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Amazon lobbyists who kill U.S. consumer privacy protections (reuters.com)
445 points by conductor 7 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 194 comments





If politics was a game of rock, paper, scissors:

What is the counter to Amazon's lobbying?

I've done some DIY lobbying myself. Fought city hall, won some (very) minor battles, lost the war. Burned out after a few years.

Still foraging for role models, case studies, examples of effective policy organizations. Some kind of playbook.

Keep hoping some one, some where has some ideas -- actionable, reproducible, sustainable -- for bottom up organizing to effectively counter the boa constrictor squishing the life force out of civil society.


I know it’s not popular here, but unions are a counterweight to political power of corporations. As professionals we’ve been conditioned to “not talk politics” at work… the one place where you engage most with political decisions. But thankfully we as workers have the freedom to pool our money and fund our coworkers to engage in politics on our behalf.

Perfect? No. But it seems like the alternative is to throw up our hands and let unelected billionaires hoover up all the senators.


Collective action and interest groups in general are the counter to lobbyists/political power of corporations. Unions are definitely a form of interest group, but even groups such as AARP, NAACP, NRA, etc., are examples as well.

Or in this context, maybe EPIC or EFF.

> unions are a counterweight to political power of corporations

Unions represent the interests of the workers, not the consumers. Why would a union care about consumer privacy?


Unions can care about whatever it is their members care about.

Workers often care about not throwing the people who use their products under the bus, or at least those who are paid on salary have a less strong financial incentive to throw people under the bus than shareholders, and thus in many cases may be able and willing to exert a positive influence.


Unions and also cooperatives. Unions to me are like holding a wolf by the ears. The capitalists don't want to treat their workers right but the union can demand it. Unions don't take start up capital to form so they are a good stopgap, but I see them as a short term solution towards full worker ownership, or ultimately community ownership as even non workers should have a stake in the means of production.

Unions are looking after their workers which goes back to how well the company does. They have zero incentive to protect consumers.

exhibit A: The Chicken Tax is a 25 percent tariff on light trucks.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicken_tax#Diplomacy_failure_... In January 1964, President Johnson attempted to convince United Auto Workers' president Walter Reuther not to initiate a strike just before the 1964 election and to support the president's civil-rights platform. Reuther, in turn, wanted Johnson to respond to Volkswagen's increased shipments to the United States.[15] The Chicken Tax directly curtailed importation of German-built Volkswagen Type 2s in configurations that qualified them as light trucks.


That's a very limited view of how unions operate. They aren't nearly as circumscribed in their activities and campaigns as you suggest.

Strongly disagree. I have many examples where unions are the political force that is part of the (anti consumer / anti citizen) lobby; even stronger than the company's management sometimes. It's a bit naive to think just because the unions serve employees they are some a force that cares about the common good.

(They also do not always serve employees well. Same as every elected authority does not always do a good job and often invovle a self-serving small circle).


So many examples...

Many more examples corporate misbehavior. And yet strong regulations and unions are still some of the best tools we have. (Best does not mean perfect… not being naive.)

If you believe in some libertarian ideal of everything being handled by contract law and individuals, then I’m not sure there’s more to discuss.


I agree with storng regulation. Unions become pretty much the same as cooperations (they do not algn with the cooperation interest, but have their own) after a decade or so from their inception. Really not a good tool from the civilian point of view IHMO.

Having been in the military and worked in universities and corporations… I’m skeptical of any large group of people (grew up Catholic too… churches don’t get off the hook here). But again how else do we solve problems except by collective action? Big groups of flawed people! Democracy is messy but the alternatives are worse.

It's only one data point, but here in Washington state grassroots organizers have stopped Amazon (and Microsoft) from passing the Bad Washington Privacy Act three years in a row now. The key has been the Tech Equity Coalition, a loose coalition group of organizations and individuals (including civil rights, labor, immigrant rights groups). Local progressive activists have also gotten deeply involved, and of course we've gotten help from national groups like EPIC, Consumer Federation of America, and EFF. We also got the King County Council to pass a ban on government use of facial recognition -- and that's Amazon and Microsoft's home turf!

Of course, we still haven't passed strong privacy legislation yet. In the 2021 session Amazon and Microsoft's lobbying was enough to prevent the bill we brought from even getting a hearing. So, we'll see what happens in 2022. But it feels like momentum is on our side.


This - is not it. He who plays in the defense has to be eternally vigilant and can not loose once.

Best approach in my eye is to form a "one" cause party, whos only "cause" is to power-bust and promptly dissolve afterwards, and not touch on partisan issue. "Block Buster"Party might sound strange, but if the only purpose is to disrupt power imbalances and then self-dissolve to trigger the next election - that could get a majority.


Yes and: Offense beats defense.

My own efforts gained far more traction when I pivoted from opposing evil stuff to advocating good stuff.

Further, yes and: With the decline of our political parties, issue based advocacy has filled that void. For better or worse.


How would this one party overcome the partisan divide? Seems like wishful thinking. Is there any evidence of this strategy working somewhere?

It wouldn't, that's the whole point of partisan divides, to distract people from what really matters with more emotional and easy-to-understand but less consequential issues.

Tammany Hall was this party in New York for a long time. They just didn’t go away.

More recently, New York had a thing called the “independent democratic conference” that caucused with the Republican Party to provide them with majority control of the NY Senate.

The problem with these types of entities is that they are about power, not policy.


Parties don't just float candidates in elections. They also form policy, endorse, fund raise, lobby, etc.

I know I’d be instantly suspicious of such a party, there’s a long history of groups saying similar things and then just staying in power once they’ve actually gained it.

People study and apprentice in PR and lobbying just as hard as programmers learn to program. It is a skill with high stakes outcomes, so planning and preparation is important. Ultimately you want to build broad consensus with influential people around your position such that decision makers feel your choice is the safe, obvious, and ideally only choice. Nothing of substance can be done with brute force alone.

Big companies can afford to hire legions of people who have a track record of getting things done legislatively and with public perception. Frankly I know of no antidote. The know how to astroturf grassroots campaigns, defame anyone who opposes them, get an audience with anyone, and research anything at scale.

The best I’ve come up with over the years is some kind of law that requires disclosures about all spending on PR and lobbying, and that those are presented along with all communications. Sort of a nutrition label for hot air. Of course, that would be astonishing difficult to pass into law, with their whole trade leaning against it. Another policy could be to stop making their expenses tax deductible. There was some movement towards making advertising 50% tax deductible rather than 100% a several years back, but American Advertising Federation lobbying made sure it never got any traction.

Their handiwork: https://www.aaf.org/Public/Education-and-Resources/Governmen...

They are sort of the anti-EFF.

Anything you organize that becomes a threat, they will try to disorganize… from the top down or bottom up.

If there is a better way let me know and I’ll get behind it.


One suggestion that I've heard, based on a lot of research, is to give Congress more relative power by having more closed door committees and committee votes.

The problem being if Congressional activities are too transparent, then the power shifts to whomever can lobby the best, which often means who can best track the behaviors and intimidate people into behaving certain ways. While citizens can view more with transparency, we often don't, and the richest companies and orgs do.

I've tried to loop in James to shed more on the research behind it but it's at congressionalresearch.org


A possible improvement for this is to only publish the vote totals for measures that pass, not for measures that fail. Then if a measure the lobbyists wanted fails, they have no idea who to blame, but the public always knows who was responsible for a change to the law.

This could be further improved by displaying the live vote total during the vote and allowing anyone to change their vote until no votes have changed for at least 60 seconds. That way anyone can see if a measure would pass even without their vote and then change from no to yes if they don't want lobbyists to see that they would have been against it.


I'm quite intrigued by this.

That seems like a very real effect, but the votes need to be disclosed after they occur. Otherwise, the lobbyists have even more power, because the committee has an incentive to collude with the lobbyists, if their individual votes are not known, and they accept bribes. (I agree that having their votes be unknown helps if they do not accept bribes).

The only foolproof solution is to remove power from the lobbyists.


James and the CRI go more in depth with this, but from what I recall, the idea is to have close door for committee deliberations so that they can work with each other to come up with a bill that works, then they come out and release either their committee votes or the floor votes.

Similar to how the Supreme Court releases their final votes but doesn't show people how the deliberations are being done.

From interacting with him and reading the CRI stuff, I learned a lot about how lobbyists will sit in on the bill making process and basically monitor the lawmakers' every move in the negotiation part of the bill.

He said to me once that they were called lobbyists because they used to have to wait in the lobby before they could talk to people, now they get to sit directly in the lawmaking chambers while it's happening.


> The only foolproof solution is to remove power from the lobbyists.

How do you do this though?

Suppose Facebook wants to gut privacy rules. They control which news stories get prioritized for their users. They express their policy preference in public, then penalize politicians who cross them. Even if politicians pay no attention to this, the ones who cross them are more likely to lose their seats. Assuming politicians aren't too oblivious to notice it, they comply to avoid that, without Facebook ever explicitly threatening them.

The fact that Facebook can send someone into Washington to tell the politicians what they want in person instead of publishing it on their website doesn't really change the math, does it?


Yes it's hard to stop people from speaking and intimidating. That's why I almost see an elegance in this solution: if FB and other corps don't know who is contributing which part to a bill and they only get to look at the final answer, it's harder to know who to intimidate and who to blame. In other words, it's believing that politicians are being intimidated to decide in one direction or another and trying to give them cover to make more sound decisions.

Right. Someone comes in to bribe you, you take their money, you go vote against them anyway. Then when they come to you to object, you can shrug and say it must have been someone else. There is no way to for them to verify that their bribe is having the intended effect, so they'd have to pay you on faith. And who is going to trust a politician who is accepting bribes? They could be taking them from both sides!

Precisely.

And without knowing for certain whether that person actually voted in the committee for X or added X to the bill, it also makes it hard to know whom to intimidate, whom to threaten by being primaried out, whom to defame, etc.


I've also heard this was an unanticipated consequence of increased transparency. I'm not ready to give up my faith in the wisdom "the solution to democracy's problems is more democracy". But do try to be mindful that there's always tradeoffs.

The other problem with this is that the existing votes are already choreographed for public consumption, so the existing transparency is an illusion.

There was a bill earlier this year to expand police funding. After a year of "defund the police" from AOC et al, it turned out that if she would have voted against it, it would have actually defeated the bill. So instead she voted "present" and the bill passed.

Most people aren't going to notice that, but that was equivalent to voting yes. And if her vote wasn't actually necessary to pass the bill, she'd then have been able to vote no specifically because it wouldn't change the outcome, even though as we know she would flip when it mattered. That happens on a regular basis too but in those cases it's undetectable.


> "the solution to democracy's problems is more democracy"

By democracy, do you mean direct democracy, representative democracy, both, or neither?


David Graeber style participatory democracy. Put decision making closest to the people impacted.

Doesn't scale. Which is a feature, not a bug.


If it doesn't scale, what would be the largest size it would work at, and then how to resolve conflict amongst those groups?

One devil can the others. Who watch the agent behind close doors.

Hmm? I'm not sure what you meant, could you rephrase?

I think its always been about money and time, effectively this is what happens:

- A lack of people able to make sustainable time commits to the cause means even with a fair amount of money, you could lose out in numbers (voting or otherwise)

- A lack of funding to sustain the cause, even if you have members that can make the time commitments, and importantly, not enough money to have professional lobbyists working your cause singularly

Other lobbying organizations, typically with corporate funds, don't have either of those problems. Corporate friendly organizations like the one's Amazon employs (or employs lobbyists directly, not an uncommon practice either) have hefty sums of money to keep lobbying, 24/7.

Some of this could be fixed with reform, of course, at least on paper. For instance, removing term limits allows representatives to bulk up on expertise on issues, which is actually makes them more resistant to outside influence, all things being equal.

The other thing that has gutted this is organizations that do exist are either always scrambling for money, like the EFF, ACLU etc (yes they have money, but compared to corporate lobby organizations, they have a finite amount of donors they can "call action" to, without hitting a wall), or have been gutted in other ways. One forgotten aspect about labor unions, is they did act as an effective lobbying force in politics for workers rights and other causes[0], sometimes not even labor related directly.

Even on a local scale, you have incumbents who can fall back to their local network of people, and challengers have to build this over and over again. Thats the fundamental problem.

I think systematic reform would be the actual long term solution, but its hard to change a system that is primarily concerned with perpetuating itself.

[0]: https://exhibitions.lib.umd.edu/unions/political/environment


> removing term limits allows representatives to bulk up on expertise on issues, which is actually makes them more resistant to outside influence, all things being equal.

How has that gone for Senators? Not well at all. No term limits there has engendered some seriously malicious Senators.


Regardless of malice, it makes them incompetent in the world that younger people live in. For example, I would expect the vast majority of senators (and other politicians) are completely detached from how people use and want to use the Internet. That’s why we have moments like Clintons “Pokémon Go to the polls”… despite being the most popular mobile game of all time at the time, completely miss the zeitgeist.


All things aren’t equal either. Key aspect of the idea is barring any other meaningful difference.

I should expand in these points but this one thing is not the only thing that matters to make positive change. Our voting system using ranked choice voting and having more parliamentary style elect would help tremendously too


Sure, but that has to do just as much to do with voter apathy. The primary elections are almost always a ghost town. And with the advent of the internet, it is easier and less expensive to run for office than ever.

> One forgotten aspect about labor unions, is they did act as an effective lobbying force in politics for workers rights and other causes[0], sometimes not even labor related directly.

I'm not sure why this never caught on from the consumer side. Something like Costco, but a coop that uses 1% of revenues for lobbying on behalf of consumers seems like it could be pretty popular. Is there a law against it or something?


I think the people from CRI might argue the counter to Amazon lobbying is counterintuitively to have less transparency in Congress.

Some proposals being as simple to restore more closed-door committees and committees votes, that were removed in the sunshine reform laws of the 70s.

Lobbying orgs often lobby for greater Congressional transparency while simultaneously trying to get more corporate privacy, creating more info asymmetry.

Also, with more congressional transparency, while citizens can theoretically lobby as well, these big lobby orgs seem to do it much much better, sitting in committee meetings, tracking every committee vote, etc.

This is what I've gleaned from the research at CRI and conversations with James D'Angelo but you may read it differently. Regardless, I highly recommend checking out their work.

Congressionalresearch.org


Absolutely agree. Think about how LBJ pushed through civil rights and voting rights act, as a Senator of the “solid south” that kept anti-lynching legislation in committee for a half century.

It wouldn’t be possible today.

The situation in state legislatures is even worse.


Exactly. That site I linked has a lot of examples like that. But just more intuitively, imagining that committee mark-up sessions have lobbyists sitting in the back reporting almost every single move, decision, word, etc., does not make me excited to want to be in Congress.

For me, I used to believe that it was the most deliberative body in the world, and yet, with the current over-the-shouldering, I don't know how people deliberate. But I think we can restore it, if we want to. I think we can get caught in the trap of wanting others to not manipulate Congress into doing what they want them to do, but wanting us to be able to manipulate them to do what we want them to do. Personally, I'd rather elect people who I think are smart, talented, kind, and considerate, and let them make the best decisions they can.


Essentially mobilization of society by making people feel deeply emotionally connected to a cause. Successful politicians have an intuitive feel for what will trigger a loss in elections and will change course those that don't are wiped away irrespective of wealth lobbying.

This has happened and continues to happen many many times in many many countries but it usually does take a group of motivated people (and another group of people who have faith in them to underwrite their living expenses) to essentially focus on the cause to the exclusion of everything else.

It is remarkable if you go through history just how much has been achieved through persistent (years or decades) of the above types of efforts with very little money. The reason ordinary political campaigns require a lot of wealth is because they're run by people and on issues which people running them don't really care about much.


> If politics was a game of rock, paper, scissors:

It isn't, not even at a level of it being a useful metaphor, so anything based on the premise given is inapplicable to reality.

> Keep hoping some one, some where has some ideas -- actionable, reproducible, sustainable

Political organizing and policy entrepreneurship is highly context-dependent. Actionable ideas are plenty, but reproducing success with carbon-copy tactics, or even sustaining success with them, isn't all that likely. Deep knowledge of the decision-makers, stakeholders on all sides, and the respective interests, resources and constraints of each are needed, for any specific policy issue.

(If you have lots of resources yourself, you can avoid some of that by being less efficient but outgunning the opposition, of course.)


I commend your efforts, I suspect many have the same question you've raised.

I'd like to add that, It's only 'Lobbying' in U.S. and in most other countries where these MegaCorp(s) operates it's just straight 'Corruption'[1]. Corruption might get faster results to them than lobbying, But it's straightforward to fight back for us as all we need is evidence of corruption(Note: Fight back != Victory).

[1] https://techcrunch.com/2021/09/20/amazon-starts-probe-over-b...


For the past few years, I've always thought it would be cool to have a kickstarter lobbying company. Where consumers could fund a lobbyist to lobby for them. Additionally, they could then share what happens behind closed walls for us all to see.

The media & now social media?

Politicians want to get/stay elected. If something is super popular & in the media a lot it will sway their positions. Sometimes not through elections I think gay marriage is an example of how quick we see major shifts in a short time.

Sometimes they just play theater and hold hearings like the FB stuff, but I think that's just an example of how most people don't actually really care...

I agree with the perspective that it feels like we've lost power to corporate interests, but looking back at the vanderbilt era etc maybe not..


My uneducated guess is something like Mondragon.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondragon_Corporation


Given what's going on with climate change inaction, we may be headed towards a world where the only way to get anything done is via direct action, and that gets very messy, very fast.

Consider supporting Electronic Frontier Foundation instead: https://eff.org.

Ralph Nader talks to people with such structures for action as your after on his radio show/podcast

Campaign finance reform is the only antidote I’ve ever come across.

Boycott.

Boycotts don’t work unless they’re organized on a massive scale. Otherwise it’s just a blip, or a relatively constant background. People are boycotting Amazon right now and this is incorporated into their decisions.

Make lobbying illegal

Lobbying is protected by the 1st Amendment (the right “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”)

1. It can still be made illegal, It just requires bigger changes.

2. I understand that what needs to be made illegal is some kinds of lobbying that includes financing parties, not all of it.


It was the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision that decided campaign donations qualify as protected expression. Presumably it would take a constitutional amendment to change that.

(The usual: I'm not a lawyer.)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizens_United_v._FEC


> One 2018 document reviewing executives’ goals for the prior year listed privacy regulation as a primary target for Carney. One objective: “Change or block US and EU regulation/legislation that would impede growth for Alexa-powered devices”

It's one thing to assume that corporations will act in their own self-interests, but this is like they said the quiet part loud. How do you write or even read that document and believe you're acting in a moral or ethical manner?


If you reject the notion that Alexa-powered devices are bad, would this be immoral or unethical? ie medical marijuana lobbyists would probably say that they are looking to "change or block US and EU regulation/legislation that would impede growth for medical marijuana."

That's a good counterpoint, I guess the obvious question is why your viewpoint is opposed.

Medical marijuana lobbyists have an easy, obvious answer: impediments are the result of a failed and ill-considered war on drugs that's actively causing lots and lots of harm. It's easy to see yourself as virtuous in that scenario.

Anti-privacy lobbyists have to go through more difficult mental contortions: large movements of people are concerned about the privacy invasions our devices represent, and that puts our future profits at risk. People are very capable of being irrational when their paycheck depends on it, but that feels too far to me.


That's going into arguments on merit, though. The point is that trying to influence regulation shouldn't be seen as an issue. Berate the company for doing something you're against, but everyone has a voice, even corporations with more money to influence congress than the average person.

What if corporations are acting against the public good the majority of the time and there aren't alternative methods of stopping this (boycotts don't work etc).

It's better to ban it since it's mostly evil.


> ie medical marijuana lobbyists would probably say that they are looking to "change or block US and EU regulation/legislation that would impede growth for medical marijuana."

But "growth as in growing marijuana" is qualitatively different than "growth as in self-replicating paperclips that grow until they destroy the entire earth." :)

I kid, but in reality I don't think the medical marijuana proponents are even after "growth" in the sense Amazon used it-- i.e., to capitalize on any opportunities to gain a stronghold in any relevant markets where medical marijuana could conceivably be used to the advantage of the medical marijuana lobby. They just want medical marijuana to be available at all for the obvious cases where it eases suffering. And at least every proponent I've talked to wants there to be sane safeguards/regulations in place and studies to make sure the benefits outweigh the costs.

In fact, even the recreational marijuana lobby decided to vote against and defeat a prop in some state where a tiny group of "growth-as-in-paperclips" hopefuls were attempting to monopolize marijuana growth/distribution. (Ohio maybe?)

Anyway, medical marijuana lobby seems to have made growth-as-in-business subsidiary to a second level of reflection, whereas in GP's Amazon quote the implication is that all other concerns are subsidiary to growth-as-in-business.


What if it said: "change or block US and EU regulation/legislation that would impede growth for BigCo Marijuana Vape Pens"?

See the difference? One is protection for an industry, the other is a protection for a specific company.


That's a horrible difference. You're talking about phrasing determining morals and ethics? I mean, do you condemn politicians who talk about helping a specific person with a policy to try to make it real? Obviously Amazon's lobbyists are trying to protect Amazon's interests.

If you think Alexa should be regulated, you can think it's immoral. But I have no problem with Amazon identifying why they care. Unless you think that the lobbyists read that as "make sure there is an Alexa named exemption".


> You're talking about phrasing determining morals and ethics?

The courts certainly do care about phrasing. You are taught to not say "we will destroy the opposition" at big companies so that they can avoid lawsuits, instead you say things along the lines of "we will provide the best user experience". Ultimately it is basically the same thing, but the second is safe in courts, the first will create a problem.

Edit: Case example: Google said AMP was to "provide the best user experience". But it also helps Google "destroy the opposition". So why isn't there a court case over Google abusing their position? Because they didn't say the second part here, just repeated the first. Words do matter a lot.


You're talking about phrasing producing evidence. I'm talking about phrasing in examining the problem.

That is, no one believes that Google's AMP push was primarily about the best user experience. Just proving it in a court of law. What they call it is irrelevant to the moral question. Similarly, everyone knows that Amazon's lobbying is about protecting Alexa. I just don't think that's immoral.

It's strange that you would call it a moral or ethical difference. Legally different, maybe (in other cases, this is obviously legal).


I actually don't see the difference. In practice, the lobbyists would probably be advocating for the same policies (ie legalization). Why does the framing of the goal statement influence the morality of the actions?

Not sure about morality but yes it’s unethical and borderline illegal. If an elected body is planning legislations, actively blocking it means you’re suppressing the voice of the public and the voters.

> If an elected body is planning legislations, actively blocking it means you’re suppressing the voice of the public and the voters

This is reductive. When the Congress was writing cryptocurrency reporting rules, the crypto industry asking for clarifying amendments (to avoid classifying miners as exchanges) wasn't suppressing anyone's voice. It was supplementing it with specialist knowledge.


When we write laws about speeding should we ask sports car owners to supplement the legislative record with their specialist knowledge?

If the legislation, as worded, applies to cars on race tracks -- probably? I think these metaphors are getting far afield.

Privacy is a fundamental thing that's more important (and harder!) to protect than most things.

It's probably also a good idea to get a breadth of stakeholder's opinions on an issue. Lobbyists definitely have a massively outsized portion of this breadth.


Even if it’s a decision that I don’t agree with, if we all agree democracy is the best form of representative government, the decision taken by the lawmakers has to be respected. It’s not optimal, it’s slow to effect changes but I still believe it’s the best form of government we have.

They're not "actively blocking it" any more than someone holding a protest outside of the Capitol building is. The difference is that they have lobbying money, which is allowed and generally encouraged by the congresspeople themselves. Any consumer regulation that directly targets an industry is more often than not a call-to-action for the lobbyist to dedicate more of their budget to the lawmaker(s) in question.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_lobbying_in_the_Uni...


Because the purpose of a govt is to make laws for everyone. The tyranny of the majority is just tyranny in the end (this is what authoritarian govts, ironically, fail to understand about democracy...debate and disagreement seems weak and decadent to them, it is not, I think that US politics has relatively weak controls on lobbying but the perfect outcome is not a ban on lobbying...most successful authoritarian govts operate by claiming to represent the voice of "the people"). And btw, this is how US politics is designed, the people who created the US constitution were very aware of how democracy ended the first time.

> the people who created the US constitution were very aware of how democracy ended the first time.

Being conquered by a foreign power?

How does that relate?


> If you reject the notion that Alexa-powered devices are bad

Why would we do that, considering the evidence available to us?


If YOU were an Amazon executive in a role that had influence over the program and wanted to keep our advance your position.

The comment author here is voicing the inner monologue of one of these people, not one of the other 99.999+% of people.


Why are the bad? what evidence is there?

Why insist we repeat the same conversation from zero, as if it hasn't been happening all this time?

Do you really think C-level people at amazon care at all about acting morally or ethically? They have lots of money, and US politicians accept bribes to make things go a certain way. This is just business as usual for everyone involved.

> How do you write or even read that document and believe you're acting in a moral or ethical manner?

Slightly off-topic; There's a TV show about the US opioid epidemic called Dopesick, they depict one of the responsible corporate execs, some Sackler family member, in a really interesting way.

Throughout the whole show it's really difficult to tell if he honestly believes what he's doing is something good, or if he's trying to outdo his other family members legacies.

I can see a very similar situation with somebody at Amazon who's just really convinced how Alexa-powered devices will somehow improve humanity on some fundamental level. In their PoV they are doing these unethical things for an ultimately greater good, in a "the ends justify the means" way.

Rarely anybody perceives themselves, or their actions, as fundamentally immoral or unethical, most of the time we are the heroes in our own narratives.


In the situation they’re in, the question is irrelevant. Companies that engage in such behaviour retain people with the ability to get emotionally involved at the level of the company itself. They get motivated in relation to the story that plays out inside the company.

These lobbyists probably feel the same as someone taking a plane with friends to go on holiday in the context of climate change. It can (and should) be seen as an ethical issue. But there’s a dynamic in the group that is such that very little thought will be given to the ethical issue, as it would be seen as anti-group behaviour. Instead the group focuses on the activity they’re there to do: enjoying holidays.

Joining a company is joining a group that found a specific game to play. Most people need to feel like they belong to a group, and most groups don’t tolerate people who question the game that’s being played.


There was a long article in Wired yesterday about Amazon's retail side privacy failures https://www.wired.com/story/amazon-failed-to-protect-your-da...

So, not to play devil's advocate, and I'm sure they would push against a federal law just as hard, but I can understand a reluctance to allow state specific privacy laws. That sucks, and compliance would be very expensive and complicated.

Ultimately they are fighting the tide with a broom: most people - most voters - want stricter tech regulation.

Per Pew: "Some 56% of Americans think major technology companies should be regulated more than they are now, and 68% believe these firms have too much power and influence in the economy"

https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/07/20/56-of-ameri...


"56% of Americans think major technology companies should be regulated more than they are now"

I think while the majority want more regulation, they are totally split on the direction. Do you think a majority of Americans could agree on something even as basic as "should social media companies be required to censor/moderate content on their platforms more or less?"


A majority of the country has wanted legal weed for ~12 years now, so I wouldn't put too much stock in the American government representing the actual desires and interests of the population.

A majority of the country now lives in places where weed is legal.

Business needs barred from politics. Corporations are not people, and money is not speech. Separation of business and state.

They should not be able to lobby. This amounts to enabling corporations to curtail unionization efforts and other counter productive pursuits with collective public resources...turning the people's will against themselves. Power robbed. It is a fundamental, regressive flaw of our society.

If they want to weild political power then they should start a union that negotiates for the workers. The collective will of those workers would influence the political realm with their individual votes. Both in company matters and those of society.

I don't trust a secretive group of managers incentivized by short term gain making decisions for all of society. I don't think anyone does, yet here we are.

We purport to have a democratic society and then walk into a company that's organized like a bronze age city state and yield most of our freedoms and power to a cadre that does nothing but feed us shit and loot the company while trashing the environment and poisoning people.

By all means...keep it up.


Amazon, google, Facebook, telcos

The only realistic way to do anything in America is to make something cost money. How about a law saying that the statutory minimum fine for any data leak is $1 per person, for each individual piece of data that is does not have legally mandated collection?


> As executives edited the draft, Herdener summed up a central goal in a margin note: “We want policymakers and press to fear us,” he wrote. He described this desire as a “mantra” that had united department leaders in a Washington strategy session.

The chairman of Amazon owns a newspaper and nearly every person mentioned in this story works or has worked for a prominent political party.

Obviously there's some standouts and they deserve some accolades:

> Cunningham has tried unsuccessfully since 2019 to require companies to get consumer consent before storing or sharing smart-speaker recordings. When Cunningham re-introduced the measure this year, Amazon took a novel lobbying approach: It argued the privacy protections would hurt disabled people.

> Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican and the ranking member of the judiciary committee, was among Amazon’s top-tier VIPs, the 2014 watering-the-flowers document shows. Last month, Grassley co-authored a bill with Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar that would prohibit companies including Amazon from favoring their own products on their e-commerce platforms.

then...

> Amazon recently has widened its lobbying strategy to focus less on killing or neutering legislation it opposed and more on drafting favorable bills and getting them passed in friendly legislatures, a former public-policy employee said. That tack paid off in a big way this year in Virginia, where Amazon convinced Sen. David Marsden, a business-friendly Democrat, to introduce privacy legislation that the company had drafted.

Sounds conspicuously like the mission of ALEC.

Anyone defending Amazon's recording collection practices should pay particular attention to this feature:

> Some recordings involved conversations between family members using Alexa devices to communicate across different parts of the house. Several recordings captured children apologizing to their parents after being disciplined. Others picked up the children, ages 7, 9 and 12, asking Alexa questions about terms like “pansexual.”

You can use Alexa as an intercom. It's recording that too, which does not fit into explanation of why they record regular Alexa prompts.

> Florian Schaub, a privacy researcher at the University of Michigan, said businesses are not always transparent about what they’re doing with users’ data. “We have to rely on Amazon doing the right thing,” he said, “rather than being confident the data can’t be misused.”

There are no easy answers to privacy. Regulations can only be a first step, because this is the paradigm and I'm not going to argue that it shouldn't be. There has to be something better than these outcomes though.

Maybe I'm biased and just see all the darkness woven into this story.


> You can use Alexa as an intercom. It's recording that too, which does not fit into explanation of why they record regular Alexa prompts.

Gods, I'm glad I don't have any of these devices in my house!

I really can't comprehend how people are OK with this.


Arent they worried that if stories like these get out it is going to hurt their brand ? Also whats the point of doing all this if the profit comes from AWS ?

I always say to my out of Europe friends: just state you are from EU in all your app settings, so you get all the benefits of our privacy legislation (GDPR) at no cost!

I am already swamped every year in California with annual privacy notices which seem to have to be mailed in paper format.

We also seem to have these cookie alert pop-ups in California - also very annoying.

Is anyone tired of this stuff rather than enjoying it? We keep on being told this is all to help us.

I find these cookie pop-ups stupid and annoying, just require a policy on the site, if I care I can go look.

I'd be far FAR more impressed if we actually BANNED these damn things and switched to a basic enforcement model where even 1% of the crap on the net got cleaned up.


California, I've noticed since I've moved here, is in love with giving you a million notices nobody ever reads and that have no effect on anybody's behavior (the way every second thing you buy "contains chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer" is just the most obvious example). If they want to regulate something they should actually do it instead of wasting everybody's time with that stuff, imo.

California causes a large annoyance to supply chains and manufacturing. Their strict environmental standards mean as a trucker, you either service California or not. It's not something you just decide to do starting next week. From memory, the truck engine has to be under 10 years old and meet really strict emissions standards, costing a significant premium.

For manufacturers, ensuring those stickers are in anything sold in California is a pain, and when you make millions of units, it often doesn't make sense to just apply the sticker, labeling, and documentation to everything you make.


The environmental standards have a more tangible benefit and can have a pseudo-national effect given the size of California's market, so I'm not critical of that aspect. Slapping warning labels on everything without changing it feels like a waste of time, at least if you're not selective enough to make them useful to consumers.

Compromise is when no one gets what they want. Corporations ostensibly don't get unfettered access to your data, and you have to navigate those pop ups.

Of course, thanks to dark patterns and more importantly regulations with no teeth, the corporations usually get their way in the end.

We're dealing with pop ups either way, so I'm not too annoyed with the current status quo, but yeah, it would be great if regulations could exist that just said no with real consequences for non compliance.


This pop-up love is the stupids thing ever.

The reality - they are too lazy to just put in a bait email, watch it get sold improperly and prosecute. That's all it would take, no pop-ups needed.


Each time I visit Amazon I am now reminded of Bezos' yacht and space trip, which is great because I now tend to look around elsewhere. Geizhals and Idealo are helpful for finding alternative dealerships.

Usually Amazon isn't the cheapest anyways.


5300 words and I'm still left wondering, "Who are they?" People have names.

Lobbyists are just messengers, from interested groups (corporations, non-profits, individuals) to law-makers. Doesn't matter who they are, another will just pop up.

Second paragraph of the article:

"The architect of this under-the-radar campaign to smother privacy protections has been Jay Carney, who previously served as communications director for Joe Biden, when Biden was vice president, and as press secretary for President Barack Obama. Hired by Amazon in 2015, Carney reported to founder Jeff Bezos and built a lobbying and public-policy juggernaut that has grown from two dozen employees to about 250, according to Amazon documents and two former employees with knowledge of recent staffing."


This is crazy. Bribing is illegal, but lobbying is legal. How many laws are created for the convenience of corporations and select people at the cost of ordinary because of lobbying?

Why no one in the US brings up this to the political agenda?


> Why no one in the US brings up this to the political agenda?

Because the term "lobbying" is overinclusive to the point of being useless. 90% of lobbying is not only benign, it's necessary to the functioning of a republic. It involves people likely to be affected by the law telling lawmakers their thoughts. These people can be companies. They are also, very frequently, interest groups, nonprofits and individual voters.

This is why "let's ban lobbying" is a siren call. If you have representative democracy, you will have influence peddling, i.e. lobbying. "Let's ban corporate lobbying" becomes more tangible, but keep in mind this means you're basically banning every business that can't fly its employees to D.C. from being able to fully communicate with lawmakers. (It also leaves untouched the community organizing side of lobbying, arguably its most potent part, and would probably fall afoul of the First Amendment.)

The unfortunate effect of this overinclusiveness is it papers over the bad stuff. The lack of enforcement around campaigns coördinating with PACs. Board seats and cushy jobs offered to former lawmakers. Campaign donations from non-natural persons. This is the stuff I think people are actually offended by. But it's currently too technical for the base that wants to "ban lobbying."

TL; DR If you want to push the needle on this issue, drop the idea that lobbying is bad. If you've donated to the EFF, you've hired a lobbyist. If you've called your Congressperson, you've lobbied.


> 90% of lobbying is not only benign, it's necessary to the functioning of a republic.

This message was brought to you by the Organization For the Promotion of Ethical Lobbying.


Let's make it a felony to have any private contact between companies and legislators then. All communication must be publicly available.

> Let's make it a felony to have any private contact between companies and legislators then

Don't know if it's a felony to violate. But this sounds consistent with the Ethics in Government Act of 1978's reporting requirements [1].

> All communication must be publicly available

This is a bad idea. It privileges those with physical access to lawmakers. It will also crowd out a good amount of honest communication in favor of theatre for public consumption.

That said, there might be a way to thread the needle such that substantial communications around actual legislation get captured. Mark-ups on drafts, suggested language, official policy memos, et cetera.

[1] https://www.opensecrets.org/personal-finances/disclosure


The same people who benefit from this relationship need to pass the laws that kill the goose. Maybe you think there are enough honest politicians to pull it off. I've been been around long enough to have been disabused of that notion.

> I've been been around long enough to have been disabused of that notion

Unless you're younger than 20, you've seen a Congress pass such reforms [1]. If you were around in the late 70s, you may also recall the Ethics in Government Act of '78.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bipartisan_Campaign_Reform_Act


This is a "everyone does it" excuse. The reality is that the game rules are twisted by those who spend the most.

Look at the dollars involved in Amazon or other corporations vs. the EFF and you'll see enough of a disparity that EFF and you calling your congresscritter are a rounding error in comparison.


> Look at the dollars involved in Amazon or other corporations vs. the EFF and you'll see enough of a disparity that EFF and you calling your congresscritter are a rounding error in comparison

I agree with you. But people observing that disparity in influence and access and concluding that the solution is to call for banning lobbying is part of the problem. (There is a host of problems, ranging from campaign finance laws to disclosure rules. They each need a solution that, unfortunately, hasn't yet found a compelling banner.)


Rights are symmetrical in a functional system. Everyone does it isn't an excuse it is an acknowledgement that trying to make it "nobody does it" won't work. At best the courts will strike it down and at worst you will have just established a small priveledged class of exceptions.

Wouldn't it be more appropriate to call our current system dysfunctional? Clearly in such a system rights are not symmetrical.

I don't think that anyone is concerned about Amazon talking to Congress. I think people focus on the campaign contributions and the invitations to discuss they're issues in courtside seats or in a sunny tropical location.

Why no one in the US brings up this to the political agenda?

Some politicians do (especially progressives, like Sanders, the Squad, etc.), but they are in the political minority compared to politicians who are swayed by corporate money. The fact is, your average voter singularly cares more about other things (2A, abortion, taxes) than their own privacy. The average media outlet is also very pro-corporation, which, in turn leads to your average voter being pro-corporation as well.


> progressives, like Sanders, the Squad

As far as I can tell: Bernie doesn't want to be run out of town like Ralph Nader -- he will do nothing to actually buck the establishment DNC. The squad feigns protest to the establishment DNC (Pelosi et al) only when it's already certain that their voice/vote won't actually effect the outcome of the issue in the direction the establishment wants. It's a scam to keep people voting for Democrats even when they can see the party is corrupt.


I'm in the DC area, have friends in the lobbying space. Lobbying generally doesn't involve money changing hands, or campaign contributions, or anything like that. Lobbying congresspeople generally consists of contacting them and convincing them the value of certain positions. Realistically, lobbying is essential for Congress to function. You can't possibly expect every single member of Congress to be an expert on everything they could ever possibly legislate about. They require someone to provide them with background information so that they can make an informed decision. To some extent they can use their staff, or the Congressional Research Service, or do some research on their own, but generally speaking that's not enough. Legislators often maintain active relationships with lobbying groups that they agree with, and can use them as a source on input on legislation. This is no different than a citizen choosing to support a particular bill because a group they trust and respect supports it. A significant amount of lobbying is done simply because a legislator values that group's opinions.

When we're talking about more coercive lobbying, it's often done on influence rather than money. A good example is the NRA. There are a significant number of voters for whom gun rights are very important, and will vote for or against a particular candidate based entirely on what the NRA says to do. The NRA thus has a lot of power, and I'd argue more so than could be achieved simply with money.

Businesses can lobby based on influence too. If a particular company or industry employs a significant number of your constituents, as a congressperson it is in your best interests to cater to that company or industry. If legislation is passed that helps that industry, they may expand and you can come back to your voters at election time showing you created jobs. If you pass legislation that hurts that industry and people are laid off, on the other hand, people may blame you for it. Even the thought that you might pass a law that might help or hurt an industry can change votes.

Don't get me wrong, we need to reform campaign financing. But lobbying in general is a perfectly reasonable and necessary function.


>Bribing is illegal, but lobbying is legal.

Because bribing is paying someone to breach their public duty, whereas lobbying only theoretically involves you trying to persuade your representative. Sure, it can involve "bad" stuff (eg. relaxing environmental regulations), but can also involve "good" stuff (eg. relaxing zoning regulations). Citizens, or groups of citizens (eg. corporations) engaging with their representatives is part of the democratic process.


> Citizens, or groups of citizens (eg. corporations) engaging with their representatives is part of the democratic process.

That's the pretty way to present it.

In practice, "Citizens, or groups of citizens" is true but unfortunately vague, sort of similar to "Mammals, or groups of mammals, are known to sometimes build buildings out of prefabricated concrete."

Lobbying is a heavily professionalized activity, mostly undertaken by specialist lawyers employed full-time for the job.


Or "retired" government officials via the revolving door.

This is also backdoor bribery: "help us out, you got a cushy job waiting for you in the future."


>Lobbying is a heavily professionalized activity, mostly undertaken by specialist lawyers employed full-time for the job.

So you only object to the fact that lobbying is done by specialists rather than laypersons?


I was objecting to intentionally obfuscatory language that is frequently employed in attempts to obscure the fact that lobbying as commonly understood is an activity almost exclusively enjoyed by the well-resourced and/or powerful.

1. it shouldn't be surprising that well-resourced and/or powerful have more resources to do any activities, be it lobbying, or going on european vacations

2. is your argument that lobbying should be banned because almost exclusively enjoyed by the well-resourced and/or powerful? I'm not sure that's a very persuasive argument. We ban speeding because it's harmful, not because the rich are well-resourced and/or powerful to afford fast cars.


I have offered no opinion on lobbying itself in this thread.

The entire content of what I want to convey here is contained in the comment you're replying to.


Someone could be bribed to do "good" stuff too.

I think the difference is quid pro quo plus the transfer of things of value that does not conform to existing rules.


>I think the difference is quid pro quo plus the transfer of things of value that does not conform to existing rules.

I didn't intend to say "well it could also be used for good so we should keep it legal", but yeah this is probably the better take. A better analogy might be: it's totally legal to persuade a judge of your case (ie. what the prosecution/plaintiff/defense does), and totally part of the legal process, but persuading a judge via bribes is illegal.


You could bribe someone to do something in the public interest too... I'm betting it would still be 'illegal'. It's a distiction without much of a difference.

Yeah. So benign, right? “Anyone can do it”. Only in practice it’s the people (and “people” (corporations)) with the most money that do it the most.

I think Lawrence Lessig was trying to focus on this before 2016 presidential elections.

Sad that he didn't get more traction because he had some fantastic practical and well-thought-out policy solutions: I mean, how rare is that among folks with political aspirations? Even if he had, he'd not likely have made it too far, anyway. Too many people with too much influence have too much at stake. Someone would have whipped up a gazillion dollar FUD machine against him the very second broad support for his ideas seemed plausible.

yeah I think this must be solved before any other secondary problems.

If taxpayers need President, then let their campaign funded only by taxpayer money. Same applies to Senate and everyone who is elected. Limited and equal amount to all sides and let them be as creative as possible. But never take corporation money


Indeed. The problem is not lobbying, but campaign finance reform. Conceptually simple, politically impossible.

What's wrong with lobbying? If you have a viewpoint that you feel isn't being heard, you're free to form a non-profit and have the government subsidize your quest to have them listen to you.

Remember that laws are hard to create and usually incredibly complex. Even something as simple as Net Neutrality isn't black and white in terms of winners and losers. What you perceive as "laws created for the convenience of corporations and select people at the cost of ordinary people" may not be as numerous as you may think.


Really? Most individual people don't lobby because they don't have the money to do it. That's why it's almost always a corporate lobbyist. Why do you think it's a good system to have concerns heard only for those who have financial wealth? That skews government policy towards elites and the wealthy, and favors corporate benefit and health. Do you really believe the government is in service to corporations or to the American people? Even when it is an individual, it's almost always a billionaire like Bezos or Bloomberg who is trying to STEAL American taxpayer money so that they can go on their stupid space trips.

> Really? Most individual people don't lobby because they don't have the money to do it.

Meta-comment but this is how all HN threads on topics like this turn out:

- Topic: Perpetual rights to all clean drinking water in Nigeria put up for auction

- Half the thread: It’s nuts that rich people are able to just buy something that should be a basic human right

- The other half: Excuse me, but who said that only rich people can buy these rights? There’s no law that is stopping them from buying this right. Regular people can crowdfund those $20B if they really want. Another option is for the citizens of Nigeria to vote with their feet and move to another country if access to clean drinking water is so important to them. And should clean drinking water be a human right anyway? What if we lived in the vacuum of space and there was no drinking water, huh? Didn’t think of that, did you. And human rights are basically tantamount to slavery since ...


That sounds like you agree with the current state of things though. You agree that citizens should form groups to lobby to counter corporation lobbying. You agree that the government should (and does) give these groups money to lobby via tax statuses and tax incentives. The only disagreement is that you believe these groups should be given more money.

It definitely can be expensive to lobby on the national level, which is why groups like the EFF come about. But some state and local level politicians make themselves available to the public. Sometimes it takes time more than money.

I believe there are plenty of examples available of lobbying that ends up benefiting companies at the expense of the public. To counter your arguments, I would challenge anyone to try to out-lobby Intuit when it comes to regulation around tax filing. How well do you suppose that opposition has fared so far in the face of huge corporate dollars?

It depends on voter turnout and the issues that drive campaigns. Often times voters seem or are unconcerned with issues to the extent that they don't even bother to vote. And organizations like Intuit are often the only people engaged. A candidate is far less likely to screw over their constituents for a campaign contribution when they know they will be primaried and that their constituents are informed and vote. When they know they will not be primaried and that the same 20% will show up to the primary to vote for the party favorite, then why not go along with Intuit?

I realize engagement is difficult for many people but other countries have higher standards and riot when those are threatened. I loved the French firefighters lighting themselves on fire and rushing the police during the riots a year or two ago. People in the US generally don't care that much. At least not enough to organize and vote.


The wrong thing is good people etc can't afford to lobby which means its usually corporation that does it. And if corporation follow principles, adhere to ethics most of them are not going to be billion dollar corporation.

"you're free to form a non-profit and have the government subsidize your quest to have them listen to you" This is a common fallacy. You have to be elites etc for such thing to happen.

Yes laws, reforms etc are hard to create but this doesn't mean any one can bribe and create law in their favor? We should always complain about wrong law that is created for skulduggery.

Net Neutrality is good for consumers bad for few corporation so we are clear its mostly good.


Why no one in the US brings up this to the political agenda?

Rational people talk about it enough that eventually all their friends beg them to stop talking about it. Perhaps you meant to ask why this is never mentioned on popular commercial news media? Or perhaps you meant to ask why no politician affiliated with Democrat or Republican ever mention it? Those would have been perceptive questions.


And the people who run for office who talk about it generally lose in the primaries, when we have the chance to support more honest and genuine representatives.

> Bribing is illegal, but lobbying is legal

What do you think "lobbying" actually means?


Because the people making laws benefit from it. It’s the people that are hurt.

It’s also not clear what would happen if you somehow were able to make all campaign spending derived from public funds and make lobbying illegal. It would likely just increase direct corruption, but perhaps it would be less than you see now.

On the other hand, while only available to the wealthy, lobbying allows for a kind of direct democracy.


I'm fairly sure what you described is the UK system?

This.

All of these other topics you see on either side of the political spectrum are convenient distractions for things like the Panama Papers, lobbying, and corporate welfare.

How do we keep topics that matter across the political spectrum at the forefront of public view?


Nobody talks about it because Citizens United v FEC would need to be reversed to change anything in a meaningful way.

Reversing that Supreme Court decision is about as likely as admitting Puerto Rico as the 51st state, it won’t happen.


? Citizens United was a long time ago

Nobody has started killing any of the ultra rich involved in it yet so nothing is going to happen.


It's nearly impossible to get your name on a state-wide ballot without taking corporate lobbying.

No it isn't. Since the internet became commonly available it is easier and less expensive than ever. It is however very difficult to get people to vote for you. There is very little voter engagement in the primaries when it is most important and effective.

Amazon is a rational company and acts in its own interest. The politicians we elect act in Amazons interest. So we are to fault for this. No hiding the truth. If we to change (a big if) we have to not vote for the corporate politicians. Till then it is just whining and dining.

From the article:

The architect of this under-the-radar campaign to smother privacy protections has been Jay Carney, who previously served as communications director for Joe Biden, when Biden was vice president, and as press secretary for President Barack Obama. Hired by Amazon in 2015, Carney reported to founder Jeff Bezos and built a lobbying and public-policy juggernaut that has grown from two dozen employees to about 250, according to Amazon documents and two former employees with knowledge of recent staffing.


I'm pretty tired of this trope about blind self-interest being "rational", as if acting in the public interest is somehow "irrational"

There are perfectly "rational" ways of defending placing value in either.

Further, public interest and self-interest are not concepts in direct opposition. In fact, I'd go so far as to argue that the best socio-political systems are the ones which best align the two.

edit: Further thought: consumer protection laws exist to bring those two into better alignment. In a market where there are many small competitors, it wouldn't make economic sense for any individual to lobby to destroy these protections, as everyone is subject to the same rules. Amazon is large enough that tipping the scales in favor of the self-interest of its business affects it in an outsized way. I think a big part of the problem here is the size of the market actor.


"Rational self-interest" is a specific academic economics term.

https://thebusinessprofessor.com/en_US/economic-analysis-mon...


A specific academic term that has philosophical implications that I'm saying are harmful

edit: maybe not in all contexts, but certainly in the context of the comment I was replying to


That doesn't change anything the post you're replying to said. Rational self-interest in that sense is a simplifying assumption made as part of the process of mathematically modelling economic behaviour. It's not a prescription for how a real world company like Amazon should behave.

Somebody will probably now bring up "fiduciary duty" and "shareholder value" which are almost as irrelevant.


Why should we expect Amazon (or anyone for that matter) to engage in behaviour that favors you at their own expense? That makes no sense to me. Of course they should act in their own rational self interest, just like you and I do.

The point I made wasn't about what Amazon should or shouldn't do. It was about the irrelevance of the economic modelling concept of "rational self-interest" (which describes behaviour, rather than prescribing it) to that question.

If you think humans or companies should work solely on the basis of self-interest then you're in good company (especially if you're from the US, though it's far from a uniquely American view). I'm not going to dissuade you by arguing with you on HN, but I do disagree. I hope at some point you and the many, many people with similar views learn to look at the world a bit differently.


How is it irrelevant to model that way when we're in agreement that everyone tends to act in their own rational self interest?

In what sense are your actions here on HN supporting your rational self interest?

I am using the academic definition of rational actor.

But the true irrational ones are the voters. They elect the same folks with a track record of serving the corporate elites and then get upset when the same politicians act against them.

Blame the voters. Voters have agency. The voters are the enablers of the politicians.


> I am using the academic definition of rational actor.

No you're not. You're assuming specific time and influence horizons for what can be considered an "outcome" of allegedly rational actions, and using that to retroactively define rationality.

If we consider "avoiding fucking up the entire planet so that the economy can boom by including more participants and economic activity, so that Amazon can grow even bigger and more profitable" to be the outcome that we are considering, then what Amazon does is highly irrational.


> Blame the voters. Voters have agency.

Meta: I appreciate your candidness in getting to the point, I wish more political debate was like this instead of wrapped in layers of fluff.

I disagree though, and I'd go further and say selectively assigning agency - especially on a binary basis - distorts the solution space and waters down any good faith attempts to further the discussion, albeit unintentionally.

Our implementation of democracy is not a magically balanced game where incentives line up in perfection. As a result, you cannot point to an outcome and blame the players any more than you can do in a video game with a shitty meta. In reality, players interpret and influence the rules of the game itself.

In particular, our modern version of democracy is based on the fundamentals of marketing - where actors influence (aka nudge) aggregate behavior and sentiments, to get what they want. This system is vulnerable to feedback cycles leading to large concentrations of power - both political and corporate. The last decade is a prime example of both - not just in the US, but globally.


<Blame the voters. Voters have agency. The voters are the enablers of the politicians.

And then we have gerrymandering and voter suppression, good luck with getting a vote that counts.


People don't even try. Turnouts in the primaries are dismal. And most states have early voting periods. Texas has 10 days of early voting. My state has 20.

If it is difficult to vote, that just shows how important it is.


> Amazon is a rational company and acts in its own interest. The politicians we elect act in Amazons interest. So we are to fault for this.

When I was young, I was told that even in totalitarian societies, you got to vote. There might be one name on the ballot, but you got to vote. People refuse to vote 3rd party for fear of throwing a vote away, yet only corporatist candidates will fly under D or R. Voting for different Ds or Rs won't change anything.

The passage you quote is merely one small illustration of regulatory capture, a normalized form of corruption.


>yet only corporatist candidates will fly under D or R

Not true. Non-corporate candidates run in the primaries all the time. No one votes for them or even bothers to show up, despite the early voting periods most states have. Texas has 10 days of early voting. My state has 20.


US political parties are essentially private organizations; that they hold elections to determine their candidates is a not terribly distant change. In any case, they are not obliged to be impartial in the process. But to vote in a primary, you need to be a partisan. So even if the parties were perfectly impartial in this process, all you've managed to show by "no one votes for them" is that Ds and Rs select for corporatist candidates.

But they don't, especially on the local and state level. They may fund their favorites but outright socialists and communists can and do run in the Democratic primaries, to say nothing of progressives and Greens. And if I was in a district that had closed primaries where one party routinely wins, I would definitely register for that party. It doesn't mean anything.

Be as contrary as you like, but you haven't addressed my point; in fact, you seem to be just ignoring it. I'll let you have the last word.

We get the choice between two candidates, both of whom will act in corporate interests, most of the time. Even magical, all knowing, voters that perfectly optimize the selection won't fix the issue.

Maybe if you only pay attention to national general elections. We didn't get here overnight and yeah, one election can't fix this either. That's not an excuse to have a defeatist attitude though! Just being informed can help you see there's more to it. Based on your comment, one thing I would suggest you get more involved in primary elections.

Primary elections have any number of candidates running and are often only loosely Democrats or Republicans.

This is a fantastical claim when you think about it. You are effectively claiming that both (1) US citizens systematically choose politicians that are corporate friendly (because this is the more general truth—they are friendly to all entities with money) and that (2) this “choice” is so free that you can just “vote for someone else” (who?).

Another (less fantastical claim) is that most politicians are corporate friendly and in turn you don’t really have such a free choise.


We have to not vote for the corporate politicians.

Which ones are those?


Corporate isn't a useful term of division nor a guide to policy. If say Maine lost their mind and decided to try to autarkize their state government they would wind up just running things far less efficiently from effectively a neurotic a fear of companies as HP Lovecraft had of the ocean.

The entire framing of "the people vs. corporations" is a massively overreductive us-vs-them clichè used in service of demagoguery. It is divorced from the reality of not only how the system works but even how any theoretical system could and would work. Instead it is about emotional flattery.

The whole dichotomy is worse than useless. Like trying to divide politicians between who is a grey and who is a snakeperson, a nonsensical distraction. There are always conflicting interests in complex arrangements. Just look at the dynamics and all of the interests for and against the proposed "US made union manufactured electric vehicle subsidy".


The ones running in the primary elections that almost no one pays attention to or votes in.

Places in Maine and Vermont managed to keep out big box stores. Because they cared and cared enough to be informed and vote. It can be more difficult in areas with more people but I think democracy can scale.


We have to look at them and find out. We have to _constantly_ look at them, politics isn't a single transaction - you can't have democracy running by itself, you have to always practically support it with attention and resources.

I wonder what would happen if the alexa recordings captured some HIPPA protected medical information that a customer spoke verbally in the privacy of their own home.

HIPAA generally only limits what information healthcare providers (e.g. doctors and hospitals) can disclose ... so nothing.

HIPAA (two a's, not two p's) is a regulation of communications from and by medical providers.

This is the same false information people spit about vaccine cards.


I think the scope is beyond that. My friend works for a startup that makes a medical platform for ordering things like wheelchairs. He and the company are bound by the law. The distinction is if you are working with protected health information, not that you are a medical provider.

I think at that point they count as a "healthcare provider"



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