Tag: Amazon

EU to decide if companies can stop online sales

 

Europe’s top court will begin a case today to determine whether luxury goods companies can stop retailers from selling their products via marketplaces such as Amazon or eBay.

Owners of luxury brands have been fighting with online retailers for the last decade, arguing that they should have the right to choose who distributes their products to protect their luxury image and exclusivity.

Online platforms dispute this, saying that such restrictive distribution deals are anti-competitive and hurt consumers.

The European Commission is pushing for more cross-border online sales to boost growth and jobs, and catch up with the United States and Asia.

The case before the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) concerns German company Coty, a subsidiary of US beauty products maker Coty, which wants to stop a retailer from selling its goods on online marketplaces such as Amazon.

Coty says this breaches its agreement with the retailer which prohibits the sale of its products via third parties. The case originally went to a court in Germany which later asked the ECJ for guidance.

The EU court’s ruling will be crucial because companies are seeking to curb sales of their products online

Lobby group Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), whose members include Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Google, Rakuten and Yahoo, said the problem was broader than just luxury good companies protecting their

CCIA director Jakob Kucharczyk, said: “We do not consider this to be a ‘fight’ with or against luxury brands. This issue is far more relevant because online marketplace bans are imposed with respect to a range of day-to-day, mass market products which makes them anti-competitive and unjustifiable.”

A court adviser is expected to give a non-binding recommendation in about six months, followed by the court judgment a few months later.

Amazon wins tax case

Online bookseller and purveyor of talking radios, Amazon, has won a decade old case against the US taxman.

The Internal Revenue Service wanted Amazon to pay more than $1.5 billion over transactions involving a Luxembourg unit.

Judge Albert Lauber of the US Tax Court rejected a variety of IRS arguments, and found that on several occasions the agency abused its discretion, or acted arbitrarily or capriciously.

The case involved transactions in 2005 and 2006, and could boost its federal tax bill by $1.5 billion plus interest. It also said a loss could add “significant” tax liabilities in later years.

Amazon made just $2.37 billion of profit in 2016, four times what it made in the four prior years combined, on revenue of $136 billion.

In one of the more pot calling the kettle black moves of the US elections, Donald (Prince of Orange) Trump claimed that Amazon did not pay enough taxes and accusing it on Fox News of “getting away with murder tax-wise”.

The IRS case involved “transfer pricing,” which arises when different units of multinational companies transact with each other.

Amazon argued that the IRS overestimated the value of “intangible” assets, such as software and trademarks, it had transferred to a Luxembourg unit, Amazon Europe Holding Technologies SCS.

Amazon did this through a plan called “Project Goldcrest,” to have the “vast bulk” of income from its European businesses taxed in Luxembourg at a “very low rate”.

Amazon has said it may face more tax bills in Europe if authorities in Brussels conclude that prior rulings by Luxembourg tax officials amounted to improper “state aid” that gave it an unfair advantage over rivals.

Amazon wants help improving Alexa

Online book seller Amazon.com has launched a new programme to help students build capabilities into its voice controlled assistant Alexa.

The e-commerce company said it is paying for a year long doctoral fellowship at four universities.

Working with professors, the Alexa Fund Fellows will help students tackle complex technology problems in class on Alexa, like how to convert text to speech or process conversation.

Amazon and Google is locked in a race to develop and make cash from artificial intelligence. Amazon has made it easy for third party developers to create skills for Alexa so it can get better faster – a tactic it now is extending to the classroom.

The other idea is that Amazon might be able to recruit sought after engineers whose studies will make them more familiar with Alexa than with other voice controlled assistants.

Schools signed up for the programme include Carnegie Mellon, Johns Hopkins, the University of Southern California and Canada’s University of Waterloo.

Doug Booms, vice president of worldwide corporate development at Amazon, said that the fellowship’s goal is to excite the next generation of scholars about natural language understanding and other voice technologies, not to produce research for Amazon.

Students’ projects will remain their own intellectual property.

For example at the University of Waterloo, students are improving Alexa’s interaction with air conditioners so it understands requests to cool a room to its normal temperature, without requiring the user to specify a number in Celsius.

Amazon’s profits down

AmazonOnline bookseller Amazon is predicting an unexpected dip in operating profit for the current quarter, due to concerns about the costs of investments including new warehouses and video content.

The world’s largest online retailer also reported lower-than-expected fourth quarter revenue and missed Wall Street targets for its cloud computing unit.

The Seattle-based company is spending heavily to take greater control of package delivery and to expand its video service around the world. It wants to promote sign-ups for Amazon Prime, its $99-per-year shopping club, which leads to users buying more goods, more often.

Amazon Chief Financial Officer Brian Olsavsky told assorted hacks that he had “stepped-up” spending levels all the way into 2017.

For years, Amazon has posted roller-coaster results as founder and Chief Executive Jeff Bezos emphasizes building up businesses rather than making an immediate profit. He has sunk profits into new areas that have either built new markets – as with cloud services or its Kindle e-readers.

Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t and some investors are uneasy.

Sales in the first quarter will have a tough comparison to the year prior, Amazon’s Olsavsky said, when foreign exchange rates were more favourable and the 29 February leap day gave shoppers an extra 24 hours to spend.

The just-ended holiday season was Amazon’s best-ever. It was a heavily promotional period for Amazon, said Olsavsky, though he did not comment on how discounts compared with prior years.

Net sales for Amazon rose 22.4 percent to $43.74 billion in the fourth quarter, compared with the average analyst estimate of $44.68 billion.

Amazon is producing television shows for Prime subscribers to watch online. It is developing gadgets with an artificially intelligent assistant, Alexa, so users can buy toilet paper and other goods by voice command. And it is building out a system of trucks, planes and warehouses so orders are sped to Prime members in two days or less, a convenience that few online retailers can afford to match.

The company forecast first-quarter operating income between $250 million and $900 million, below the consensus estimate of $1.34 billion.

Amazon had reported operating income of $1.1 billion for the same period last year.

Amazon Web Services, the company’s fast-growing and lucrative cloud business, posted a 47 percent jump in revenue to $3.54 billion, but fell short of the average analyst estimate of $3.60 billion, according to FactSet StreetAccount. Amazon is the market leader in the space, selling computer services, hosting websites and storing data.

Apple getting its “internet of things” clock cleaned by Amazon

AmazonThe Tame Apple Press has just woken up to the fact that its favourite tech company is not doing that well in the “Intelligent Home” market.

For those who came in late, Apple does have a product to create “intelligent homes” called Homekit. It is just that no one has been buying it or even talking about it.  Of course that has not stopped outfits like Reuters pretending that Apple invented the whole industry, but claims it had lost ground to Amazon.

It sulked that it had taken only a year for Amazon’s combination of the Echo speaker system and the Alexa voice-controlled digital assistant had taken over the market.

It insists that means that Amazon is “squaring up” for a battle with Apple, implying that Jobs’ Mob is actually the market leader when it is not.

The strategic importance of the “connected home” niche looms large: Amazon wants a way to own its customer interactions -mainly shopping online – without an phone or a Web browser as an intermediary.

Apple’s app is also a long way behind Google, which is investing in both intelligent assistant software and home-automation devices like the Nest thermostats and, more recently, the Google Home speaker.

Getting back to Apple, Reuters seems to think that it controlled the intelligent home market when the iPhone rolled out with voice activated controls.

However, with Amazon selling 10 million Alexa-enabled devices over the holiday season, Apple’s own involvement in the market is invisible.

Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller said the company is leading the industry by being the first to integrate home automation into a major platform with iOS 10. “The number of HomeKit-compatible accessories continues to grow rapidly with many exciting solutions announced just this month,” she said.

But that is software and most intelligent home packages are already running much better software packages based around Android, Linux forks and even Windows. There are 250 devices that are certified to work with Alexa while Apple’s Homekit, by contrast, has about 100 certified devices.

Apple has tried its normal “control everything” games which means that to be Homekit-certified, gadget makers must include special chips to work with Apple’s system. Apple also requires developers to buy specific WiFi and Bluetooth networking chips that cost more than competitors.

These devices must be made in Apple approved factories.  Only a few of these factories specialise in home automation products. The founder of one startup that considered pursuing HomeKit approval for a device that helps control home temperatures said the company picked a factory with 40,000 employees that was making well known “Star Wars” toys, but it couldn’t use that factory for HomeKit products.

This huge factory was black-listed because it was not Apple certified. Some developers can’t be bothered jumping through all the hoops when they can get a product out there which is much cheaper and runs on other software.

Alexa, by contrast, only requires smart home companies to write software code and submit it to Amazon for review. There are no special chips. To earn the “Works with Alexa” label -which isn’t required to function with Alexa but does help promote products on Amazon’s website – startups must have their products physically tested. Amazon does allow that to happen in a third-party lab, however.

Once those certifications are in hand, Amazon says it will decide whether or not a device gets the “Works with Alexa” label within 10 days.

 

Telly catches Fire

old-school-tvA separate Fire TV device might become a thing of the past as telly makers are starting to integrate the streaming technology.

Seiki, Westinghouse and Element Electronics are launching a series of 4K sets with Fire TV technology built-in. They all include Amazon’s current interface, including a wide range of Alexa voice commands thanks to a microphone-equipped remote. If you use an over-the-air TV antenna, you’ll have access to both a channel guide and favourite individual channels on the home screen.

The first lot are appearing at CES and so far, none of the companies are saying when.  There will be 43-, 50-, 55- and 65-inch models. These are budget telly makers so adding Fire into your telly will not cost much more.  It is also likely that other cheaper manufactures will follow suit.

Samsung, LG and Sony already have highly developed smart TV platforms (whether in-house or Android TV), and it’s doubtful they will bother.

Trump and Silicon Valley try to bury the hatchet

Donald-Trump-funnyDonald “Prince of Orange” Trump met with Silicon Valley’s top executives attempted to bury the hatchet and to smoke a peace pipe.

The meeting, in Trump Towers, focused chiefly on economic problems, including job creation, lowering taxes and trade dynamics with China, while largely avoiding the many disagreements the tech industry has with Trump on matters ranging from immigration to digital privacy.

For some reason, three of Trump’s kids sat in on the meeting. We guess it is because they know a little more than their dad about tech. Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka, sat at the head of a large rectangular table as the meeting began in a conference room on the 25th floor of Trump Tower.

Of course there is a small problem of conflict of interest because Trump’s kids are going to be running his business while he is being president.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence was also there as was  Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’sSheryl Sandberg and Tesla Motors’ Elon Musk, Alphabet Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, and IBM’s Ginni Rometty. Missing was Twitter, which Trump claimed was too small to be at the table and it had nothing to do with the personal spat that Trump was having with Twitter.

Cook and Musk joined Trump for separate meetings after the other technology executives leave, according to a spokesman for Trump’s transition team.

Bezos said in a statement the meeting was “very productive” and that he “shared the view that the administration should make innovation one of its key pillars, which would create a huge number of jobs across the whole country, in all sectors, not just tech – agriculture, infrastructure, manufacturing -everywhere.”

Silicon Valley got on well with  President Barack Obama and heavily supported Democrat Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign.

Trump bashed the industry during the election campaign. He urged his supporters to boycott Apple products over the company’s refusal to help the FBI unlock an iPhone associated with last year’s San Bernardino, California, shootings, threatened antitrust action against Amazon and demanded that tech companies build their products in the United States.

Trump has also been an opponent of the Obama administration’s “net neutrality” rules barring internet service providers from obstructing or slowing consumer access to web content. Two advisers to his Federal Communications Commission transition team are opponents of the rules, as are the two Republicans on the FCC.

 

Now is the winter of Amazon’s discount tents

At_the_South_Pole,_December_1911Amazon workers have been sleeping in tents close to the company’s fulfillment centre in Fife.

According to the local press, three tents have been spotted in woodland beside the online retail giant’s base just off the M90 in Dunfermline in recent days.

The news follows claims that the agency workers are working up to 60 hours per week for little more than the minimum wage and are harshly treated.

The idea is that to save money commuting the workers are living in tents to during the Christmas rush.

One worker, who did not wish to be named, told the The Courier that the firm was a “poor employer” and criticised working practices at the Fife site.

He added that he had opted to stay in a tent as it was easier and cheaper than commuting from his home in Perth.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie MSP, who has repeatedly called for the firm to improve its working conditions and its tax record, once more slammed Amazon after learning that some workers had apparently taken to staying in the woods.

“Amazon should be ashamed that they pay their workers so little that they have to camp out in the dead of winter to make ends meet,” he told The Courier.

“They pay a small amount of tax and received millions of the pounds from the SNP Government so the least they should do is pay the proper living wage.
Amazon employs around 1,500 staff on a permanent basis at its Dunfermline fulfillment centre but has created 4,000 seasonal jobs to help cover the busy Christmas and New Year period.

Tech companies ask Trump to backtrack on encryption

orangeUS internet companies including Facebook and Amazon have penned a letter to president elect Donald “Prince of Orange” asking him to be a little more accommodating to their policy priorities – particularly strong encryption.

Trump took an anti-encryption stance during the election, demanding tech companies provide spooks with back-doors. While some tech-companies are visibly upset about Trumps election, it appears that Facebook and Amazon hope they can get him to change his mind with a nice letter.

The letter sent by the Internet Association, a trade group whose 40 members also include Alphabet’s Google, Uber and Twitter, represents an early effort to repair the relationship between the technology sector.

Michael Beckerman, president of the Internet Association said that the internet industry looks forward to engaging in an open and productive dialogue.

Some of the policy goals stated in the letter may align with Trump’s priorities, including easing regulation on the sharing economy, lowering taxes on profits made from intellectual property and applying pressure on Europe to not erect too many barriers that restrict U.S. internet companies from growing in that market.

The association seeks immigration reform to support more high-skilled workers staying in the United States. Trump made tougher immigration policies a central theme of his campaign, but he has shied away from arguing against more H-1B visas for skilled workers. In March, he said he was “softening the position because we need to have talented people in this country.”

Trump has also urged a boycott of Apple products over the company’s refusal to help the Federal Bureau of Investigation unlock an iPhone associated with last year’s San Bernardino, California, shootings, threatened antitrust action against Amazon, and demanded Apple manufacture its products in the United States.

In a statement, Beckerman said the internet industry looked forward to working closely with Trump and lawmakers in Congress to “cement the internet’s role as a driver of economic and social progress for future generations.”

Amazon wants ebook problem sorted out with EU

AmazonAmazon is chatting to European Union antitrust regulators about settling a year-long investigation into its e-book deals with publishers without a fine.

The book seller is in a lot of hot water with the EU over its tax deals with Luxembourg, which may result in the US online retailer paying millions of euros in back taxes.  It is possible that the last thing it wants is to be hit with another big fine from the ebook case.

It is early days yet, but it seems that Amazon is keen to settle the ebook case. Under the EU’s settlement rules, the company would not face any fine or finding of wrongdoing if it can offer concessions to allay regulatory concerns.

European Commission spokesman Ricardo Cardoso is saying nothing about any deal.

The EU competition watchdog opened an investigation into the case in June last year, saying Amazon’s e-books contracts with publishers giving it terms as good as those for its rivals may make it difficult for other e-books distributors to compete.

The focus is on Amazon’s e-books in English and German. The company is the biggest e-book distributor in Europe, while the market is growing rapidly.