The Wrong Side of NightIncreasingly, it seems as if this is Amazon’s world and we’re just living in it. We went from only going on Amazon to find books and other stuff to buying our groceries at Whole Foods from Amazon, since they now own it. Do you buy shoes from Zappos? Amazon owns it. What about the Ring doorbell? Yep, Amazon owns that too. And there are the recent news reports that Alexa — that handy device in your home that does whatever you tell it to — is being recorded by Amazon. Not just your commands, apparently, but other conversations as well, since the device does not always turn off when it’s supposed to. Somewhere, deep in the bowels of Amazon, many of your conversations that took place in the sanctity of your own home exist as recordings that Amazon personnel can listen to.

Bloomberg recently reported: “An Inc. team auditing Alexa users’ commands has access to location data and can, in some cases, easily find a customer’s home address, according to five employees familiar with the program.”

Amazon’s response to this has been that they screen their employees carefully, and no one who isn’t totally responsible would be listening to people’s Alexa recordings. I actually have some personal experience in how carefully Amazon screens their employees.

Almost two years ago, I got a letter in the mail from a company that does criminal background checks on people. They were pleased to inform me I had passed the background check that was requested when I applied for a job as an Amazon driver. Let me state emphatically that I never applied for such a job. I have known for a long time that my personal information got out at some point; I have taken every step I can to protect myself, but there are still occasionally instances when someone gets hold of my social security number. I called the company, explained this, and they assured me that they would contact Amazon immediately about the matter. I assumed it was resolved, until I got my tax statement from Amazon. I had, at that time, 2 self-published books through Amazon, so I do get tax statements from them. But this time, income over $4,000 was also listed from my job as — you guessed it — an Amazon driver.

I will say about Amazon that, once I got through to them and could talk to an actual person, they got right on it. But when I asked why they hadn’t dealt with it months earlier when they were contacted by the screening company, I was told, “It just fell through the cracks.” This was around the time that Amazon was trying to get people to give drivers their house keys so packages could be put inside.

I recently published my new novel, The Wrong Side of Night, through Amazon. Months after publishing it, I was told that several people had tried to review it on the site and were told by Amazon that they were not allowed to do so. I contacted the company and was told in an e-mail that they couldn’t tell me the reason, they could only disclose that to the people who were blocked. So, one of them contacted Amazon. They received an e-mail with some incomprehensible reason about their information being similar to other people’s information. What?

Self-publishing a book comes with a lot of challenges. You have to figure out press and marketing yourself, and you have to pay for it. Reviews are important; they have a direct effect on sales. But Amazon “reserves the right” to make decisions about which reviews to publish, based on nothing that makes any sense. Ultimately, you are made painfully aware that this is a huge conglomerate, they are going to do whatever they want, and you really don’t matter that much.

I think it’s wonderful that Jeff Bezos went from a guy selling books out of his car to the richest man in the world. Good for him! He’s really smart, he’s really driven, and he made his vision work. But with great power comes great responsibility. Other people have visions too. And they turn to the powerful to try and turn their visions into reality. Authors work a long time on a book; it’s a labor of love. They don’t deserve to have reviews snatched away, and then be given reasons that make no sense.




  1. Rodney Wilson says:

    That is the key: “But with great power comes great responsibility. Other people have visions too. And they turn to the powerful to try and turn their visions into reality.” It’s reminiscent of the words of Jesus: “To whom much is given, much is required.”

  2. Seyyed Sepehr Seyyedzamani says:

    Dear Patti you can write a book about that and direct a film.both of them are good.

  3. Tim McKee says:

    “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” (Statement attributed to Lord Acton, a British historian of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.)

  4. deb kim says:

    How frustrating that Amazon won’t allow some people to review your books. A similar situation happened to me with Yelp. I had been a loyal Yelper for a year or two and suddenly they started to not publish my reviews and instead relegate it to the “not recommended” reviews where viewers can read our reviews but can’t read our profiles. They also gave some lame excuse, some of them being: reviews written are too few and far between, they couldn’t verify our location, or stuff like that, that made us feel illegitimate. Ever since then, I’ve boycotted Yelp–they are a pay-to-play operation anyway, with business owners who pay a monthly fee, move up the food chain in terms of visibility and promotion.

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