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Russell Brand on Amazon: ‘Your Business Is Their Business. Your Privacy Is Their Property.’

By Brenda Baletti, Ph.D., The Defender (Children's Health Defense)

This year alone, Amazon falsely accused a man of using racist language and locked him out of his smart home devices, was fined $30 million for spying on children to harvest their data and renewed a $10 billion contract with the National Security Agency.

Comedian and political commentator Russell Brand said these events raise serious concerns about how much power Amazon has over people’s lives.

In a recent episode of “Stay Free,” Brand said:

“When you have an organization like Amazon which is not tethered to any nation, not tethered to any ideology except for profit [and] that is involved in our lives at an almost cellular level — the dispatch of products, working with the government, surveillance — there’s so many areas of our lives that Amazon interfaces with that their power is becoming perhaps untenable.”

When a delivery driver mistakenly reported that Brandon Jackson used a racial slur when speaking through his Amazon doorbell intercom, Amazon shut off his home smart devices for a week, Brand said — effectively taking away Jackson’s control over his home.

After Amazon determined “the customer did not act inappropriately,” the tech giant restored Jackson’s access to his devices.

But why is it up to Amazon to determine what is appropriate or not, Brand asked.

Amazon’s power is particularly concerning, Brand said, given recent revelations that Amazon has been collecting massive amounts of data on children — and retaining that data even after the families requested that Amazon delete it.

The mega-corporation agreed to pay $30 million dollars in fines after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) brought a case against it for retaining the voice recordings, transcriptions and precise location data collected from children via Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant.

Amazon claimed it needed this data to improve its machine-learning algorithm and that its actions were legal. “We take our responsibility to our customers’ families very seriously,” the company also said in a statement.

Brand said people have been led to believe that Alexa wouldn’t be spying on them. But instead, he said, Amazon flagrantly misled parents, flouted their requests to delete the data, violated the FTC’s Children’s Online Privacy Rule and sacrificed the privacy of countless families — all so it could increase profits.

“Amazon is so powerful, they are going to do what they want,” he said. And they do that by working in partnership with the government, Brand said.

“The government and global corporations are completely allied with one another. They have the same interests and they are not the same as your interests.”

The cost of Amazon’s power is our freedom, Brand said. “Powerful Big Techcompanies like Amazon and the state are working in rigid lockstep to prevent you from having, it looks like, the finest shred of emotional, personal or spiritual freedom.”

A $30 million fine is nothing for Amazon, Brand said, because it makes so much money. But those profits don’t come from selling and shipping things, or from making shows for Amazon Prime like people might think, he said.

Amazon’s profits come from dealing in data. They profit off of user data, such as the children whose data it collected.

But the largest money-maker for the company is its cloud computing service unit, which has a $10 billion contract with the NSA that was renewed this year. It has a similar contract to provide cloud computing to the CIA and the U.S. Department of Defense.

“The NSA is the very agency that Edward Snowden revealed is illegally stealing your data,” Brand said.

He added:

“So Amazon’s money comes from, it sounds like, pretty close to crime. Your business is their business. Your privacy is their property. Your duty is to fight this with everything you have.”

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