Amazon Empire: Jay Carney Interview | FRONTLINE


In terms of the political climate, on one hand, you’ve got the Trump administration, senior officials saying there’s no question Amazon’s limiting competition. There’s been a Twitter battle famously between the president and Jeff Bezos. There’s several different investigations into the company right now, and you’ve got presidential candidates basically saying, using Amazon as a symbol for corporate power and the concentration of power, using Jeff Bezos as the symbol for the concentration of wealth in this country. What has Jeff kind of tasked you with doing in order to calm that perception out there? Well, my job, and everybody at Amazon in my work, [we’re] basically storytellers and educators. We try to explain to anybody who’s interested—and that can be customers, journalists, policymakers and others— what our business model is, what our principles are, and I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding. Let’s go to size, for example. I sometimes talk to members of Congress who don’t believe me when I tell them that we’re not the biggest retailer in the United States. In fact, the biggest retailer’s two and a half times our size. Walmart’s much bigger than we are and has been forever. When I tell them that Amazon in retail in the United States is maybe 4% of the market, and so when you talk about competition issues, these are fields of the economy that are just filled with competition, the fiercest competition there can be. … Obviously we’re well known, but we’re less than 1% of retail globally. Let me stop you there, though— Sure. —because you know that you’re a much larger percentage e-commerce business, right? Sure, but as e-commerce—OK, let’s just talk about physical versus online retail. So we started as an e-commerce company, but, you know, we’re here in Seattle; I can go find you half a dozen physical Amazon stores that we built. So we’re a physical retailer, too. Walmart and other companies, every major company you can think of that began as retailer, that began as a physical store, also has a robust, heavily invested-in e-commerce offering, and I think that’s the future. Everybody is multichannel, because that’s what customers want. They want the ability to find things online and also experience the serendipity of walking into a store and discovering something. So, you know, all of us, all the people in retail are simply trying to find out what customers want the most, and what it turns out they want is, they want it all, right? And that’s what drives business to begin with. Customers want convenience; they want value; they want low prices; and they want selection. And—and the promise of e-commerce was always that you could offer this vast selection. That was one of the fundamental promises of having an online store, because it wasn’t limited by a physical space, but it doesn’t replace; it just, it’s additive. And all these modes of shopping are going to continue to exist and thrive into the future. Retail’s doing very well in the United States right now. There’s a lot of, you know—sometimes there’s talk about, well, are business are like Amazon, you know, hurting small enterprises and medium-size enterprises? But then I would tell them, a member of Congress or somebody else, that, you know, you should know that our model is built upon the success of small and medium-size businesses. We’ve gone from zero percent of our sales and inventory being non-Amazon sellers to 58%. So, you know, and then they’re growing at twice the speed of our own retail, so that’s just because that’s what the customer wants, and ultimately that’s the focus of our business. … One of the things that’s happened over the past few years is that you’ve really ramped up your lobbying efforts in Washington. … I believe it’s, you know—spending on lobbying has increased over 450% since 2012. You’ve got an army of lobbyists, many of whom have revolved in and out of government, including yourself, and, you know, Jeff owns the largest hometown newspaper; he owns one of the largest houses in D.C. I mean, what are you hoping to get for all that lobbying spend and all that influence? Well, let’s tease apart a couple of things, OK? First of all, Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post; Amazon does not. I think if you talk to anybody at The Washington Post, he runs that newspaper the way serious journalists, independent journalists would want an institution like The Washington Post to be run. I spent 21 years in journalism, and I admire the hell out of what’s happening at The Washington Post. — It’s a good move because it buys— And by the way, The Washington Post covers us as critically as any other— critically, in the true sense of the word, with, you know, directness and aggressive reporting the way any other institution would. I’m sorry, Jay. But as a reporter I understand that and appreciate that, but it also does strategically buy him very good will in the center of political power in this country. Does it really? Because I would say that the principal reason that we have been the subject of scrutiny and criticism by the president of the United States is because Jeff owns The Washington Post. So I would say that most of the objection that folks coming from it from that angle have with Amazon is because we happen to have the same CEO as the owner of The Washington Post. I wouldn’t say that owning an independent newspaper that has a true journalistic mission is extremely popular in all political quarters in Washington. In fact, it’s the opposite. So—but that’s fine, too. We, you know, we take it as it comes. And to answer your question about the size of our presence in D.C., there’s no question when, you know, I started in 2015, and, you know, just a few years prior to that, Amazon was basically absent, you know, for the most part in Washington, did not have much of a presence. And, you know, one of the things we discovered is because of the visibility of our company but also the range of businesses that we’re in, we need subject-matter experts on food safety, on transportation, on drones, on privacy, on sustainability. And so we needed that kind of expertise in our office. And I also thought, and I think it’s very important, that because we’re a consumer-facing business and we have so many customers and we’re well known, we can be a resource, an information provider to policymakers and regulators who, you know, want to know more about how we operate, and so a lot of the work that is done out of our D.C. office is just answering questions. It’s not lobbying in the traditional sense in terms of trying to persuade somebody to do something; it’s just answering questions and providing data and information. … You know Washington very well, and things take a very long time in Washington, and it takes a long time, especially at the rate that you’re innovating and the other big-tech companies are innovating, and will take a long time for Washington to catch up, to regulate this in some way. So in the interim, we’re sort of depending in some way on you; taking your word for it, trusting you to do the right thing. How do we know—how does the public know, for instance, where you’re drawing the lines about, for instance, your data usage policies or who you’re choosing to sell facial recognition software to? And, you know, isn’t there something a little bit frightening about this interim period before government catches up with you that we’re kind of taking your word for everything? Well, innovation has always, you know, driven change in the way the economy works, and well before the so-called tech revolution, that was the case, and it’s going to be the case well into the future. And tax codes and regulatory structures, you know, move accordingly. I don’t think we’re that—we, the U.S. government or regulatory agencies are terribly behind. I think, you know progress has been made in this arena, and will continue to be made. We think facial recognition is a great example. We said—we’ve offered guidelines for what legislation ought to look like, because we understand that, like any technology, you know, something like that can be used for good and for ill, so there needs to be some guardrails to prevent its misuse. The fact is, with facial recognition technologies—with ours, anyway—so far, there have been no reported instances of abuse, and if there—anytime there is, we would cut off that customer if that were to happen. But there have been numerous reported instances of human trafficking rings broken up because of facial recognition technology, of missing children found because of Amazon’s facial recognition technology, which, by the way, is not different from a lot of companies that use the same technology. I think technology is a very powerful thing and can be a powerful thing for good. Years ago—you and I were young—when DNA started to be introduced as an element in our judicial system, there was a lot of fear about what that would mean; that DNA would somehow—and from civil libertarians, that DNA, the use, by government officials, of DNA to identify people would be a Big Brother kind of situation. There was a lot of fear. Spin forward to now, and DNA is celebrated by civil libertarians as the single technological revolution that has proved the innocence of people on death row and others accused of crime and has also brought to justice those, because of DNA matching, who committed crimes who were otherwise— otherwise never would have been arrested and brought to justice. So … you don’t want to stifle technology because of the promise it offers to improve society. You just need to make sure that there are regulations and parameters on its use so that it’s not misused. …Why not wait for the regulation to come into effect before you give this technology to, for instance, a police department, or to ICE, for instance, with a border policy that’s been called by the U.N. as essentially, you know, a human rights problem? Why not draw the lines right now before the regulation catches up as to who you will and won’t do business with here? … The technology has to be out there and in use for the regulators to act. I would say on the police departments, we—when we provide that technology to law enforcement agencies, we provide very strict and clear guidelines on how we believe that technology ought to be used, and we have a policy where demonstrated misuse of that technology will end our relationship with that customer.

7 thoughts on “Amazon Empire: Jay Carney Interview | FRONTLINE

  1. Watch FRONTLINE's 2-hour documentary, "Amazon Empire: The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos," here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVVfJVj5z8s

  2. You know, I was wondering what happened to Jay after leaving the White House. What a step up in pay

  3. The guy who is literally a professional liar is who jay carney is. And he's been caught lying dozens of times. Sleezy guy.

  4. Obama did everything to promote Bezos. He Obama who secretly hates his own kind, sided with Amazon to hate his own. Revolving door between government and the corporate criminal class.

  5. When I went back to a music based college to get credit and a good educational standing, of the which I ended up with the opposite, I knew and believed that education should have become totally online and that the real estate and massive campus equipment could have been converted into a means of paying off the Student Loan Crisis. That was my good intention for which I was condemned by ignorant people who were controlling what I called THE EDU. It is far too late to look into that problem at this late a date in the chronology of their business success.

  6. Yeah right, Amazon isn't just an online retailer. 'We have brick and mortar stores in your town' he says. Yeah, you opened those after you put the local bookstores and other businesses OUT OF BUSINESS via your online model. Then you open brick and mortar to make sure they don't come back. You full of shit bullshitting storytelling fucktard.

  7. Did you seriously just try to compare facial recognition technology to DNA tech in the 70's and 80's?? My god, you're full of shit. One was used for the benefit of the people, to provide better justice. The other is being used by a capitalist company, for completely different goals. The two are nowhere near comparable, and it's too bad the interviewer wasn't fast enough to call out that steaming pile of slick bullshit.

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