls quickly to keep their numbers high (because shitty policies result in a ton of people calling) meaning that even if you get a rep who legitimately wants to help you, they are punished in their job if they try too hard to do that (or take too long.)

Sidebar; Maybe this is a generational thing, I hate the phone. I hate being on the phone, I hate using the phone. If I have to talk to sales reps I'd much rather do it over email/in person, but not over the phone.

Email support makes it too easy to cut-n-paste replies. I've had too many interactions where I spell out a problem - along with resolutions I've tried - and then receive an obvious generic response (Evernote support - looking at you). It can take multiple rounds to resolve the issue, and it's infuriating.

That's very true, but email comes with a written record of everything that's happened so far which makes dealing with that sort of issue a lot simpler. I mean the phone alternative is where you get transferred from dept. to dept., having to re-explain the issue over and over again. I'll take a copy-paste reply over that any day of the week.

For some situations a discussion can actually make explaining a complex problem much easier.

But for the most part I think phone support is a less efficient way to work and actually waste a lot of time both for the customer (waiting in line) and support side. It's expensive for the company but because it's expensive and cumbersome it works as a form of escalation. And given that they are wasting time & money keeping someone on phone might mean they provide some form of support. At least thats what I think.

So it really isn't the best way to support for the most part. But depending on the issue after its triaged, tracked through a issue tracker sometimes a proper phone/conference call might actually be helpful.

Please hold while I transfer you to someone who has a counterexample to that statement.

hold music plays

Sure, but the same time their answers don't mean anything. I've had more situations than I can count where a rep said something that wasn't actually true. I will only communicate in written text with companies for this specific reason.

> Why is a phone the gold standard for support?

Because it's comforting to know that someone is actually looking at your problem and that it's just not awaiting for automation on some pile. Most of the times when I have a problem I need it fixed straight away.

And because companies forums/frequently asked questions/chat/whatever don't cover all your support needs. It's often a big labyrinth. I personally passed through some hard times with Microsoft, Google and Vodafone. Glad that with Amazon, chat support has been very helpful so far.

I have never had an email fix an issue in under an hour.

Which is the real problem, phone calls cost companies more so they prioritize getting you off the phone.

Ah missed this comment. I think I just explained this above much less elegantly.

What I see is a world that cannot deal with unique situations. I had an issue with fraud on my paypal account. I got refunded, at the same time I got a automatic draft. My account then went negative because it didnt pull from my bank account which is my usual source of funding.

Telling paypal that a mistake had been made and it was their fault they didnt really know what to do. I got passed around 12 times over a few dollars. They basically didnt know how to handle a unique situation. I have similar experience with my bank.

Customer service teams are homoginized to only deal with volume, they are never trained on how to solve problems.

These automation issues just let that same system float to the top.

Were you talking to their fraud department? Did you also talk to your bank's fraud department? I've actually gotten pretty excellent customer service from fraud departments. Not so much with the regular front-line customer service departments.

Yes, blame the victims for working to support their families. That will surely be productive...

Amazon does have a seller support line. So what do you want people to do? Google "Selling on Amazon sucks" and then base their life on the opinion of some random strangers on the internet? What about the 99.9% of people who sell on Amazon and have positive experiences but don't bother to write about it? If we held other employers to the same standard using GlassDoor reviews, half the country would have nowhere to work.

"Honey, I could be making thousands of dollars a month selling this product I created on Amazon, but I'm going to take a part-time job instead because Joe Schmoe said Amazon has poor service. I'm sure little Timmy won't mind going hungry as long as he knows I did the responsible thing according to byuu."

> Companies like Amazon, Google, Paypal, you name it.

While the point you're making is certainly valid and most of these big companies we've come to rely on have next to zero customer service, I just wanted to say that in the case of PayPal I recently had to resolve an issue with a purchase (with Musician's Friend, who I will never, EVER do business with again, but that's another story) and their customer service was actually pretty decent. Granted, I had to make a couple phone calls to them before I got a "good" agent that was able/willing to resolve my issue, but I'd take that experience over calling the likes of AT&T or Comcast any day.

My experience with Paypal has been great as a buyer, bad as a seller.

I personally know someone who had their account suspended because apparently Paypal doesn't like emulators -- something not stated in their terms of service. When this happens, they lock you out of your funds. No warning, no notice, hope you didn't need those funds to pay bills.

Your experience may have gone well, but even a cursory Google search for "Paypal sucks" returns 1.5 million results. That doesn't inspire confidence in me. If I instead search for "Stripe sucks", I get 970 results, and most aren't related to the credit card processing company.

I would never offer Paypal as a way to buy things from a small business I ran, unless it was large enough that I could afford to lose a month's revenue from them.

AT&T, at least in the non-essential personal utilities space ... yeah they are complete garbage as well. I paid for the three-month DirecTV Now plan. The service has yet to work on any of my PCs. They do not support the service by phone at all. Their online chat has been busy all 20 times I've checked it. They don't respond from their Twitter account. They direct you to a forum to post about your problems, and then don't respond to issues there. They refuse to issue refunds.

I don't know what I would do if I needed commercial internet service. Probably go for having open accounts with multiple service providers.

> When this happens, they lock you out of your funds. No warning, no notice, hope you didn't need those funds to pay bills.

Wait, how do they keep someone from accessing their own bank directly? Surely this friend of yours did not keep a balance in their PayPal account. If he actually did that, what was he expecting? A brief search online will tell you that's not a wise thing to do.

Glad I went with Stripe. Recommend them too.


Software emulators. Programs to allow you to run software for one platform on another. Something that is perfectly legal, yet was apparently enough for Paypal to kill an account over.

Reference: https://yabause.org/2016/05/26/donation-changes/

That exact field doesn't matter so much as the fact that they can kill your account for absolutely any reason they feel like, even when what you're doing is perfectly legal and not against their stated terms of service.

PC programs that run old Sega or Nintendo games. Debatably legal, and PayPal doesn't want to give money to people involved in debatably legal things.

Emulators are 100% legal. Don't get them confused with the ROMs ribbing on them. ROMs are duplicate copies of someone's IP.

There is debate over software emulators legality?

Ah, I see. I think in the U.S. those are pretty firmly established as legal under 'fair use'.

You're coming at this from the perspective of a buyer. From a seller's perspective, Paypal can be incredibly infuriating and lock funds from you with little to no immediate recourse or options.

Few months ago, I couldn't login to my account after failing to answer some questions. Then, my entire Amazon account was suspended because i couldn't remember the mailing address in file in order to reactivate my account. At the end, they asked me to recreate a new account and all my digital purchases are gone forever. Their customer support staff were also very rude and unfriendly when i called them up.

Why can't just they send me a password reset thru email like most companies do?

I too had good experience with paypal on both ends (payer and recipient).

I'll admit I've never considered what a position that puts you in, but it makes sense. Especially if you have employees, that's incredibly vulnerable. I suppose I figured if you were doing enough business with a company you'd reach a level of support indicative of how much money you're generating for them. Just like many banks have specialized agents for fiduciary level money.

Is scale part of the problem? I could generate $2 million a month in sales for Amazon and it'd be a drop in the proverbial bucket.

>Companies like Amazon, Google, Paypal, you name it.

You mean the companies a lot of us here work for and should be able to have some influence over but ... don't because they let us play with "Oooooh shiny!" and because we'll be moved on to the next place in a year and a half? Those companies?

We are part of the problem, too.

> ... you shouldn't allow yourself to become dependent upon said service continuing to work.

This is easy to say but can be difficult in practice. Even if they did provide a phone number, there's still no guarantee.

Any business is going to have to depend on multiple individual providers, any one of whom could inadvertently shut you down. Your bank, your energy supplier, etc. Trying to mitigate for such scenarios is near impossible as a small business. It's worth remembering the flip side of the current story. This individual was able to sustain their family and two employees from this business. That's impressive. That an innocuous change on one device can have such a negative impact, with no warning, is a heinous oversight on Amazon's part.

with the recent google stunt where they blocked 200+ email accounts, I have been planning to move over to some other paid email service and replace all of the google products that I use. The only thing I cant replace is the android and I need a gmail account for it to work :-/

You can create a Google account without a Gmail account. Look for the link "I prefer to use my current email address" when creating a Google account.

Yeah, that one terrified me as well. I was strongly considering setting up their e-mail for domains service until I read about that.

Fwiw seller support has a phone number that gets a human within a minute or so.

Well, you know what I mean. You need someone that will actually help when there's a problem beyond selling you more services.

For major companies, this stuff is easy to find out, thanks to people sharing their experiences as in that Reddit post. There's entire websites dedicated to countless horror stories of Paypal locking out small business funds arbitrarily with no recourse. Google is infamous in never responding to their customers.

If you're going to base your entire income on it, then do a day or two of research. Try and find stories from people who have had serious account issues: stolen identities, suspended accounts, you name it. Call and talk to people at the company and ask them what their policies are.

If you get Amazon on the phone and ask them, they'd tell you their phone support team won't help if your account is suspended. Make them go on record. If they lie, you have a solid legal case to bring forward.

It's okay to take some risk if you have a backup plan. Okay, Google shuts down my business e-mail account. But I have all messages downloaded daily, and I can switch tomorrow to this VPS e-mail server I set up. That's fine.

It's not okay to be so cavalier if an account suspension will cost you your home and require you to lay off two employees.

Again, I'm not trying to rag on the poor guy this happened to. Hindsight is always 20/20. I'm trying to warn people against getting into the same situation he found himself in.

The problem is that very few people start out relying on services like Amazon. They're a normal small business and then decide to try and sell some excess inventory through Amazon as an experiment. It goes well so they sell some more. 12 months later they've hired 5 people to deal with demand, the original business has withered, ...

As we've said over and over on this site: It's always a risk when you build for somebody else's platform. You need to mitigate that risk.

I recently had a bout or two with Amazon over a relatively trivial issue. Simply that sold me a USB stick (Corsair Survivor) that fell to bits. Asked for a replacement to be sent out. They wanted me to send the old one back. I refused unless I can destroy the ICs on the board first for obvious reasons. Took 45 minutes of explaining to someone who didn't really care. Eventually they agreed to replace it and told me to dispose of the original.

Then about two weeks later I got an email saying that I was going to be charged £31 for the replacement. Contacted Amazon again and was told that it was policy to take a payment for it and they wouldn't budge. They also had no record of agreement before either.

I lost my shit. Another 45 minutes later, eventually I have a resolution, I think. I'll only know when they take or do not take the money.

Three lessons from the above and the original post:

1. Get everything in writing. Use Amazon's chat facility when you contact them and make sure you get a transcript emailed to you.

2. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. I wouldn't trust them to solely run my infrastructure or my business fulfillment. You don't really matter in the scale of things so they can afford to do a shitty job sometimes.

3. Cheap isn't necessarily a good deal. I'd genuinely rather pay more these days for something and get it from Argos here in the UK. Or bytemark etc.

+1 for Argos. I've started using them wherever I can, after Amazon failed to deliver 3 orders this year. The first 2 orders were refunded, the third wasn't, because the package was signed for (but by someone with a completely different name, and they didn't record the house number it was delivered to). Emailed them many times. They won't even reply to the emails or call me now.

3. Cheap isn't necessarily a good deal.

Can't agree with this more and I learn that it's truer and truer the more interactions I have with Amazon.

I recently purchased a pair of boots on Amazon that were marketed as authentic and selling for half the cost of the originals, and they were listed as "shipped from and sold by Amazon" so I figured they must be real. The thing is that I own the authentic pair, so was able to compare when they arrived and the Amazon pair was obviously fake.

I no longer have any faith whatsoever in the authenticity or quality control of Amazon's products and wouldn't trust them for any major purchases, and never for clothing or anything that is relatively easy to imitate.

I'm quite sure that they are getting away with straight up copyright and trademark infringement hundreds of thousands of times a day, just because nobody can afford to challenge them.

I have noticed this happen with retailers like Kohl's too. I bought dress pants in the store with a 2 hook + button waistband. I ordered the same brand and model from their website, but it only had one hook and no button. No way to tell the difference from the photos. They weren't even cheaper, they were just a lower quality run from the real manufacturer.

This kind of thing is standard for storage device returns. When your Western Digital drive fails under warranty they expect you to send it to them whether you are able to scrub the bits or not. Some of vendors allow you to pay a "media retention fee" to avoid sending the failed drive. I know that HPE does.

Could you toss it in the microwave for a bit before sending it back?

I actually used mole grips to powder the FLASH ICs.

Is the obvious reason securely erasing data from a flash drive?

I did not know that that is not possible.

The 'problem' is that most SSDs don't necessarily erase data when you 'delete' something.

SSDs have a number of 'tricks' that make them subtly different to hard drives, which include things like:

* Only whole 'segments' of the drive can be 'cleared' at a time, meaning the actual removal of data may not occur until some time after the file is no longer accessible through the file-system

* Often SSDs will have 'over provision' meaning that although your drive is labelled "32Gb", it might have more than that available physically (e.g. https://www.kingston.com/en/ssd/overprovisioning). This is used to augment the capacity as areas of the drive degrade over the life of the drive.

See http://arstechnica.com/security/2011/03/ask-ars-how-can-i-sa... for a bit more on this topic.

dd if=/dev/urandom of=/dev/sdx bs=1024 count=(size of drive in K)

Do it for as many times as you want.

As flash drives do automatic wear levelling and remapping of bad sectors, some people worry that their data might remain on the flash, in sectors they can't read or write because of those features.

If someone is that concerned perhaps they should have been using an encrypted volume on the flash drive in the first place.

This is true. However you have to trade off the risk of an entire volume failing due to a partial cell failure which would mean only the loss of a single file if it wasn't encrypted.

This device was stored securely in a fire safe at home, not used as a portable device.

I've worked on SSD firmware for many years and for most of the implementation algorithms I'm aware of, if you write the full drive range twice with random data, that should overwrite all the original data.

"Most" implies "not all"…

I find these arguments funny

Where do you think the drive will keep data after saving an amount of data multiple times the size of the drive?

What you describe might happen if you "delete" a file and save a new one. Then it is most likely recoverable.

Not all drives allocate all flash cells for storage. Some are metadata and some are spare so they wear leveling has some headroom. In fact if you use Samsung disks you can leave some headroom extra on the device to handle these scenarios.

Even ignoring that substantial problem, dd also tends not to work when the hardware is broken. (And you can't be sure it's sufficiently broken to prevent data recovery.)

Yes. Incidentally when you get a nice fresh SAN for example, you can dd 20TiB volumes in a couple of seconds. Doesn't mean they have been written to.

> Second, overwriting the entire visible address space of an SSD twice is usually, but not always, sufficient to sanitize the drive.

Overwrite you whole SSD 10 times I doubt anyone but the most serious attacker can find anything, and even then.

Wow, poor guy.

As a side note, it's frustrating how email ceo@company.com is fast becoming the only way to get real customer service. I'm a T-Mobile customer and recently had a billing issue that required me to interact with their customer support who were thoroughly unhelpful and just added to the frustration. I had heard about the tactic of emailing John Legere so I did, and sure enough the issue was sorted out promptly by a US-based exec response rep. I was happy to get everything sorted, but the fact that customer service reps apparently didn't have the power to fix a relatively straight-forward issue still frustrates me.

My own story time: I found an item selling on amazon.co.uk and amazon.de for much less than the going rate on amazon.com. I ordered a bunch from co.uk. Then I was testing out the amazon.de site, I added a gift credit of 10 Euro. Somehow this flagged the .de account for verification, and that account got locked out. Then, that lockout spilled over to the uk account, and eventually to the US account, where I had dozens of pending orders.

I sent an email to jeff@amazon.com with a summary of the issue. It took a day or two for my US account to be fixed, and about a week for the other accounts to start working. I don't know whether the email helped or whether it would have been verified eventually anyway.

The process is definitely broken, though. Even one day lockout could be catastrophic for a larger seller.

These larger tech firms are consolidating and often have market monopoly. They often don't care when your account is suspended due to their own erroneous fraud detection systems. They would rather have 2 innocent people lose their livelihood than check on 500 fraud cases.

I imagine these destroy a livelihood around the globe every 60 seconds:

"I lost my Adsense account because someone in India clicked on my ad?"

"I lost my Amazon merchant account because of my 'suspicious' credit card?"

"Uber suspended me after someone threw up in my car?"

"Why am I suspended? I sent the package?"

I've had terrible experiences with Amazon this year (though nowhere near as bad as this poor guy) and it took me an entire day of repeatedly phoning their support lines and forcing my way through to a manager until I found someone who would actually use a bit of initiative.

In my case, I had something like a 50% failure rate of Prime delivery orders. It was at the point that every time I'd buy something with a delivery date of tomorrow, I'd get it 3 days later after it was dispatched from Germany instead. The drivers who did turn up have now been banned from delivering to our apartment block, as they would ditch all the parcels outside or with security instead of delivering them. Standard customer support wouldn't refund my Prime subscription because I had apparently used it 66 times in 3 months, which must mean that they must count MP3 plays as uses, as I only ordered 12 parcels in that time. Thankfully I did eventually get hold of someone who took the time to check and see that I've been buying from Amazon since they launched in the UK, and had been a Prime member since that launched too, and she promptly refunded me the membership. It took far, far too many managers to get to that point, however.

The general customer service seems to have deteriorated in the past year. Prior to that I always had great customer service from Amazon. I've now largely switched away to ordering from elsewhere. eBuyer gets me my parcels within a day on free shipping, and they're pretty competitive on price. I always ordered from Amazon because the CS was good, but they've lost me as a customer for now.

The general customer service seems to have deteriorated in the past year.

Must be a cost-saving initiative in their support org. I've never seen a retailer that could even properly bucket losses into "our fuckup", "possibly our fuckup" and "satiating customer." And forget about always fixing things when they are recognized as a fuckup. There is too much incentive to not to do anything for the customer. Even when its the "right thing to do." Metrics often prioritize short term savings over burning a large-but-not-VIP customer.

I once worked with a retailer where even their Point of Sale voids were bucketed wrong. If a CSR were to accidentally scan the same $X item twice, they would void one on the POS. The stock control logic would keep the product in inventory counts, but the end-of-day financial tallies would look the same as if they manually applied a $X discount on an order.

I don't mean to imply Amazon is _that_ bad. But just because they're a big software employer, and AWS is a decent product, it doesn't mean that the support staff, internal software, etc... aren't shite.

I recently tried to change my password on my Amazon account (something I do a couple of times per year) and was presented with a multi-factor auth prompt for a long-forgotten and inactive AWS account that I trialled years ago. It turns out the phone number on the AWS account is out of date and the authenticator app was on the same phone that I no longer have, so I can't remove or reset the MFA. All my details on my Amazon account are up to date but these can't be used for resetting the MFA, only the details I entered when I signed up to AWS. I've hit an impasse with support, they'll only accept a notarized identity verification form and affidavit to proceed, which isn't that easy or cheap to do outside of the USA.

At this point I'm snookered - I feel like if my password is ever compromised I'm screwed, but it's not like I can just start a new account because all my digital purchases, my Kindle, my Echo, etc are tied to my old account.

Basically: do yourself a favour and sign up to distinct services with distinct accounts and don't have one global account for everything.

I don't think you should blame Amazon for enforcing the MFA that you set up. Allowing you someone to trivially reset the password on an MFA-enabled account would completely defeat the security purpose of MFA. If you've been reading HN for long, I'm sure you've seen stories of how attackers have used famous peoples' personal information to compromise their accounts at various services by requesting password resets. Respecting MFA and requiring a higher bar for password resets is necessary for defending against these attacks. And of course, if you're using both Amazon.com and AWS under one Amazon account (which it sounds like youare), then it would also defeat the security purpose of MFA if you could reset your account password through Amazon.com after setting up an MFA to protect your AWS usage.

I think your conclusion and advice is good. Separate your accounts for different services.

> I've hit an impasse with support, they'll only accept a notarized identity verification form and affidavit to proceed, which isn't that easy or cheap to do outside of the USA.

This should in fact be very cheap most places in the world. Do they not have notaries public in your country?

Generally you just need to sign a legally binding form asserting under penalty of perjury that you are so-and-so, and this is your account. You do this in front of the notary, and they inspect your government ID to confirm it's really you. Then the notary stamps the document to indicate that they've witnessed you signing it, and have inspected your id. Now you're done.

A number of online businesses require this in certain circumstances, and it's something that you can do in about 10 minutes at a store. In the USA, stores like the UPS Store, Kinko's Copies, etc. often have notary services. If you work for a medium-sized company or larger, your company will typically have a notary in its business center who may be willing to notarize personal documents for free. It should be a pretty simple process to complete, if inconvenient.

The problem is that it isn't really a shared account - the login email and password are the same, but they won't accept any current mobile number/etc entered anywhere but AWS.

I used AWS for a bit and then stopped, and then forgot about it. I've kept my Amazon account up to date, but not my AWS details. For years I continued to use my Amazon account without ever needing to use the MFA, so forgot I ever activated it. This year they've suddenly decided to enforce the MFA globally. I blame myself for not removing the MFA when I closed the account, but you can hopefully see why it's a frustrating user experience also. And like I say, the net result is a less secure Amazon account for everything but AWS until I can remove the MFA requirement.

Re notarizing, my understanding is that I need to use a US notary service for it to be valid for a US document (eg available via the US embassy).

I've been saying this a lot, and hopefully I don't get downvoted because this is too "political", but...

Essentially, Amazon is no longer a business. It is infrastructure. Every citizen should have the right to complain if something goes wrong. There could be a little office in every bigger city where you pull a number and get to talk to a real human. And if the dispute isn't settled, you should be able to take your case to a real court.

Note I don't want to expropriate anybody. Congratulations Jeff, you won capitalism! Give the man a billion and make him Secretary of Shipment or something. But the whole structure he created has become so important, that it should be subject to the same scrutiny that a wing of government would be (should be)... parliamental control, transparence and accountability, separation of powers, etc..

I don't get this. I got turned off of Amazon a few years ago and have been buying elsewhere. Because Amazon doesn't subsidize buyers with aggressive lowest prices the way they used to you can even find the same or better deals elsewhere.

It's not hard at all to live without Amazon unless you choose to submit to it.

Sure it's not hard. I prefer to buy elsewhere when I have the time (to support local businesses, or because they have better service).

But it's a pity that other companies can't use this great "technology" of next or same day delivery. It may sound silly, but it is a real organizational marvel. It makes me think of the aztec relay messengers, or the early US postal service delivering mail to the frontier.

There is "fulfilment by Amazon", which is great, but Amazon gets to dictate the conditions, which are not very favorable to other businesses as I understand.

Also, Amazon is said to not pay their workers very well. I'd love to have the option to use something just like Amazon, but where I pay a few percent more, and the workers get paid more fairly.

I'd love to vote with my wallet on these issues, or (crazy!) actually with my vote, but I can't. I don't want to boycott Amazon, as little as I want to boycott the interstate system or air travel and go by carriage, although there are things I might want to improve with either.

Boycotting Amazon is easy. I'm sure only a percentage of the time you use same or next day shipping, you actually need it. More often it's about impulse buying or impatience.

The times you do need it, better planning could often have obviated the need for it.

The rare times you still need it, there's always real stores you can go to for most categories of items.

The remaining times it's still needed should be very rare. You can think of Amazon as a fallback you only need in rare times of desperation than your go-to place for buying in general.

I don't agree, although I do appreciate your point.

The test of infrastructure is whether society would grind to a halt if it disappeared tomorrow. So let's assume as of midnight tonight, Amazon ceases to operate. What happens? It's annoying, but everyone just shops at a different place, probably in person because there isn't a great online competitor to Amazon (at least in the US). It's not a critical part of society the way power, water, roads, and the internet are.

All businesses make errors like this, the key is to push them to have better processes to deal with them, rather than outsourced and unhelpful customer support.

if AWS ceased to operate? Oh jeez, there'd be at the very least an economic meltdown - lots of companies would cease to run, some pretty big ones too.

Considering how much of the web is under AWS, there would most likely be far reaching consequences.

I'm curious what your thoughts are on other page businesses? Walmart, FedEx, Ebay?

Good question. It's indeed hard to tell where to draw the line.

If you are going for a "social market economy" kind of society - e.g. a free market but elements of what would be called "socialist" in the US - then there is a place for huge businesses that are run privately (i.e. not state controlled). E.g. Wallmart, Ford, Microsoft...

I would say the government should step in, that is the public should gain control, if the enterprise becomes utility-like. If you "need" their services to participate in society at a reasonable level. Or if many people build their businesses on them. This feature of "being essential" is not neccessarily the same question as whether a company is a monopoly or not. The end 1990s Microsoft was maybe a monopoly, but it was not a utility or infrastructure.

OTOH, I'm not sure you could classify Google or Amazon legally as Monopolies, but they have created awesome (in both senses of the word) infrastructure. I don't think this infrastructure should be entirely in the hands of a company or a few people. We also don't let owners of toll roads make the rules of the road.

So I wouldn't neccessarily nationalize Walmart, FedEx, Ebay. But I would regulate large Telcos for example. The model here in Germany seems to work quite OK. The market is deregulated, most of the infrastructure is still owned by the former state companies (Deutsche Bahn, Telekom, ...), and these rent the resources to other companies. But there are regulatory bodies that ensure that e.g. the prices are fair. It's not perfect, but it seems the resulting situation is preferable for customers (having lived in the US and Germany, I'd say both public transport and telecommunication is on average cheaper and better in Germany, and I think it is a result of this model.)

Twitter is a possible target. It doesn't seem profitable as a business anyway. But if someone decided that we as a society needed "a twitter" (I don't know if we do...), then maybe it could continue in this way.

> If you "need" their services to participate in society at a reasonable level.

Except by your own reasoning you don't "need" Amazon.

> Twitter is a possible target.


Walmart actually has really good customer service.

"page businesses"?

*big businesses

I learned a while back a form of this lesson, which I would state as "never rely on Amazon as a single source of revenue."

My experience was starting a website that showcased interesting/humorous products in the vein of thisiswhyimbroke. After getting a great deal of traffic and getting a fairly substantial number of purchases occurring through my affiliate links, Amazon informed me that they could not approve my account and that I would not be credited for the sales that I referred to them.

I asked for a clear explanation and was not given one, only told to reapply for the program.

I was pissed off but learned a valuable lesson- that Amazon customer service is shit and at any point they can cut the power off to your business if they don't like any minute part of it.

So while I might use affiliate links as a source of revenue again, I'd never rely on Amazon as more than a small percentage of that.

I never do anything business related with our personal Amazon account. I have an LLC with its own bank account and Amazon account for anything business related, and this kind of stuff is why.

In the end all we are is an account number and money provider to Amazon. If they piss off 1000 small vendors or customers it is 0.000001% of their business and thus makes no sense to care. I work for a business where the customer is treated well (not your usual technology company at all, but everyone knows who we are) and it does cost a lot of money and effort to treat each one as important. But we do charge a lot for this and have an enormous count of employees and that makes it much easier to be customer centric. Companies built pure on leveraging technology to make things happen and only profit as a business by ignoring the human element can't or won't or don't (care). We support this type of company because we save money or gain convenience and even to us customers we are willing support them anyway, which tells them what matters.

It's amazing these companies don't have a "buy your way out of trouble" service. I'm sure this guy would be willing to pay a few hundred $ to have a human resolve it.

Perhaps that option would create a new set of complaint about people being extorted out of support fees for problems that weren't their fault.

You can talk to a human, but not the department who can do something about it.

Generally the way to get a human who knows what's up is to email jeff@amazon.com.

According to an AMA with a former employee https://www.reddit.com/r/FulfillmentByAmazon/comments/3naqe8...

>I did hear that a few years ago there was Seller Performance phone support and it was simply abusive and harassing for the people on the phones and wasn't really productive.

> It's amazing these companies don't have a "buy your way out of trouble" service. I'm sure this guy would be willing to pay a few hundred $ to have a human resolve it.

A few hundred dollars to pay for what effectively is a bribe?

It's not a bribe, because it only gets you in contact with a human and doesn't guarantee a solution. In addition, paying a few hundred $ is far less than losing your business.

That looks like a bribe to me. They initiated the problem and want cash to make it go away.

"we're going to close your business down immediately"

"what? Who can I talk to to explain the situation?"

"everyone is busy, but you can pay us $200 and we might be able to fix your problem"

You've set up quite a straw man here to take down. Amazon isn't actually offering this premium support.

Never said they were. I was commenting on how it would be a poor idea to implement such a support plan.

Yeah, it's really more of an extortion than a bribe..

That business model is called "extortion".

"Nice business you have there — would be a shame if it were to be suspended… but fret not, a few hundred $ and we will resolve everything…"

The point is that in the past it's been the business's reputation that kept things working for the consumer. But these companies are so big and ubiquitous that they're impossible to stop.

Zappos is the anti-Amazon, with exceptional customer service. Oh crap....

That would be a decent option and reduce some of the noise they would have to deal with.

That is a bribe. They initiated the issue, so why can't they provide a mechanism to explain your situation to a reasonable human being?

Customer support should not be considered "noise".

I was also thinking of things like Gmail Support and other services that have no human support option.

I'd rather pay a lawyer

Let the record show this has 481 points after 5 hours, and it's #36. Meanwhile there are at least three stories on the front page that have far fewer points that were posted further in the past.

I wonder why, I truly do. Admin manipulation? A messed up algorithm?

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13120872 256 after 10h

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13120794 167 after 10h

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13120301 143 after 13h

Front page weight is also determined by commenting. Lots of comments tends to weigh it down I believe. Those linked posts have similar comment counts but they are probably over a longer period of time. I recommend hckrnews.com over the frontpage fyi.

I'm not sure. I noticed the title was updated (I submitted with the title in the link), so maybe there were some flags on the previous title which pushed it down but didn't kill it?

Stop for a moment, and think what happens when our increasingly-advocated "cashless society" ends up being owned by a few "too big to fail" institutions.

Run afoul of some policy, or mistakenly triggered monitoring, and suddenly you are penniless. Maybe your phone and Internet bills go unpaid, and you are connectionless.

Right now, Google can kill your email (et al.) and Amazon can take away your books. Paypal can freeze online payments and balance.

Who you gonna call, when they take away it all?

Given that this is alread de facto business practice and not about to go away, it's sorely in need of regulation.

"Regulation?! Abomination!!"

Well, how do you think we got regulation in the first place? People getting screwed over by circumstances too big to effectively fight, as individuals.

Yeah, some of it went bad. But baby, bathwater. And with changing technology, we are back to individuals getting screwed by circumstances very difficult or impossible to fight and remedy, as an individual.

The long-term effect of crap customer support.

Every company that handles monetary accounts should be subject to the same regulations as a bank.

And: too many complaints about those monetary accounts not resolved in time? ⇒ suspend their license to operate a "bank".

This same thing happened to me -- a compliance review and e-mails about closing my account. I hadn't even changed my name, but got requests for my mother's information. Thankfully I wasn't a seller, but it took me over 3 months of constant calling before I could get it resolved. I was constantly handed off in between customer and seller support before I decided to e-mail jeff@amazon.com. In the end, I was able to suss out that this is some back department of Amazon that does compliance reviews, has a limited grasp of English, will not take direct phone or chat correspondence, and is only good at constantly asking for government ID and offering no other help.

An executive support representative reached out after I e-mailed Jeff and was able to figure out what was going on since all of the previous reps had no idea and kept passing the buck. I was in fear that I was going to lose my buyer's account, and hadn't sold more than $100 on my seller's account.

A tip for anyone else going through this: no one reachable through regular CS channels knows anything about this issue and everyone will tell you conflicting things. The only way to resolve it is to reach out through executive support. I tried escalating multiple times and people would tell me to not worry about it, then I would get e-mails asking for the info again or saying that my account was closed (it was not).

Thanks for the advice, I have reached out to all the executive teams that I could think of but I have not yet received a response

It is worrying how more and more people are reliant on running a small business tied to a tech giant. It could be selling on Amazon or eBay, driving for Uber, selling apps through Apple or running a website with Google AdSense. All these companies treat their sellers as entirely disposable, and if their algorithms look at you the wrong way you're out.

Not trying to hijack this, but this entire ordeal reminds me of this Hacker News comment:


If your livelihood is solely invested in a singular vendor, then you absolutely need to find a contact on the inside :/.

I hope he gets it resolved.

I am afraid this is more common than it looks like: software glitches (or faulty logic) locks out people who are small fry for amazons and paypals and thus get no customer support -- it is almost certainly not profitable for amazon to spend time to resolve this except to fix bad PR. If an affected person cannot generate enough media attention they are SOL.

Maybe the problem is big enough so a new mechanism makes sense -- something like a well curated (and thus respected) resource that can select and publish "top 10/100" of the most egregious glitches which could shame companies into better behavior.

That, and having a "Plan B" in place -- local backups of cloud content, pre-selected secondary payment option, etc.

And on the other hand there was a recent thread were people banned by amazon were labelled as "not trustworthy".


I had a former coworker who was banned due to large number of returns. He was treating it like a try-and-buy service, returning anything he didn't like and they eventually cut him off...of everything. Paid amazon movies, gone. Paid kindle content, gone. His wife's account with the same billing address, gone. They annihilated his families Amazon world with one action.

It sounds like the coworker was abusing the system, but can anyone think of any legitimate reason to cut somebody off from their digital purchases like this? At the very most they should make the account "Read Only" so the customer can access anything they've already paid for, but they're just not allowed to buy anything else.

That is exactly why I refuse to buy digital content on any platform that won't let me download it. Netflix - I get it, I'm renting a stream and when a show goes away, no problem. But I'm not putting my money on books, movies, music, etc. that can be taken away when a company fails or decides that they don't like me. As much as I like e-books and hate paper, a good old paper copy is mine to use, lend or sell to someone else.

This kind of thing is why I know someone who has five Google accounts for different purposes. It's something they make deliberately inconvenient but is the only way to avoid catastrophic spillover.

(Work 1 & G+, Work 2, personal email 1, email 2, Youtube)

I do this to keep my internet histories separated by hobbies/business/personal. I have seven different Chrome "Users" open right now.

Indeed. Think about situations like this and that article last night of 6 days to change a line of code. Inflexible processes have consequences. They are setup to prevent fraud, but some sort of appeal or review would make a lot of sense.

Wow. Amazon has some seriously screwed up software running somewhere. Sure hope the right people see this guy's post.

The systems I've seen and worked on, I can easily believe see this happening. My view is that this level of 'wtf' is pretty common for our profession, sadly.

I had a problem with ebay once and they suspended my seller account because I didn't get them documents on time and they said they weren't going to suspend my account. So, I got so angry I canceled my entire account and wrote a huge rant in there comment section of the cancel about know wonder they lose users left and right and pretty soon they won't have any left. and explained how there process was wrong. and it worked. they reinstated my seller account.

Advice to live by:

1. Don't login to non-primary devices

2. If you are required to login, use a completely new/isolated account

Hey everyone, I am the OP of the reddit thread, thank you all for your advice, and I will be taking some of these steps

Oh gee. Just email jeff@amazon.com and his team will get this straightened out.

Side note: I've also found it effective when working with the recalcitrant Amazonian, to ask them if they want to receive a ? email from Jeff Bezos.

If it's about such a large amount of money, I don't understand why this guy isn't lawyering up.

Lawyering up would be my last option, I am not trying to get into a legal battle with Amazon , I just want my life back. Because there are other people have to consider before burning all my bridges with them

I will send an email, as a humane customer, to their customer service email asking a clarification about their policy in this regard. I urge all people on HN also to bombard them with queries regarding such shitty practices they follow.

A thing to learn: Never, ever base anything big on a big player, be it Amazon, Google, or anyone else. They can screw you at any time with or without a valid reason.

Another lesson: All (especially not very big) companies relying on cloud must remember that AWS, GCE, Azure may sound very good, but they can screw your businesses at any time with or without a valid reason. VPS or on-prem should not be discarded without due deliberation.

Edit: removed a bit of a rant.

> Never, ever base anything big on a big player, be it Amazon, Google, or anyone else.

It's certainly great advice - but for many this isn't really a reality. Even in this case, you could argue that OP could sell on other platforms (and maybe they could), but that will depend on the product and whether they need fulfillment and such.

I think more practical advice is:

a) If you rely on any given service for a substantial or majority of your income, try your damndest to build contact(s) at that platform so you have a human with a relationship to turn to when something goes sideways. At Amazon this is much easier if you're their direct customer (AWS) than a seller, though.

b) Have a contingency plan or put a focus on building savings (if it's a case like this) to fall back on while determining next steps. That could mean money for getting legal help, starting new business, etc.

Thank you for the advice.

This is much better than my advice. Thanks much.

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