When Terrorists Get Help From Amazon Recommendations
'Other bombmakers who bought products like these...'
Having acquired Whole Foods Market last year for a whopping $13.7 billion, and after opening its first brick-and-mortar, checkout-less convenience store in Seattle this year, Amazon is now set to start devouring French food: The announcement yesterday of a partnership with Monoprix, one of France's biggest grocery store chains, is a reminder that Jeff Bezos' ambitions are decidedly global (and beyond). The latest deal will allow Monoprix to start selling its products to customers in Paris and its surrounding region through Amazon's Prime Now service, and will give the online retail giant a strategic beachhead in European grocery.
The military metaphor is telling, and it illustrates what Le Figaro describes as "Amazon's hegemonic temptation." Writing for the Paris-based daily, Ivan Letessier calls Monoprix's decision a "deal with the devil," and an attempt to keep Amazon at bay. The French retailer "probably reckons that the king of online retail needs it more than it needs Amazon, which is true for now." But this might not always be the case and "though clever, Monoprix's strategy is risky," Letessier writes, pointing to the collapse of Toys'R'Us as a recent example of how dangerous a partner Amazon can be in the long run.
Still, there seems to be little retailers can do to stop Amazon's unremitting rise, and working with it is probably easier than against it, especially as online sales continue to rise, and the advantages that digital technology can offer the everyday shopper.
By now, however, we have grown used to the idea that the GAFA gang (noble aspirations aside) can't quite manage their enormous power — and that every tool the internet brings comes with a built-in trap. According to Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung, German investigators found out recently that Yamen A., a 20-year-old Syrian refugee arrested for planning a terror attack, had ordered all bomb-making materials on Amazon. The newspaper mentions at least two other cases in Germany (one thwarted attack and one that resulted in three people being injured) in which the parts were bought on Amazon.
In Britain too, tabloid newspaper The Sun reported last year, after the Manchester Arena attack that killed 22 young concert-goers, that its journalists were able to buy all the parts needed to make a similar bomb on Amazon. In that case, as well as in the one involving Yamen A., Amazon did nothing to alert the authorities after the items were purchased. Worse, German authorities fear that Amazon's suggestion function ("other customers who bought this item also bought …") might actually provide terrorists with "a guide to bomb making."
Neither Facebook nor Amazon can be chided for their global ambitions. But with global ambitions come global responsibilities — and local ones too.