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I gave Amazon a key to my house and regretted it (washingtonpost.com)
478 points by eevilspock 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 389 comments

> [Amazon] says that it will “correct the problem” if your property gets damaged. (In the fine print, you also agree to arbitration, rather than a lawsuit, if something goes really wrong.)

This is such crap. If they really were committed to making things right in the event of a problem, they wouldn't have to fear being sued. You want me to believe that you'll protect my most valuable asset after I give you free access to it, but you'll make me trust your good intentions and the judgment of an arbitrator you probably picked?

Seems to me that the right to sue should be considered fundamental, and binding arbitration should be made illegal.

Binding arbitration, when both parties readily agree it's the best way forward, has it's place to settle disputes and shouldn't be outright illegal. It's a lot cheaper and quicker than the legal system and many times court is overkill for minor contact disputes.

Take the "court room" TV shows like Judge Judy, they are an example of binding arbitration that both parties benefit from. The producers look for cases pending in small claims court and offer them to drop their case and settle their dispute in arbitration instead, that arbitration is what's shown on TV. The show pays all parties an appearance fee plus travel expenses and the show pays any judgement that is awarded instead of the defendant. Since it's not a judgement it doesn't show up on public records so it wouldn't affect the defendant's credit report or public records.

Being forced into binding consumer arbitration is certainly terrible and ought to be illegal. Arbitration should not be forced when one party has significant less power than the other. Especially when only one party gets to pick the arbitrator.

Seems like there are two rather different meanings of "binding arbitration."

I agree that the kind where both parties come together and agree, for a specific case, to engage in arbitration and be bound by the result is OK. The kind where you agree beforehand, when no damages have occurred, that if any case comes up then you will both go to arbitration instead of court, is not OK.

The parties to a contract may want an impartial way to settle any disputes that come up down the line, without the high costs, risks, and complexities of litigation. It can be highly rational for both parties to agree to binding arbitration.

Look at the NFL and the players’ association. They have an arbitrator, the very capable Professor Stephen Burbank, handling disputes. Both sides (and the courts) strongly prefer this to having to go to court.

Arbitration is more controversial when foisted upon consumers in contracts of adhesion, i.e. the take-it-or-leave-it contracts you sign all day at stores, amusement parks, websites, etc. Also very controversial is that arbitration clauses are now being used to prevent class action litigation altogether. In those cases, the Supreme Court has nevertheless upheld it through a very broad reading of the Federal Arbitration Act.

If both sides really prefer it, then they'll be able to agree to use Dr. Burbank's services for each individual dispute as it comes up. Two sides involved in a dispute never have to go to court. One of them has to choose to do so.

What you prefer ex ante and ex post is rather different. Ahead of time, you don't know who will be the one claiming wrongdoing of the other, so you'll be willing to agree to binding arbitration. But after the fact, the party possibly in the wrong would prefer to impose the high cost of litigation on the one alleging the wrong.

Another way to state the same thing: very few people enter a contract contemplating that they will be the one breaching it, so they are willing to agree to a system for efficiently adjudicating conflicts. But circumstances change and make breach attractive for a particular party, and at that point they will want to protect their advantage, fairness to the other party be damned.

I think you're justified in having concerns about arbitration, but I don't think the line that you're drawing is the right one. Focusing on the nature of the relationship between the parties might be a more fruitful approach. I don't see any reason why two sophisticated entities, truly engaged in back-and-forth negotiations where each has leverage, should not be allowed to agree to binding arbitration between them for future disputes.

> very few people enter a contract contemplating that they will be the one breaching it, so they are willing to agree to a system for efficiently adjudicating conflicts.

For broad definitions of 'people', I don't think this is true. I am utterly certain that businesses enter into these contracts secure in the knowledge that it is much more likely that wrongs will be alleged against them under the contract than that they will need to allege wrongs against the contractee, and that businesses feel that arbitration is likely to favour them. If businesses didn't believe at least the latter, or even if there were just divided opinions, then arbitration clauses would not be included in every. Damn. Contract.

> Especially when only one party gets to pick the arbitrator.

I think this is the key point. If there's a power disparity (commonly, adhesion contracts), the favored party should not get to pick the arbiter.

Yes ideally there would be professional organization of arbitrators, and agreeing to arbitration in a contract would give the smaller party the right to choose a member of that organization. One doubts that the lawyers who inhabit legislatures are eager to bring that happy circumstance to pass.

Binding arbitration is probably the only thing making the legal risk of such a high-liability product/service manageable from Amazon's point of view. If it wasn't available, the product may not even exist.

Which is fine. Maybe something like this shouldn't exist until we have the technology to make it foolproof. At least to the extent where the expected lawsuit frequency is something Amazon is willing to take on.

>If they really were committed to making things right in the event of a problem, they wouldn't have to fear being sued.

I'm a litigator and I'd rather arbitrate small disputes. Litigation is absurdly expensive and slow.

I've had great experiences with AAA arbitrators. They were fair and reasonable. They kept costs down too.

My biggest complaint about arbitration is that its too much like court. I thought it could have been more streamlined.

I've even used it as a consumer. When Sprint kicked me off their service for using BitTorrent, threatening arbitrator got them to buy back my two month old phone.

Plaintiff's lawyers hate arbitration because they like dumb juries.

How would you respond to views that arbitration outcome statistics favor the corporation paying for it?

A lot of consumers are indeed in breach of contract.

Even if socially not fair, they agreed to a contract that seemed like a very good deal at the time. That's because of the costs/risks they haven't foresee at the time.

Facts, not views. Facts says it favors corporations. It may seem like we live in a post-fact world, but here, I believe, you can still call a fact a fact.

>You want me to believe that you'll protect my most valuable asset after I give you free access to it

I mean, Maybe I'm just an old man and you should get off my lawn but jesus, what could possibly go wrong here? You give it away willingly then expect there to be no abuse? Why would they give you the right to sue? You just gave them a key to your house and they assume you'll accept any licence because you're so desperate for the convenience that you won't say no anyway.

If they wanted to install an amazon locker on my front porch, that would solve the problem for everyone. But that's not a cool project to work on with computer vision so . . ..

Why wouldn't I expect them to correct any abuse, when they explicitly state that they will do so?

If they just went, "We'll do our best, but if anything goes horribly wrong you're fucked, sign here," then whatever. I wouldn't sign up for it anyway, but at least they'd be honest.

But to say that they will "correct the problem" if anything goes wrong, but force you into binding arbitration, is just wrong.

Yeah, I'm just saying, you just gave them a key to your house, which is probably a mistake, and you'll probably sign the arbitration clause because why wouldn't you make two mistakes for ultimate convenience?

Most companies will take as much as you give them. Seems like an easy win in this customer demographic

Giving someone a key to your house is quite different from signing a contract with a binding arbitration clause. The former is an indication that you trust the key holder or the safeguards that are in place. The latter is signing away a legal right, which should carry much more weight.

But it won't, because the same people who will give away a key to their hows will give away their legal rights as well. Probably the company knows that.

I hate that we’re at a place where you now have to assume every business is lying to you every time their lips are moving/they communicate. How did we get here?

Market optimization. Mistaken beliefs are arbitrageable.

A combination of "buyer beware", inadequate consumer advocacy, bought legislators, and a lack of competition.

The only reason not to lie would be real negative consequences, and those don't happen so much in the fake news era.

I generally agree with you, but you imply everyone has a front porch let alone owns space in front of their home door which they're allowed to use for permanent installations.

I bet their designers thought this through and while I think your "cool computer vision project" argument still stands, I believe the real reason is that everyone who owns/rents living space actually has a front door with space for packets behind said door.

I think the real reason is they probably want access to your house for other services and to differentiate their own delivery because USPS isn't going to do this.

My point is that the way to fix the stated problem is with a lock box and for people who that doesn't work it's a cost of business (as it is now). But if you bring that number down to 2b instead of 7 with a one time cost of lockboxes, you've solved the stated problem.

It's pretty obnoxious that USPS regulations have discouraged innovation in home delivery arrangements. Even so, a sufficiently determined homeowner with the right setup could definitely build her own auto-emptying locker (i.e. closing the front door would open a trapdoor package chute) and post a sign directing parcel delivery to it. We don't have to wait on AMZN if this is really a thing that we need.

Amazon Locker on the porch is one solution, but as others have pointed out it won't work for everyone and it's also not scalable for all deliveries the way some other general solutions for delivery people might be.

What they have now is, I think, a choice some people might still make given the trade-off: is Amazon more likely to abuse the key you give them? or are your packages more likely to get stolen off the porch? I've lived in neighborhoods where that cost-benefit would make total sense.

  an amazon locker on my front
  porch, that would solve the
  problem for everyone
The problem with delivery boxes is the time of the cost.

You can't charge for the box upfront without killing customer acquisition - most companies give new customers a discount, not a charge - and if you give the box away, you're $50+ in the hole for a customer who may never shop with you again, and you've got to charge more to recoup the costs of the box.

Amazon is charging $249 (plus installation costs) for the Amazon Key In-home Kit, which includes the smart lock and cloud camera. That’s more then the cost of a bolted-down box with a smart lock. The reason Amazon prefers this is described in the video. For Amazon this is a literal “foot in the door” and a path to selling you other services like cleaning and dog-walking. It’s not just about delivering packages.

I think the subset of people who would have a box installed and never use prime again and the people who would give away a key to their house for 1 delivery is pretty small.

At $50/box, I can outfit 20 million homes for 1 billion which is a 1x cost. If they are really loosing 7b on package theft every year, the one off loss of box cost should start offsetting that right away. A quick google shows that there are 90 million prime members in 2017, so they could do a box per prime member and pay it off in 9 mo. The second year they just save 7 billion. Am I missing something?

The arbitration monkey courts are perversely incentivized by money to go with who gives them the most business. Their bias is inescapable. The agreement thus effectively means you hold amazon blameless for their drivers activity, as you'll never get a dime out of mandatory binding arbitration against a large corporation.

Binding arbitration does not preclude criminal prosecution. I mean, that’s what I tend to think of when I hear “really wrong.” I’m not a huge fan of arbitration clauses generally but they are not unilaterally evil. Have you ever been involved in a lawsuit? It can take over your life for years and leave you broke.

Criminal prosecution against a company?

IANAL but if their delivery guy commits a crime, it’s on him. If it becomes known that Amazon knowingly contributed to their delivery personnel committing crimes, or in some way covered them up, or is in some related way defrauding customers, they carry a legal risk beyond what arbitration covers. Everything is a trade off.

Sure, but your contract is with Amazon, they have a subcontractor, that person steals something, Amazon cuts ties with them, You lost something, Amazon is home free, and you may or may not get your stuff back, but you can't go after Amazon whom you have a contract with.

I doubt there's a scenario in which you can claim Amazon did anything criminal. But IANAL either.

OTOH you can file a claim with insurance, and I bet that arbitration clause does not permit your insurance company from going after Amazon or their contractor to recoup damages.

I am vehemently opposed to binding arbitration, but one thing I've often wondered is what effect it would have on the courts if it were made illegal.

Would they experience clogging, in the short term?

Would fees increase to help fund expansion (and deter suits until expansion can accommodate the increased number of filings)?

Maybe we could just use taxes? Courts should be a public service just like roads and schools and firefighters.

Courts don't cost that much in the grand scheme of things, so even if we had to expand them by a factor of 2 to handle all the arbitration cases, that would be entirely doable.

I would be interesting to know just how much volume arbitrators see, and how many of those might be expected to turn into court cases in the absence of binding arbitration clauses.

If we're going to spend more on courts, let's do so on the criminal side in the hopes that fewer than 95% of defendants will plea out.

Arbitration is actually a really good dispute resolution mechanism, but mainly between two commercially equal parties :)

That is what it's main use used to be.

> ... should be made illegal

Sorry this may seem personal but my own experience is that any phrase ending with these words is usually a good indicator of cluelessness.

It often means: I don't understand the motivations and reasons of the parties involved, I disagree with free and voluntary contracts and my opinion should override the will of the signing parties.

Needless to say, there are many unintended consequences, a "talk and don't ask or listen" attitude and a naive egocentrism at play that is also often prevalent in politics.

This would be a lot more convincing if you explained why you thought I was actually wrong.

There are lots of "free and voluntary" contracts that are illegal. You can't sign away your life or your freedom. You can't even sign a contract where you agree to work for $4/hour. In many jurisdictions you can't sign away your right to work for a competitor. You can't sign away your right to privacy or use of the legal eviction process in a rented apartment.

It's generally agreed upon that there are certain rights that are so important you can't sign them away. It seems to me that access to the courts should be one of them.

Once again, the problem is one-side contracts which should have no legal force. If we follow that principle, it may even mitigate the need for explicit antitrust and consumer protection rules.

> binding arbitration should be made illegal

Binding arbitration and non-competes, are both disgusting anti-business, anti-American, anti-worker, anti-innovation, anti-rights that need to be killed.

These two horrible tactics have crept in since 2000 into nearly everything.

Signing away your right to compete and your right to use the legal system should both be illegal and have no place in America. How did we let this happen?

For non-competes, NDAs should suffice.

Arbitration should be a step towards legal rather than supplanting it. Many times arbitration is better for both parties in terms of cost/time but when it isn't people shouldn't be signing away the right into forced arbitration to go further.

I walked away from a job offer recently. It was the first company that refused to remove their non-compete clause. They're illegal in California. In Illinois, they're illegal if you made less than $13/hr. They should be made illegal everywhere.

I know one software developer personally who has been screwed over by a non-compete. I know others who simply ignore them, which is dangerous since different states have rules differently on their enforceability.

If you don't mind my asking, what state was this in? And did you get the impression that it's treated as a norm locally?

This was in Illinois. Chicago has a vastly different hiring environment than any other place I've lived in. The interviews are long, there are a ton of behaviour questions (one interview had a solid hour dedicated to behaviour questions; and they wanted really detailed specifics).

It's a far departure from other markets I've worked in. I've personally never even asked behaviour questions during an interview, and really I think you can get a good judge of behaviour just by watching the candidate answer technical questions.

I'm not sure if non-competes are the norm. I have a feeling they might be as they recently passed laws to ban them for low income earners. I've only had one job offer, and they refused to remove it. I have no problem signing NDAs, IP wavers, patent wavers, etc. But I refuse to sign anything that restricts my right to work after a company stops paying me. If it turns out all of them do the same thing, I might have to head back to the west coast.

Is this finance in Chicago?

A company presented one to me a few years back and said that it was "standard". The non-compete covered anything tech-related (so...my job in its entirety) within 50 miles of the business (so...the entire city).

I refused to sign it.

I can say I looked up the ruling history in Oregon and the longest one that I found held was ~6months. Generally courts in OR state are narrow towards non competes. So that's at least some evidence it varies by state.

Arbitration, just like plea deals, are an obviously terrible idea that is legal almost entirely because it reduces the cost of having trials. Less trials is cheaper, which everyone running things likes.

Of course, that's trading justice for money, which most people would agree is a terrible idea. Of course, that isn't reflected in the actual state of the law.

Forced consumer arbitration has been widely adopted solely because it is used to preclude class actions. Some state courts send matters to public arbitration, which is decidedly different.

There are parts of forced consumer arbitraiton that companies do not like, but there's too much upsdie to precluding class actions. Things companies don't like include: the high up front cost and the lack of appeals.

There's nothing legally preventing arbitrators from being vehemently pro-consumer. The incentives prevent it but, legally, an arbitrator could award a crazy amount of money to a consumer on a tenuous basis and there's little that could be done. It's interesting that no such examples exist, however.

Nothing preventing them? How many companies will hire the arbitrator that is pro-consumer?

There are obvious incentives for the arbitrators to favour the people paying them - individuals are not going to be doing a lot of business with them, companies are.

> Nothing preventing them? How many companies will hire the arbitrator that is pro-consumer?

He says exactly that in his comment. There is no law stopping them from doing it.

You are right, on re-reading the intent is clear.

In my haste, I read that as "there is nothing stopping them from being pro-consumer, so there is no reason to assume that the judgements favour the businesses" for some reason.

There _are_ ways to set up arbitration to be reasonably neutral if that's a goal.

One contract along those lines that I saw basically goes like this: each party picks its own arbitrator (presumably biased toward that party, whatever). Then those two arbitrators together select a third arbitrator, who will actually arbitrate the dispute.

Of course that's not what binding arbitration clauses look like, at all.

Note that arbitration clauses obviously do not sign away your right to sue, they just force you to put in a decent effort to go through arbitration first.

> How many companies will hire the arbitrator that is pro-consumer?

Are the arbiters really hired by the company?

Generally, the company lists specific approved third party arbitration administrators as part of the arbitration clause, and that administrator is in charge of picking a specific arbitrator for a case. There’s only a handful of large arbitration associations and one of those is usually picked for most contracts. If you piss a business Off too much, they’ll remove you as an approved administrator and that can hurt. A lot. So you can’t be too pro-consumer. But also, if you show provable bias, the arbitration can be thrown out. So it’s really a fine line around callous indifference that leans towards the business, rather than outright anti-consumer.

As for the hiring part - the business pays most of the arbitration fees, but the consumer is on the hook for a nominal amount plus any attorney fees and potentially extra costs like expert testimony.

Yeah... I can see how third party arbitration can work well between corporations that each have a legal department making sure a reasonable arbiter is picked, but I'm much less hopeful about whenever a single consumer randomly ends up in this situation.

So basically the credit rating agencies scenario all over again.

Arbitration can make sense in an international setup with contracts between large companies. For example, if an American company does business with a Russian company, they might agree to do arbitration in the UK in case of a dispute.

However, what Amazon does here is just wrong.

> Arbitration, just like plea deals, are an obviously terrible idea that is legal almost entirely because it reduces the cost of having trials.

Arbitration is legal because of freedom of contract.

There is nothing "obviously terrible" about arbitration per se. When it is included in a freely negotiated contract between parties of equal bargaining power it is hard to find anything wrong with it.

The problem is when the parties do not have anywhere near equal bargaining power.

Arbitration is legal because of the Federal Arbitration Act of 1925. Before that, judges in the United States treated arbitration clauses as unenforceable despite freedom of contract. [1] It’s a bit odd that 80 years or so passed before consumer arbitration clauses suddenly became ubiquitous in the last decade, but nevertheless Congress could easily amend the law if it wanted to.

[1] https://scholarlycommons.law.case.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?ar...

I mean, it's legal because no one has made a law against it. "Freedom of contract" isn't absolute - you can't sign yourself up as a slave. Consumer arbitration could be banned too.

I'm talking about consumer arbitration, which is as you say, inherently unbalanced. Yes, I'm sure there are situations where it's a good tool and I'm not saying ban arbitration completely, but right now we can see the damage from it being misapplied.

The ostensible reason for them is that "court is expensive"; if this were true, and impartial arbiters could be found, at the moment a lawsuit was required, both parties could agree to arbitration at that time: just because you are or have filed a lawsuit shouldn't suddenly mean that arbitration is more expensive or impossible.

That is, there is no benefit to agreeing to it at contract inception, if it were as stated: cheaper and impartial, i.e., a better court.

You can't really expect to maintain equal bargaining power when you're in the business of signing away your rights. I mean, what you've said makes sense if you only have one relationship with one other entity. If there are more parties involved, your loss of rights in one fair bargain may translate to a loss of fairness in another.

>Arbitration is legal because of freedom of contract.

Indentured servitude is just contracting. Do you think it should be legal too?

I think my point may have not been clear. I was responding to someone who offered a theory that it is legal because it reduces the cost of having trials. The implication is that it was decided at some point that we should allow it.

My point is that because it is implied by freedom of contract, it is by default legal until we decide to make it illegal.

> it is by default legal until we decide to make it illegal.

No, it's legal because of the Federal Arbitration Act passing in 1925. Prior to that, waiving of such rights "in advance by agreement" was explicitly disallowed, as SCOTUS determined in Insurance Company v. Morse (1874).

Plea deals are very grey areas that are susceptible to misuse, but it's also the key to moving up a chain of leadership to "take the head off the snake" often.

Deals that involve informing are a very different animal, in my opinion. I'm talking about the much more mundane, everyday case where it is just getting a lighter sentence in exchange for pleading guilty. There is a clear trend where prosecutors push for insanely overdone charges, then drop it to virtually nothing in the plea deal.

This is terrible because it leads to unjustly excessive punishment for smaller crimes if someone wants to exercise their right to trial, and people being told to just take the deal when innocent because a 1% chance of 10s of years of prison just isn't worth the risk when the alternative is you are out in months, for example.

The incentive to save money exists regardless and nowise leads to arbitration as the only option.

I'm not sure what you are saying. My point was that political support for allowing consumer arbitration to exist is increased (despite it being largely unpopular with the public), because it reduces court cases which is cheaper for the government. You are saying that there is incentive to save money, but it doesn't at all affect politician's opinions on consumer arbitration?

I'm saying consumers will already choose arbitration if it achieves the same utility, because it's cheaper for them as well. If politicians were not in the pockets of lobbyists they would see that human nature already saves the government money. I argue politicians are not motivated by saving the government money, at all -- seriously, when have they ever been?

Couldn't agree more. I called State Farm last month just to get a quote on a potential car purchase. Instead, I ended up canceling my current policy on the spot because the agent tried to push Limited Tort as if it was just an easy way to save money.

It made me so furious because most people don't understand what they're giving up, and they won't understand until they get into an accident and learn they signed away their rights years ago. The way agents sell Limited Tort gives you a completely inaccurate impression of the potential consequences.

That sort of thing should absolutely be criminal.

As a PA resident I always thought of it as spending more if you want the lottery ticket. Obviously if you never get into an accident you'll be much richer with lower-priced limited tort, but you can pay extra if you want to bet that you'll be in an accident and will be in that group that might get some money. I know all insurance is gambling, and it's definitely a personal decision.

Can you explain what Limited Tort meant in this case?

In car insurance it means you give up your right to sue for pain and suffering unless you suffer serious injuries. The PA definition of a serious injury is "a personal injury resulting in death, serious impairment of body function or permanent serious disfigurement."

So even if you're injured badly enough to need a year of physical therapy for full recovery, you would likely get no money for your pain and suffering under Limited Tort. Without Limited Tort you'd probably get anywhere from $30,000 - $100,000 for that amount of pain/suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, etc.

Out of curiosity, which insurance did you end up going with?

Would this choosing this policy option only affect payments to you the policy holder for an incident where you were at fault? Trying how understand how this works, since your insurance company usually represents you when trying to obtain compensation from others, or compensates others for damage you do.

I think most people have the same thought as you: They don't see how an agreement with their own insurer could stop them from suing someone else (or their insurer), but that's how Limited Tort works. You sign away your right to sue someone else if they injure you in an accident unless those injuries are extremely severe (loss of limb, death, permanent disability, etc.).

You can look up info on "piercing the tort threshold" if you're curious about specific injuries that are severe enough.

Do you think the additional money actually serves to offset in any way shape or form the persons suffering? If so what is the conversion factor between pain and money?

Do you think quantifying pain and suffering has a positive value even if its very hard to come up with a meaningful way to define suffering in terms of dollars?

To answer your questions:

1. Yes. Suffering isn't necessarily limited to some brief interval of time. For example, disfiguring injuries can impose suffering (employment discrimination, loss of consortium, etc.) throughout a person's post-injury lifespan. Money can mitigate burdens imposed by such effects of injury.

2. I don't know. But I would estimate the conversion factor for third-degree burns over 40% of a kid's body as greater than that of a kid's having lost a hand. YMMV.

3. Yes, I do.

> "actually serves to offset in any way shape or form the persons suffering"

If you're injured to the point where it impacts your ability to work, or you need extra care from someone... of course it offsets it.

Paying for care has nothing to do with pain and suffering. I wasn't asking the pointless question you imagine I was asking an actual relevant nonobvious question.

Perhaps you could work on rewording it to be obvious?

I'm proud to have turned down a economically-maximizing offer with a margin on principle of not signing non-competes. I understand that I was lucky to have the luxury to be able to say no and not everyone is able to do so on a different circumstance, but I believe if you have the option of taking a lower offer without a non-compete you have the moral obligation to your profession to push back and resist, and let them know that a non-compete is morally repellent.

I recently bought furniture. There was small print that said I was agreeing to the terms and conditions on the back. Historically you're used to seeing warranty and financing (if any - none in this case) information. When I flipped it over, it turned out it was a binding arbitration agreement.

For a furniture purchase.

>> For non-competes, NDAs should suffice.

With all that complaining about signing away your right to sue and work, why do you think it's OK to sign away your right to speak? Serious question.

> With all that complaining about signing away your right to sue and work, why do you think it's OK to sign away your right to speak? Serious question.

NDAs are also bs mostly but they cover company specific confidential information and possibly information on clients, contractors, employees etc. All of that is fair to not speak about as that is their property and what they are doing.

Non-competes want you to usually stop using your skills that you brought to the company, with other companies. It is really absurd when a company that wants a 6-month contract wants a non-compete for 2 years, laughable.

You can speak, just not about privileged information. With non-competes the most honorable thing they can claim is that they don't want you taking expertise they probably helped pay for you to get (either on-the-job or otherwise) and have someone else benefit from it. But really I think most of us would agree that restricting someone's right to use their own qualifications is overly broad. A better solution to that concern would be that they pay for training, if necessary, and you pay some of it back based on how much longer you remain in their employ, similar to some relocation agreements.

Not discussing confidential material shared with you on condition of your employer with an NDA is quite similar IMO to not sharing material information about a company's health days before their public earnings call. 1st amendment rights are not absolute. I'm not allowed to engage in libel, yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater, etc. I think abiding by NDA's about internal, confidential information is analagous and helps promote real, fair competition.

You just had to do it, didn't you?

Every time you say, "yell 'Fire!' in a crowded theater," a civil rights lawyer is forced to kick a puppy.

Care to elaborate? Genuinely curious here.

It was coined by a judge attempting to justify legal censorship of someone protesting the existence of the draft.


Thanks. I didn't know about the historical context of that argument and it turned out to be quite important.

Well that is the textbook case of 1st amendment rights not being absolute.

Well, no, it's dicta in the textbook case—Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919)—of the Supreme Court getting swept aside by security hysteria and failing to protect the First Amendment; a decision whose substance was overruled by Brandenburg v. U.S., 395 U.S. 444 (1969).

I stand corrected, thank you. I recall being told specifically in 7th grade social studies that that was an actual case in the 1920's where someone did yell fire. I'm aware of other cases where the court decision was, "here's a ridiculous extreme we obviously wouldn't go to, so obviously let's just rule that it doesn't apply at all," and I hate it, so I'll stop using this :)

I don't need to tell anybody what my former employer was working on, and doing so would not even benefit me. I do need to be able to work in my field though. More often than not, one's skillset is sought by similar businesses.

Imagine a physician signing a non-compete. What's he supposed to do then? Not practice medicine and go be a consultant or something?

My sister in law is a physician, her non-compete doesn’t allow her to practice specific aspects of her responsibility in her county, any surrounding county or in a 75 mile radius for 18 months.

My nephew was asked to sign a non-compete in a sandwich shoppe, to protects the trade secrets of making a ham sandwich!

Because a company still needs some level of protection against having their trade secrets spread to their direct competitors by way of a defecting employee.

So you think a companies trade secrets are more important than a person's first amendment rights? I'm playing devil's advocate here BTW. I think trade secrets might be over rated.

"Congress shall make no law [...] abridging the freedom of speech [...]"

This is not related to 1st amendment; this is no law being passed by congress or any government body. Nothing prevents a person from speaking after an NDA is signed - they won't get tossed in jail, because no law was broken. However, after doing so, they will be responsible for any civil penalties they agreed to when they signed the contract.

I only brought in the first amendment to highlight the importance of the right to free speech. Contracts are important but perhaps some things should not be allowed in them. Many contracts are unfair, but people enter into them anyway for various reasons.

People have been trying to charge rent on ideas for just about forever. We have patents and copyrights for that purpose. Not that I'm a fan of where that have gone (the length of copyright and even 20 years on patents).

The thing with non-competes is that most businesses realize that their employees could run circles around them and out-compete them without even trying if they were brave enough to try. So they fear that. I mean, no overhead of a radically expensive office building plus its utilities and maintenance, those multiple layers of ineffective management, the executive cherry on top charging an ultra premium to make your company look good? Cut that stuff out and you barely need to charge anything to continue making a perfectly opulent living for a typical technology worker. And it's not like the office or any of those things actually add anything of value, they're all just maintained mostly through sheer force of will and tradition - things proven to fail at any moment.

So if you sign something that severely penalizes going out on your own and competing against your employer, they're going to jump on that and treat it like a lifeline because it very much is exactly that.

I had good experience arbitrating with AT&T over a missing credit for an old phone I sent in when upgrading. They didnt know where the phone was even though tracking showed they received it, and they werent giving me a credit. I tried to escalate and speak to more and more agents but ultimately I sent a letter to their legal department with a Request For Arbitration form. A paralegal from their legal department contacted me and offered me a good sum of money shortly after. Really was a smooth process..

But you didn't reach arbitration? Somebody from the legal department thought the best way to avoid legal risk was to give you money, which is how they avoided the possibly more risky legal process.

I filled out the request for arbitration. Ive never arbitrated before so I assumed that was the process. But are you saying they settled instead of arbitrating? What is the difference?

The alternative of going to trial more often has its own downsides. Similar parallels to plea bargaining. If the cost of a plea bargain or arbitration is $500, and the cost of a trial is $5000, with trials only there are many injustices that would never be pursued.

> Binding arbitration and non-competes, are both disgusting anti-business, anti-American, anti-worker, anti-innovation, anti-rights that need to be killed.

Agreed. Here's how I look at it:

If a company really screws you over, you can sue. It's a lot of time and money, but it's worth it for a big problem. But what if the problem is small?

If I get screwed out of $5 by a dodgy company, I won't bother to sue. But if they've done the same to a lot of people, a class action lawsuit makes it worth some lawyer's time to go after them.

Arbitration clauses destroy that. Without class action, we need much more vigorous government intervention. Failing that, consumers lose the trust in the marketplace, harming commerce and making everybody poorer. And we'd likely see more proactive regulation as well, reducing innovation.

You're using the legal system... by negotiating away your right to sue.

Don't sign the agreement if you don't like it.

There are some rights it should not be possible to negotiate away.

For example, a contract in which I forfeit my right to life or ownership of my own body would be considered invalid.

The same should be true of a contract in which I forfeit my right to sue. Half the point of the courts is to serve as a final arbiter when a contract is insufficient.

I tend to agree, but where does a 'do not resuscitate' order or a power of attorney fit into that?

A DNR doesn't sign away your right to life, it just asks others not to take positive action to save you. A more analogous situation would be assisted suicide, which is pretty controversial. Even then, assisted suicide is seen as a benefit to the person who's going to die, and the person who assists gets paid for it. I believe a contract which says you get to kill me in exchange for paying me (either in advance or to my heirs, presumably) would be uncontroversially invalid.

I'm not sure I see the relation to powers of attorney. Are you saying that granting PoA to another person is similar to granting enforcement rights to an arbitrator?

No, I was just referring to how someone can be granted a durable power of attorney, in which case they have license to remove the grantor from life support. Anyway, I support everything you said, and just to be clear, I'm no fan of arbitration; I was mostly playing devil's advocate.

A durable power of attorney doesn't sign away your right to life. It gives someone revocable control of your life. You can withdraw that control at any time (assuming that you have the mental competence to be able to make legal decisions). There is no way to sign away your right to life, you can always take back any rights that you give someone.

I think you did a decent job playing devil's advocate, because now that you explained it a bit more, I'm not quite sure how PoAs fit into this. Maybe it's different because it's not done in exchange for something?

That's fine until its inculcated into every commercial agreement going forward, and you have no legal power to challenge the entire system.

The answer seems pretty obvious... live a simpler life that doesn't depend on these services.

Exiling yourself from society shouldn't be a requirement of wanting equal access to the justice system.

There is zero reason not to include such a contract in every point of contact between you and society if you let people run with this one eventually the bottom of your receipt for a pound of grapes will contain such language and they'll call it a contract of adhesion.

If mandatory binding arbitration included as part of your standard interaction with businesses is a net negative for 99% of people and a positive for business owners and large stock holders there is no particular reason why the 99% can't vote not to allow the owners to do that.

That's entirely workable... if you want to not have a job, or a bank account, or a credit card.

A few months ago my car got covered in white paint from the garage of the apartment I live in. I had it detailed, which they agreed to pay for right away. They credited my account for the cost of the detail, then added it back as a rent charge when I refused to sign away my right to sue over the incident (well, the contract said basically they weren’t liable for anything that happened at all around that time on the premises. also the detailing didn’t remove the paint). They required me to pay back the money in order to make my rent payment the next month, or i would have been charged 10% of the rent + detailing charge as a fee. So yeah, avoid services like renting an apartment and you’ll be all set. Good luck!

This is such crap. If they really were committed to making things right in the event of a problem, they wouldn't have to fear being sued.

I mean, even if you have the best of intentions, it's still nice to have all the cards stacked in your favor for your own protection.

It is, but that doesn't make it nice to put unreasonable conditions in a contract. If I put a clause in a contract saying I'm allowed to kill you if I get annoyed with you, while promising that I definitely won't kill you and I'm just trying to cover my bases, I don't think that would go over too well.

Maybe people could just stop signing such end user agreements and let amazon et al feel that their idea of putting all risk to the customer is flawed...

> binding arbitration should be made illegal

Why do you want to interfere and limit my right to execute a contract?

A contract requires a "meeting of minds", informed consent, and both parties having reasonable power to negotiate the contract. Such contracts definitely can contain clauses like binding arbitration, and you should be free to execute such contracts.

However, there's a strong opinion (e.g. encoded in EU law) that the standard contract forms offered by companies to consumers are not really properly negotiated contracts (even if consumers willingly sign them) and thus in such contracts you're not allowed to enforce a certain set of terms that are considered abusive. One of such terms is a binding arbitration clause.

Your customer is free to negotiate and make a contract containing such clauses with you, and then it'd be valid, but if you simply get all your customers to sign on the dotted line under such a clause, it's understood that you don't really have obtained informed consent from any of them.

There has to be equal information, equal negotiating power and recourse for both parties. There are many cases where there is a huge disparity in information between the parties : Doctors and patients, for example, is an obvious case, or between lawyers and their clients. I would argue that Amazon has far more negotiating power and information in any contract with the average consumer, and therefore the law should be heavily biased in favor of the consumer. Even if there was no binding arbitration and Amazon does screw up and harms the consumer, will the consumer even have the resources to prevail in a lawsuit? Binding arbitration stacks the deck even more in the favor of the more powerful party.

If Amazon were signing a contract with Google or Apple, I assume that they both would have relatively equal negotiating power and access to information. With you or I? I highly doubt I can afford it.

For the same reason we don't let people sign away personal rights. We have plenty of evidence showing that it is actively harmful to society at large. To pretend otherwise under the guise of "freedom!" is insulting to all involved. Including you.

Because there are some rights it's bad to be allowed to give up. You can't sign away your right to life or freedom. Being able to have your grievances heard in a court of law should be considered a fundamental right, like the right to life.

How about a somewhat updated law? Binding arbitration should only be legal when made between two entities who have a power difference no greater than that of an adult and a teenager. If the power difference is greater, say like that between a non-lawyer and a multinational corporation, then the agreement is illegal because consent cannot be given in such a power vacuum.

Why do you expect the state to give a shit about everything you write into a contract?

That's what California does with non-competes, it (figuratively) tells the company it is pretty cool that they have that contract and good luck.

Kind of a weird article - it's very long, describes in great detail how everything works, and the regret is hidden about three quarters of the way down, and I am still unclear about what the regret is. That he signed up to a walled garden, and the key doesn't work when you want to share it with your dog walker? The walled garden response is "you should've known as much" and the dog walker response would be "this is version 1"

Anyway, this feels more like an ad for amazon key than a real takedown. Oh wait... WaPo, Bezos... right.

Oh wait... WaPo, Bezos... right

It states that right near the beginning of the article.

I'm cynical in a different way, though. I see this article as the sort of turgid content that dominates tech media: Take some product or behavior that's new, act like it's scary and milk some content out of it. The title itself is simply ridiculous -- the regrets seem to be that the product is exactly what it is held as.

It isn't for me. For some people heavily invested in the Amazon ecosystem it might be a fine compromise.

Used to be you could read tech news written by people who were both knowledgable and enthusiastic about technology. Now it seems to be mostly paranoid, technophobic clickbait.

Isn't this because writer pay plummeted?

Skilled technical people don't write for publications because the pay is terrible compared to even an entry level tech job. The best articles I see anymore are by guest writers who do work in industry but wanted to write an article for whatever reason.

You're giving some company complete autonomous control of the keys to your house and you're calling the people skeptical technophobic? Not disagreeing that it's clickbait though.


I dunno. I mean, there's a camera in your house and you just gave a company a key to your house to deliver products to you via some person you have never met and will likely never meet ever. Like, your paranoia meter should be red-lining.

maybe that's a reflection of their audience?

In a way I absolutely think this is true, but it is more the way we consume media now than our basic values changing.

Previously I had a few sites that I visited daily to read tech news. Media properties where writers tried to keep a constant supply of entertaining and illuminating articles that I give attention and focus to, even if superficially not interesting, because I have trust that it's worth my time.

Now I instead rely upon social news and even Facebook feeds to supply the more interesting articles, filtered and crowd "curated". In that gaudy world, you need to show your legs and hoot and holler to get attention. So we end up with this sort of media. We see the same thing with blogs where many of us abandoned subscriptions and readers and just assume that the good content will percolate into our view.

I don't think I'm alone in this behavior, and it has been negative to the whole.

I was able to find the regret in the seventh paragraph

>The bad news is Amazon missed four of my in-home deliveries and charged me (on top of a Prime membership) for gear that occasionally jammed and makes it awkward to share my own door with people, apps, services — and, of course, retailers — other than Amazon.

I didn't really read beyond that.

> I am still unclear about what the regret is

The regret was it was a pain in the ass, and cost a lot of money, and in the end didn't even work very well. It was a waste of time, and money, and effort, for no gain.

I don't know, the last line is pretty critical. "But the trade-off is giving more power over your life to a company that probably already has too much."

Except that you couldn't actually pull this off unless you were a large/powerful company.

Why not? Create an open standard (or use an existing one) to interface with other devices.

It's harder than a walled garden you control but very feasible.

Heck most software engineers could put together a smart lock and app to do this in a couple of months. Wouldn't be consumer ready by any means but this isn't some huge engineering challenge.

Figuring out how to market the product successfully is the harder part.

> Figuring out how to market the product successfully is the harder part.

And exactly this is what limits it to "a large/powerful company".

I think negative articles like this can hurt or help things. People know that twenty years ago, articles about how the scary internet is abducting your children got people to think more about it, then adoption kicked in. Even news about the NSA didn't get average users to change browsing habits, despite access to VPNs and tor. All the scary articles about the bitcoin bubble have undoubtedly gotten more people to buy bitcoin.

I think tech companies would prefer to be seen as dystopian over idiotic. Negative tech stories that I've heard which have destroyed the companies -- juicero, for example, or google glass -- show their customers as idiots.

Click bait headline baits click

> The company promises deliveries are only made by Amazon employees it thinks are trustworthy.

Amazon doesn't have employees delivering packages. They are all contractors, and often contractors hired by contractors. The concerning thing about this is that it literally means Amazon may have only learned the name of the person who is accessing your home 30 minutes before they are inside it.

Likely not very well vetted in advance. I ordered a few computer parts last month that never arrived. Amazon used a "shipping partner" instead of one of the mainstream delivery services. Amazon claims to have no idea what happened to my package but it sounds like the contractor just took off with their vehicle full of goods.

It wouldn't surprise me if they do very little vetting, especially this time of year, and just suck up the cost of packages that contractors fail to deliver. Perhaps for large shipments they go after the contractor legally if they can find them but for smaller shipments they probably just blacklist the person and move on. Taking an extra ten days to get my order via replacement shipped by a reputable delivery service was mildly annoying but I certainly never would allow Amazon's random hodgepodge of contractors enter my home.

I recently met a friend of a friend who was just hired on as an Amazon delivery contractor. He said that to get the job, he replied to an ad on Craigslist, met someone in a parking lot, talked to him for 10 minutes and was told that he had the job. The guy who hired him doesn't work for Amazon, but is himself a contractor. So, not a whole lot of vetting going on there.

Incidentally, this is in the Pacific Northwest, not far from Amazon HQ. S

I know for a fact that Amazon does employ package delivery people in my area. They are not contractors or hired by contractors. Amazon fulfillment is a massive organization.

It is a massive organization that includes employees, contractors, and contractors hired by contractors. I've had Amazon deliveries dropped off by UPS, FedEx, USPS, white vans with the logo of local independent delivery services (contractors hired by contractors... that's Amazon Logistics), and random people in their own cars using an app on their phone (contractors... that's Amazon Flex).

What makes you sure they aren't contractors? Ask them the next time you get a delivery.

They may drive trucks with the Amazon logo; they may tell you they are delivering for Amazon; they may be driving around with an app made by Amazon that gives them step by step instructions of what to do. But they are not legally employed by Amazon. Not in the US or UK. I spent some time as a part of their software organization, and have been inside the delivery stations. As far as I know, there are no employees delivering packages.

You can speculate as to why Amazon would want things setup this way. I don't speak on the company's behalf.

I did ask them, the guy I talked to was an Amazon employee. I wasn't just assuming when I made the comment.

If someone wants to steal from my apartment or trash it, there are a million better ways that don't involve them being employed or contracted by Amazon, being tracked and having video of their entry into my abode.

As long as Amazon knows their name, has them tracked and my Key takes video, it seems like there's near zero risk of that person doing something illegal. It's just too easy for them to get caught.

Yea considering the alternative is package theft from "someone" whose face my security camera might get a snap of, and then my only option is to go to the cops with a grainy picture and a timestamp, I'll go with the "Amazon, who is placing a great deal of their reputation on the line by allowing contractors in the house."

After having an amazon delivery driver aggressively harass me for the door key code to my apartment rather than just use the intercom I lost all faith in their delivery service.

I'm pretty sure Amazon launched its own delivery service.

I'm pretty sure it is not Amazon employees who do the delivering, but contractors.


All Amazon Flex delivery drivers are independent contractors. It's not much different from driving for Uber. My last Amazon package was delivered by a 21 year old in a t-shirt and jeans driving an old Nissan sedan.


And they hire independent delivery companies (who themselves can hire contractors to work for them) as well.


I was curious about where Amazon Flex delivered so I went to their site. No indication of whether my area was covered or not so I ended up downloading the app. Once signed in the only location listed was Pennsylvania. Not where I live so instant delete. Not sure why they didn't just put that on the landing page.

They did. Amazon logistics. No one who delivers for it are Amazon employees.



> As an independent contractor, you are responsible for your own expenses.


> Delivery providers are local companies that Amazon uses to deliver packages from a central location to our customer's door.

The amazon delivery drivers in my area are not part of either of those groups, they are amazon fulfillment employees, I've talked to them in person.

>Amazon doesn't have employees delivering packages. They are all contractors, and often contractors hired by contractors.

Are you 100% sure about this or is it a guess? There’s no evidence I’m aware of that goes against Amazons statement.

Maybe it's different in US, but in UK all deliveries from Amazon are done by 3rd party companies - DPD, Hermes, Parcelforce, etc, even if the tracking website says "Amazon Logistics" - it's just a front company.

In the US, they are all individual "contractors". They call them Flex Drivers. They are similar to Uber drivers. Individually hired but are technically contractors. So Amazon does background checks on them but technically they are not Amazon employees, they are "self employed". Which is why many of them drive things like Uhaul vans for deliveries. They try to cram as many orders as they can into a van, and rush them through, to get the biggest possible payout.

It being done by a 3rd party doesn't mean that it is an established delivery company. Per https://logistics.amazon.co.uk/ :

> Drivers are independent contractors with a delivery provider.

> The programme is open to single driver owner-operators as well as larger companies.

I've certainly had deliveries come in unmarked white vans without the driver displaying any sort of company affiliation.

"Amazon Logistics" - it's just a front company

Are you sure about that because all deliveries I have had are clearly not from any of the regular companies you mention?

Is the Amazon Key service available in the UK?

No but you can give a door access code if one is available.

A lot of comments are about other solutions (lockboxes, etc.) - these are solutions for a problem Amazon doesn't have.

Amazon wants to own grocery delivery (put your milk in your fridge), they want to own dog walking, they want to own plumbing and other house services.

The article's correct that this is the first step in a larger plan, and I think at least fairly well thought out for that.

I read about one of Arabic countries - I don't remember if it was the Emirates or Saudi Arabia, but one of the big names. The newspaper article claimed milkmen in that country walk into your house, take money lying on your fridge, leave the change, put milk into your fridge, walk out. You typically leave your house unlocked, the article claimed.

That's a problem the country doesn't have.

I think it used to be like this in America too. The milkman would walk into your kitchen (via the back door, which was unlocked) and leave the milk in your fridge.

I live in an old house in a cooler climate and my place and most of my neighbors' have a special small two-way "cabinet" through the exterior wall in the back where the milkman used to leave your delivery, sort of like a mailbox built into your house.

Sweden used to have a very high trust rating until very recently, too.

If you watch some old movies, you can see very lax airport security.

How times change. How did we end up trust each other so little ? What happened ? Is it really inevitable ?

I don't think all change is progress. For example, some ancient Greek cities like Athens were more progressive on gay rights and sexuality.

I lived in the UAE a few years ago, and I wouldn’t really be surprised. When I had water delivered I just left money and the empty bottles on the doorstep and never had any issues.

One time I was at a coffee shop in a mall and there was a table next to me of ~8 people having a business meeting with laptops. Lunch time came, so they left all their stuff - laptops and all - and went for lunch. After an hour they came back and continued.

Petty crimes like this aren’t a thing in this country. If caught, a foreigner is just going to get jail time (which is most likely better than US county jail) and deportation.

I would not trust that rosy story for a second. In UAE you can get the death penalty for homosexuality, drug use or saying bad things about their religion.

"Under Emirati law, multiple crimes carry the death penalty, and the sole method of execution is firing squad. Current law theoretically allows the death penalty for treason, espionage, murder, successfully inciting the suicide of a person "afflicted with total lack of free will or reason", arson resulting in death, acts of indecent assault resulting in death, importing nuclear substances/wastes in the environment of the State, adultery, apostasy, blasphemy, perjury causing wrongful execution, rape, aggravated robbery, kidnapping, terrorism, sodomy, homosexuality, drug trafficking[1] and joining the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant[2][3], although death sentences are frequently commuted to life sentences. Overseas nationals and UAE nationals have both been executed for crimes."


I never said UAE is an utopia or even a fun place to live. I think there is merit to criticism of Islam that it doesn't distinguish between religious and secular, so it's a totalitarian state by default. I believe that the world of Islam did not have its Renaissance and Enlightenment. A radio anchor on my favorite station once half-joked that the greatest invention of Christianity is tolerance of Atheism. According to him no other revealed religion even tolerates atheists.

But I believe in giving credit where it's due. If petty crime is very rare in UAE, it's food for thought. World is not black and white and it's perfectly possible the world of Islam does some things better. It's worth a closer look. I believe in an eclectic approach where you take the best parts of things.

Oh boy would Amazon Key be laughingstock in such a country.

Seems like that would be confirmation for the claim. I would expect that in a wealthy area with ridiculously harsh penalties for petty theft, you would have little to fear in terms of being a victim of those crimes.

What in gods name does the milkman have to do with the death penalty? The USA also has capital punishment, doesn't mean you can't leave your laptop at the café in some posh suburb.

Well in Saudi Arabia, the consequence of being caught stealing would be having your hands cut off. That's certainly enough of a deterrent for most.

If it looks stupid, but works, it ain't stupid ? Hmmm.

Similar services still exist in America, though they're not as widespread as they once were. I think this is mostly because there aren't a lot of services that come to your home anymore other than package delivery.

As recently as three years ago I lived somewhere where the dry cleaner could go into your house and hang your dry cleaning on a doorknob and take your outgoing bag of laundry/dry cleaning. And if you live in an apartment/condo building of a certain level, very often the concierge will deliver packages and groceries into your home.

Most pet-sitters have this access, too.

Some garbage services are like that: they'll go to your backyard and carry the bins to their truck, then put the bins back. This sort of service is only available when a single firm hasn't bribed its way into a municipal monopoly.

It’s nice that Amazon wants to own that but I don’t want that service. They can keep it.

well the door service is helpful - if you have two doors. one front door locked via the amazon lock and a second door - locked regulary. i.e. most smaller aparatment buildings.

Intersting idea...I had an Amazon package stolen off my porch this week, the thief opened it and saw it was the novel Watership Down, then threw it back on my porch. Stolen packages are a way of life in my neighborhood.

well that's sad for you and good that you do not live in germany. most post services will actually give the package to your neighborhood if you are not at home. the first week in my new neighborhood took me a while to track some missing packages down. (well instead of bringing me the packages, which the people now do they wanted to know me, so they waited till I came to them...)

"to your neighborhood"

Wait, was this a translation error? Did you mean "neighbor?" Or is there some "neighborhood representative" in every neighborhood in Germany?

No, "to a neighbor" is correct. Although the delivery guy will not make a dedicated effort to find an available neighbor because of time constraints. I suppose that when they deposit the package with a neighbor, it's because the neighbor received a package themselves, so they could ask them to take your package as well while signing off on their package. Most of the time, when you cannot receive your package personally, you'll get a card telling you to pick it up at a branch office of the postal services (which usually means some small unrelated shop like a drugstore).

He means to whichever neighbor the delivery person found first.

I don't think this is a nationalistic issue, more a case of do you live in a major city or just somewhere else?

> well the door service is helpful - if you have two doors. one front door locked via the amazon lock and a second door - locked regulary. i.e. most smaller aparatment buildings.

So then not just have a box where you can throw parcels in? If you have the second door locked then none of the amazon services envisioned apply.

I don't personally have any issue with packages being stolen. But I suspect that, for people who live in a neighborhood where the occasional lifted package that was sitting in plain sight is an issue (but rampant theft is not), leaving a plastic tub with a small "packages here" label on the porch or wherever is probably a pretty reasonable thing to do.

I have a shed outside Amazon could possibly have a key to.

Sometimes I wonder how far Amazon will go, and if/when antitrust mechanisms will start tapping the brakes. They went from an online bookstore to the entire breadth and depth they are now with still higher aspirations. Where will they stop? Healthcare? Utilities?

2027: "We want to own all the water companies so we can plumb Amazon-Basics-knockoff Soylent to your faucets."

I'm ready for this kind of obscene horizontal integration to stop. It's of course logical for tech companies to explore new areas to make money in, but if the end result is only a few corporations controlling most of our economy, it's not worth it.

I don't even really see limiting horizontal integration as unethical/anti-business at all, if implemented well. Sure Bob Shareholder won't be able to directly invest the $X in profit from his Amazon/Google stock back into the company, but that profit would instead be given as dividends that he could then invest in companies that would be doing what Amazon/Google wanted to do anyway.

It is sobering to think that Walmart's revenue is 2.6% of the US GDP.

But then again, that includes a bunch of overseas revenue, so that's not exactly apples-to-apples. And it's actually comforting to see that Walmart is 4x the size of Amazon, because I don't think they have the same scope of ambition or cultural / technological relevance today. I certainly don't think that the Walmart of 2030 will be controlling all aspects of our daily life, though people may have worried about that 20 years ago. But companies ebb and flow and I suspect that Amazon will reach its own "dominance high point" in the next decade or two and then retreat in terms of ambition and relevance. New swaths of the economy will open up that Amazon is ill-equiped to dominate, just like has happened to corporations for the last century before them.

This is true, but then again Walmart gave up on anything more than being a supermarket (except for being an online store, but that's just them addressing their competition). Walmart isn't scary because they're not reinvesting their profits much compared to their competitors, which tells you they really aren't in "growth mode" anymore. Amazon hasn't given up yet and we'll see how long that takes. It could be the next Walmart, or it could be the next Enron, or even the next East India Company.

I'm glad I have a well!

Is Amazon liable if your packages get stolen? If that is the case, that could explain why they want a "key" to your house.

Why else would this do this?

Oh, wait they are bleeding money.

>The amount of money that Amazon lost on shipping — a.k.a. the net cost of landing all those brown boxes on your doorstep in record time — reached an all-time high of nearly $7.2 billion in 2016, according to GeekWire’s analysis of the e-commerce giant’s financial results.

I would be curious to see another person's take on how much Amazon loses on people stealing packages per year.


It's because it's a value-added service that Amazon's delivery service can provide that UPS and FedEx cannot (at least as easily). I don't think it's about losses from stolen packages--it's about negotiating lower rates with big players as they flesh out their own capacity to deliver those packages.

The article touches on another reason, with house access they can organize services (house cleaning, dog walking etc.) that require access to the house.

House access. A camera in your home. Automated delivery confirmation. Guaranteed correct address. No more delivery to wrong address because the door won't open at the wrong address.

Yes, The low liability, ups/usps friendly way to do this is to turn that 7 billion into a bunch of little yellow metal boxes with a key pad. I bet a lot of people who want the convenience would let them screw it to the front of the house or down to the deck

They're halfway there. The yellow boxes are in most grocery stores in my area. And there are green ones at Whole Foods.

Considering the USPS won't service individual house mailboxes in some parts of the country anymore (only communal mailbox clusters up to a mile away), what's the difference between getting a package from the USPS lockbox, or the Amazon lockbox which is located at a place I was going anyway?

I get my packages sent to my grandmother because my place is way too open for me to trust deliveries... my grandmother's at least has a wall in front of the front door so packages just dropped off aren't visible from the street.

I'd seriously consider this product.

> To share online access with family and friends, you have to give them a special code to SMS (yes, text) to unlock the door.

This makes sense - nearly everyone's phone can send an SMS. Having to install an app just to unlock a door is an unnecessary barrier.

> Having to install an app just to unlock a door is an unnecessary barrier.

Yes, but the door is a necessary barrier, so I don't really care.

Except, SMS is incredibly insecure and can be easily spoofed.

While true, that shouldn't be overly relevant in this case. They are one-time codes that you will be sending once the person is at your door.

There is a potential issue if you're talking about sending someone a code (or multiple codes) several days in advance, but I don't think the systems are set up to do that currently.

Plus you get an alert and a picture/video whenever one of the codes is used so it's fairly high risk for a burglar. You get an entry alert and it's some dude in a mask you call the cops. I tend to think that they'll stick to the old fashioned way of just breaking a window instead.

If someone wants to break into your home they're going to break in through a window/back door, etc. They aren't going to go through the hassle of spoofing your number and generating an entry code when they can wrap their hand in a sweatshirt and punch some glass.

It depends surely on what they're after. If they want small electronic goods to sell for drug money then they'll smash a window. If they want identity/banking information so they can still the contents of your bank account(s) then probably the SMS and number spoofing is better for them.

If they are that sophisticated, wouldn't they just smash the window take some pictures of the information and steal a TV on the way out?

Yeah, exactly, my point was more "if someone wants to break in for anything they're just going to break in." Hell, I had a credit card stolen out of my mailbox and used around town last month.

Breaking into houses doesn't require Oceans 11 technology.

"Having to install an app just to unlock a door is an unnecessary barrier."

Amazon Key: unlocks your door with a app.

But this is for guests, not for you.

That's a great feature. I have a smartlock and it's insane how hard they try to keep it from being convenient to use -- in the same of security of course.

I paid a locksmith $100 for a new strike plate...

I had heard this was true, but now I have seen that there really are people who can't use a screwdriver.

You can't do that when you're making a critical review for a newspaper. If you criticize someone's product you have to make sure that you gave that product every chance to succeed -- if the system failed and you installed your strike plate your review is subject to the criticism that you botched the install.

It cuts both ways though - a large additional expense being necessary doesn't reflect well on the product in question either.

It's not a lack of ability it's a lack of confidence with a side of liability. See:

>which was Amazon’s recommendation.

Customer support and warranty become a massive pain in the ass if you're not a professional. Amazon will fight tooth and nail not to work with a DIYer because when their lock doesn't latch and someone gets killed in a burglary they don't want to be the only first party with money when the lawyers start going up the links in the chain. Obviously the risk is tiny but with a professional installation they can point fingers at the locksmith and hope the lawyers settle for whatever the locksmith's insurance can provide.

Being a DIYer in this day and age is a massive PITA "because liability"

This seems like a reasonable conclusion. I was thinking the author was trying to play it as safe as possible to not only be fair to Amazon but also to prevent them from having a way to blame anything else but their product or service, however your conclusion seems reasonable for not just the author's motivation but also worth considering in general when dealing with products that protect us or our belongings.

I have no exposure to this sentiment.

Everything I ever want to fix, an enterprising handyman has already made a monetized YouTube video on. All the repairs I’ve done in the last 4 years have been faster than waiting for a repairman. I use an expert’s video and parts I’ve bought at a nearby hardware or auto parts store.

In the the past I slogged through radiator replacements by looking at a Chilton manual. Now, an expert mechanic has created a step-by-step video with all the gotchas that wouldn’t fit in a repai manual. This is the golden age of DIY.

You know they have classes at Home Depot and Lowe’s for home repair, right?

You're missing the point entirely. It's not about the difficulty in making a change or a repair. It's about liability.

If you hire a locksmith, then you have reason to believe that someone was professionally trained to fix the issue at hand. They may not do it any better nor faster, but their job title implies that they know what they are doing by the book.

A DIYer doesn't have that same set of credentials. You could be better than any locksmith in your town, but you're still considered a hobbyist

Haha last time we went to the Gulf for a fishing trip, I found my father in the driveway staring at his 225hp boat motor which had lowered all the way and wouldn't raise again. My first reaction: let's go to YouTube! 15 minutes and a little lifting later, the motor was in the proper travel position.

You're talking about people who read "Let some random stranger making minimum wage delivering your unnecessary crapulence, enter your home unattended" and their response was "where do I sign?"

I wouldn't trust these people to hold a screwdriver much less try to use it - they'd end up in the emergency room.

You'd likely also need a sharp chisel (since a replacement strike plate is very rarely the exact same shape as the one you are replacing) and the competence to use it.

Most folks have the screwdriver but not the other two...

Perhaps they could buy a sharp chisel from Amazon.

I actually bought a chisel from amazon and a sharpening stone for it about 4 years ago. I have used them no more than twice but it's a comfort to know they are there when I need them.

In my experience the hole in the jamb usually has a lot of wiggle room. Especially in this case: if the bolt enters the plate but hangs up a bit, it probably needs to move less than a millimeter. When the hole hasn't been in the right place I've usually used a pocketknife or flathead screwdriver to enlarge it, but I can see that a small chisel would be "better". Perhaps competence substitutes for tools somewhat?

Aligning strike plates (catches, hinges, etc.) is a gigantic pain in the ass. It's not just using a screwdriver, it's getting everything to line up correctly, and potentially using a chisel, wood putty, etc. to make the correct cutouts in your door or frame.

It's also the case that any of these solenoid-operated locks are a lot less sensitive to binding than if you're manually turning a key and joggling the door as needed. Nothing specific to the Amazon product. When I put in a Schlage keypad lock, I had to fiddle quite a bit to get it to work reliably even though there was no real problem operating it manually.

ITYM "more" sensitive to binding?

Yes. I do :-)

To be fair, most don’t own drill bits long enough to make the holes necessary for the long screws that hold it on. But yes, it takes much more time to wait for the locksmith than to just purchase the part and do the work yourself.

And it’s cheaper to buy the drill and the bits than to have a locksmith at your house for 20 minutes.

It's more like "there are people too rich to bother with a screwdriver".

Sure, but this is in the context of a household in which meeting delivery people is inconvenient. I haven't found locksmith service to be more convenient than package delivery, although of course I might not be spending enough on it...

Yeah, I don't know how getting a locksmith is easier than literally screwing a plate in, but I don't know how rich people think.

His door had an issue that a professional lock installer wasn't able to handle. He probably just assumed it was something that required a locksmith. If someone told me I needed a new strike plate, I wouldn't even know what that meant.

It wasn't included in the installers fee, it is unclear if they knew how to address it or not.

I don't know how much I would trust a lock installed by an individual that did not know how to replace a strike plate.

They knew. It's one of the ways a subcontractor makes up for the low bid that allowed them to get the work in the first place.

"The work order does not include this, so we can't finish. If we leave now, you'll have to get it done on your own, then reschedule, which means you have to wait at least a few more weeks. However, if you slip me $50, I can take care of it right now, and then I'll be out of your hair forever."

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for consumerism, but if you got to the point where the business you're buying products from has the key to your house just so you can keep up with deliveries, maybe it's time to reconsider your spending habits.

And while you're at it maybe give them your bank account details so that they can just sell you stuff that their AI thinks you want.

I do that with a monthly clothing service and it works pretty well, so I guess YMMV.

It's the best option if your alternative is mailing to a PO Box. Also I like this company August which makes a similar product. I'd rather just let the delivery person in remotely each time. I read August is also making a robot to deliver your groceries to your refrigerator.

And I know Snap has been trying to do Snap2Store. Their head hardware guy made the Ring doorbell hardware. He also made some thermal imaging system. I'd probably give Snap a key to my house with Snapdrones surveilling. (Automonous social ephemerality to highlight my life?)

alternative take - if you got to the point where you're getting in your car and driving around town for everyday necessities like groceries, pantry items, toothpaste, socks, replacement usb cables, vacuum cleaner filters, etc. with maybe the occasional splurge on something frivolous, maybe it's time to reconsider your shopping habits.


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