>> I’m Jeff Bezos.
>> What is your claim to fame?
>> I’m the founder of
>> NARRATOR: From the
award-winning producers of “The Facebook Dilemma”.
>> Richest guy in the world.
>> NARRATOR: FRONTLINE
>> Is Amazon taking over the
world a good thing?
>> NARRATOR: Questioning those
who run the company...
>> What would you say to someone
who feels as though humans are increasingly being treated like
>> That’s not the experience
that I had in setting it up.
>> NARRATOR: And those no longer
>> Most people would assume
there’s a pretty high safety standard on Amazon.
>> And that assumption would be incorrect.
>> The tools are not what I call battle tested.
>> Some people asking if Amazon is a monopoly.
>> The question for the democracy is, are we okay with
one company essentially winning capitalism?
>> How do you and Jeff think about the call to
break you guys up?
>> Simply because the
company’s been successful doesn’t mean it’s
somehow too big.
>> NARRATOR: Now on
>> Domination was very much the
>> NARRATOR: “Amazon Empire”.
>> Jeff Bezos has already conquered the retail frontier.
Now he's got a plan to colonize the planets.
>> Bezos is laying out his plans for colonizing space.
>> Bezos is known for going big, and now he's literally shooting
for the moon.
>> NARRATOR: In May of 2019,
Jeff Bezos, the richest person on the planet, unveiled his
>> This is Blue Moon.
It's time to go back to the moon, this time to stay.
>> Jeff has said over and over again that the most important
work he's doing is work in space.
What he's built in Amazon is really important and really
interesting, and it's, it's revolutionized commerce.
But it's only revolutionized commerce.
>> NARRATOR: Bezos's plan is to chart a new course for the
future of humanity.
>> Manufactured worlds rotated
to create artificial gravity with centrifugal force.
These are very large structures, miles on end.
And they hold a million people or more each.
>> NARRATOR: It's an idea he's had since he was a teenager.
>> This is me in high school.
And I want to highlight this
quote: "The earth is finite, and if the world economy and
population is to keep expanding, space is the only way to go."
I still believe that.
>> The way Jeff Bezos sees is it
is that consumerism is an example of how today's society
lives better than our parents did and our grandparents.
And he wants, you know, future generations to continue to have
an increasingly better lifestyle.
>> These are beautiful.
People are going to want to live
>> NARRATOR: Bezos unveiled his
extra-terrestrial plans at a time of growing concern about
the empire he's built here on earth.
>> Amazon is the great disrupter, from books to retail
to grocery stores.
>> NARRATOR: For more than 25
years, Jeff Bezos has been disrupting and transforming
almost every aspect of our modern lives.
>> Once you start connecting the dots, you see that Amazon is
building all of the invisible infrastructure for our futures.
>> Amazon announced a healthcare partnership...
>> Amazon is helping the C.I.A. build a secure cloud...
>> How much of the internet do you run?
>> That's a good question, um, it's a lot, though.
>> NARRATOR: But in recent years, Amazon-- and Bezos-- have
come under scrutiny for their aggressive tactics and expanding
>> Everything that is admirable about Amazon is also something
that we should fear about it.
>> NARRATOR: For the past year,
we've been investigating how Jeff Bezos built his empire--
and at what cost.
>> And so think about this.
Big things start small.
>> NARRATOR: Jeff Bezos's empire has its roots not in Silicon
Valley, but on Wall Street.
That's where the young Princeton
graduate went to work in the early 1990s, at a secretive
hedge fund called D.E.
>> David Shaw was the one who revolutionized Wall Street by
And I think Jeff really embraced
that, that idea that, "Hey, if you have data, ultimately, you
>> One of the things that David
Shaw asked Jeff Bezos to do was to go and investigate new
businesses, and in particular this new thing in the early
'90s called the World Wide Web.
(dial-up modem connecting)
>> We all know that a communications revolution is
underway in this country.
>> What is the internet?
>> It's sort of the mother of all networks.
>> It's information highways.
>> It's kind of like your remote
control to the world.
>> NARRATOR: Bezos was quick to
see the untapped potential of the new digital landscape and
was determined to get in on it.
>> I came across this startling
statistic that web usage was growing at 2,300% a year.
So, I decided I would try and find a business plan that made
sense in the context of that growth, and I picked books as
the first best product to sell online.
♪ ♪ Because books are incredibly
unusual in one respect, and that is that there are more
items in the book category than there are items in any other
category by far.
So, when you have that many
items, you can literally build a store online that couldn't exist
any other way.
>> NARRATOR: The store he was
imagining didn't exist, so he decided to build it himself.
♪ ♪ >> The reaction to Jeff's idea
to start selling books on the internet was pretty incredulous,
you know, from a lot of the people close to him.
His mom tried to convince him to just do it at night or over the
She didn't want to see him give
up his job.
>> Jeff called, and he told me
that he and MacKenzie were quitting their jobs, and they
were moving to Seattle and starting a company.
I said, "Great, well, what are you going to do?"
He said, "We're going to sell books."
I said, "Nice."
He said, "On the internet."
I said, "Oh.
Jeff, why will anybody buy
anything from you?"
And he said, "Well, we're going
to have more books than anybody else."
>> NARRATOR: One of the first names Bezos considered for his
new website was Relentless.com.
>> Why "Relentless?"
>> Relentless meant, "We move on no matter what."
He ultimately, obviously, decided that "Relentless" wasn't
quite the right fit.
Amazon, earth's largest river,
Amazon means gigantic.
>> In terms of relentlessness, stopping at
nothing, that's, is that an apt description of Jeff?
It's not that Jeff stops at
nothing, it's that when Jeff sets his mind on a goal that he
thinks he can achieve, he won't stop until he's proven wrong
or until he achieves it.
>> Jeff and MacKenzie had rented a house in Bellevue.
And then we moved to a small, second-floor office in the
south part of Seattle.
>> NARRATOR: Shel Kaphan was
Amazon employee number one, one of nine former Amazon insiders
who agreed to talk on camera.
>> What the company is now was
nowhere in my wildest imagination.
Nowhere, so, the fact that it could have the-the kind of
position in the world that it has now, I had no clue.
>> NARRATOR: In July 1995, Amazon.com went live.
>> It was an incredible novelty, it was tiny and obscure, and
it's very hard to imagine, but the entire universe that Amazon
now dominates did not exist.
>> Amazon.com, this virtual
shop claims to be the world's largest bookstore.
>> NARRATOR: It didn't take long for Bezos's vision to prove
>> What makes us different is
vast selection, convenience-- we deliver right to the desktop.
If our catalog were printed on paper, it would be the size of
seven New York City phonebooks.
>> NARRATOR: The company quickly outgrew the garage and soon had
more than 50 employees.
In 1996, James Marcus applied to
be number 55.
>> There was a very palpable
excitement in the air at this place, and of course at this
point Jeff Bezos was the first person to interview every
So I was ushered into his
He wanted to see how fast you
were on your feet.
He also always wanted to know
your S.A.T. scores.
>> He wanted to know
your S.A.T. scores?
>> Every time, yes.
>> How old were you at the time?
>> I was 36 or 37.
>> This is the original sign
that I made for Amazon.com.
Blue spray paint on white poster
>> Jeff wasn't a figure out of
folklore at that point, he was not the-the wealthiest man in
>> Here's my computer,
Amazon.com up on the screen.
"Hello, Jeff Bezos."
>> He was a small, nondescript, sandy-haired man sitting at a
desk with quite a large and eruptive laugh.
(laughing in multiple scenes) >> But he wasn't threatening, he
was a normal guy to a sort of amazing extent.
>> HAL 9000 hat, very important.
Hal and I share a birthday,
we're both born on January 12.
>> It belied, you know, an
enormous, Napoleonic ambition.
>> One of the people I really
like, Thomas Edison, here's a model of his original light
He's famous for saying, "One
percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration."
(laughs) It turns out ideas are the easy
part, execution is everything.
>> Domination was on Jeff's mind
from the beginning.
One of his sort of
second-in-command people said to me, "You have to understand
that Jeff wants to sell many more things than books.
And Jeff's idea is that in the near-distant future, you could
buy a kayak from Amazon.
And if, and after you brought
the kayak, you could figure out good places to kayak and buy
travel services from Amazon."
So, those ambitions were very
clear, and this was very early on.
But he was clearly thinking in those terms from the get-go.
>> How did that ring to you at the time?
>> A little bit exciting and a little bit nutty.
>> Amazon.com, very good website.
You should really try it.
>> If you signed on to work at a-a kind of futuristic
bookstore, and the guy who owned it was suddenly talking
about selling, you know, every object in the universe, you just
weren't sure how seriously to take it.
(Bezos laughing) (Bezos screaming playfully)
>> NARRATOR: Though his public image was often unserious...
>> That was awesome!
>> NARRATOR: Inside the company,
Bezos was a hard-charging manager relentlessly focused on
the principle that would make Amazon one of the most trusted
brands in the world: the customer always comes first.
>> This culture of customer obsession...
Obsessive focus on customer...
Obsesses over our customers...
Totally obsessing over the customer experience.
>> We used to call it customer ecstasy.
It means building, delivering, focusing on your customer.
And we did it, you know, in the very, very early days at every
>> NARRATOR: Jennifer Cast was
there in the early days and is one of six top Amazon executives
the company put forward to speak to us.
>> Customer obsession was our North Star.
And so, you know, it was a place where we knew we were a part of
something that was new, the internet.
There was an excitement that we were doing something that hadn't
been done before.
It was exhilarating.
We were all aligned around building for customers.
>> Hey, you guys.
(Bezos laughs) >> I've heard there was
an empty chair that would often be put at meetings.
>> Who was in the empty
>> Yeah, so that empty chair was
there to remind us all to understand the customer, have
empathy for the customer, understand the details of the
The customer isn't there, we
have to bring forward the voice of the customer.
(phone ringing) >> Thank you for calling
>> NARRATOR: And Bezos quickly
learned that in this new online world, he could understand
exactly how customers were behaving.
>> All orders do need to be placed online.
>> It was made clear from the beginning that data collection
was also one of Amazon's businesses.
All customer behavior that flowed through the site was
recorded and tracked.
And that itself was a valuable
>> Have you visited our website?
>> We could track how a customer navigated through the site.
So we could see what you looked at, we could also see what you
paused at, we could see what you put in your basket but didn't
order, we could see what you put in your basket and did order.
So that's when we started realizing, "Man, this is rich.
This is rich, rich, rich."
And so we've used it for
>> What do you do with that
>> That's the data that allows
us to predict, or try to predict, what books that you
would like that you haven't discovered yet.
>> NARRATOR: Bezos treated the site as a laboratory, where he
studied customer behavior along with his chief scientist Andreas
>> I was shocked to see how
predictable people are.
If you take the time of the day
into account, if you take maybe when they were last on the site,
how long they were on the site last time, how long they're on
the site today, you know what they're falling for.
>> Whoever owns, collects, the data, if you have access to it
and rights to data, then you are king.
It's all about the data.
>> One of the most fascinating kind of tools we have at our
disposal is the ability to do active experiments.
It's, you know, it's kind of this huge laboratory.
>> We did not think about it as exploiting, we thought about
helping people make better decisions.
>> I was starting to feel that that was less respectful toward
the consumer, who was, after all, supposed to be our god, the
person whose ecstasy was our very reason for being.
And it was closer to getting a cow into a milking stall and
extracting as many pails as possible during each visit.
And that felt a little more unsavory.
But that was the business of Amazon.
>> Amazon has added 880,000 new customers...
>> NARRATOR: While Bezos was using these insights to bring
more and more customers into Amazon...
>> The number of customers who use the website has increased
>> NARRATOR: There was one thing
he hadn't done yet.
>> The company's never made a
>> That's right.
>> Now, why... how does that... why... how does that...?
>> It seems like a new math, doesn't it?
>> It does.
>> NARRATOR: Bezos would spend
years losing money trying to beat his competition, and he
convinced investors to go along with it.
>> One of Jeff Bezos' greatest accomplishments has been his
ability to get Wall Street to accept the fact the first
20-some years, Amazon wasn't going to be very profitable.
And that's okay because they're building infrastructure that
will create huge opportunities for them to gain scale and gain
customers and gain business.
>> NARRATOR: He spelled it out
in a letter to shareholders after the company first went
public: "It's all about the long term," he wrote, rather
than short-term profits or Wall Street reactions.
>> He essentially says, "We are going to forego profits
in order to take market share.
That our strategy is to lose
money, which enables us then to put other companies out of
business who can't afford to lose money."
>> NARRATOR: That strategy wouldn't sit well with critics
like Stacy Mitchell, who advocates for small businesses.
>> In essence, at the very beginning, he's signaling to
shareholders, "I have a strategy to monopolize the market, and
that's going to reward you, but it's going to be far down the
road, and will you come along with me?"
And they said yes.
>> NARRATOR: Investors also
recognized Bezos' essential advantage over physical stores,
which had to charge their customers sales tax, unlike
>> So, not collecting sales tax
gave Amazon a big leg up over bricks and mortar retailers.
And that was central to their early strategy of gaining
market share as quickly as they can.
>> What booksellers were saying to me is that, "This is driving
my customers to Amazon.
They'll come into the store,
they'll browse, they find what they want, but then they'll go
buy it on Amazon, because they can save that sales tax."
>> So it was a very irksome, early, big issue for the book
vendors, first of all, they were kind of the canaries in the
mine, so to speak, and then lots of other retailers.
♪ ♪ >> Amazon has added thousands of
warehouse workers and three million square feet of space.
>> NARRATOR: Amazon's sales-tax advantage would be central to
its success as it expanded beyond books, into other
>> And we have a fantastic
selection of things you can look at.
Electronics and then of course toys.
Yeah, thank you, here is, we've got have the friendly Pokémon.
This is more than ten times the selection that you will find in
a typical, physical world software store.
>> NARRATOR: But Bezos was still a long way from his goal of
Amazon being the place where you could buy everything online.
(drills whirring) And he saw a way to achieve it.
>> Amazon could soon become the Walmart of the internet.
>> NARRATOR: There were thousands of businesses eager to
Bezos offered them a way to do
>> Amazon is transforming itself
from an online bookstore to an online mall.
>> NARRATOR: He transformed Amazon into a retail platform
where anyone could sell their goods to his customers and
invited thousands of other businesses to be a part of it.
>> It's the easiest place for anybody, small or large, who
wants to set up shop online to sell online, because they can
access our 12 million-plus customers.
Anybody, all comers.
>> We're talking about hundreds
of thousands of companies with literally tens of millions of
>> NARRATOR: Name-brand stores
started selling on Bezos's platform, and so did tens of
thousands of small entrepreneurs.
>> Everyone knew Amazon.com.
The only people that knew
SuperDuperHoops.com were the ones that were searching to buy
a basketball hoop and saw our name on an advertisement.
To us it was really a no-brainer.
We knew that we would, you know, increase our sales.
First year we did 100,000, next year we did a million, we did
two million, four million, we were doubling every year in the
>> NARRATOR: It was great for
the companies-- and even greater for Jeff Bezos.
>> Amazon has become the most recognizable name in e-commerce.
>> NARRATOR: Not only would he take a cut of everything other
businesses sold, he'd also keep his own store on the platform,
competing against everyone else in the marketplace he owned and
>> He owns the Main Street.
He has the Main Street real estate.
Not just one building on the corner, the entire Main Street.
♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: How Amazon would
wield its power over the online marketplace would eventually
become a question for government regulators, but early on, there
The first to see them were book
>> Amazon took over a large
market share of the publishing industry very, very fast.
They were very quickly in a position to demand concessions.
You know, I think that was a moment where publishers started
to realize, "Oh, wait a minute, like, we... they're our partner,
but they now have the beginnings of a boot on our
>> NARRATOR: Inside the company,
they had launched a strategy that some called "the Gazelle
Project," because they'd heard Bezos wanted them to pursue
publishers the way a cheetah pursues a sickly gazelle.
>> Well, you don't go after the strongest.
It's like the cheetah.
The cheetah looks for the weak,
looks for the sick, looks for the small, that's what you go
So don't start with, you know,
number one publisher.
Start with number seven
publisher and then number six publisher, and by the time you
get to number three, two, and one, the noise has gone, gotten
back to them.
They're going to know this is
coming, and chances are you may be able to settle that without a
>> We were just this little
mom and pop publishing company, publishing poetry books and
>> NARRATOR: In the early 2000s,
the number of books Dennis Johnson was selling on Amazon
had been rising steadily.
Then one day, he got a phone
>> Our distributor called us up
to talk about our Amazon contract.
And he said, "I went out to dinner last night with Amazon,
it was like going out to dinner with the Godfather.
They want a kickback."
That's the word he used,
And he said they wanted four
percent more of our sales.
>> Was that unusual?
>> It was... in our experience, it was totally unprecedented,
>> NARRATOR: Randy Miller ran
the European book team and says he saw nothing wrong with
Amazon's tough tactics to challenge publishers on prices
and profit margins.
>> In order to bring them into
line, we would actually take them out of automated
merchandising, take their prices up to list price; we would put
references on the product page, their product page, saying, "You
want it cheaper, you want this book for, on this topic for a
way cheaper price?
And we'd send them to whoever we thought their worst competitor
That was how Amazon forced their
vendors to-to comply.
(stammering): But that's an
old Walmart trick, I mean, it wasn't like Amazon created that.
And it made, it made a difference.
And, you know, Jeff kind of got excited about it.
>> NARRATOR: When Dennis Johnson still refused to give in to
Amazon's terms, he says the buy button on all Melville House
books suddenly disappeared, making it impossible for
customers to purchase them on Amazon.
>> I mean, this is the company that referred to little
publishers like me as wounded gazelles, I believe?
That's how they think, that's how he thought from the
And we eventually had to pay
what at the time I called a bribe.
And our attitude toward Amazon was, you know, "Render unto
Caesar that which is Caesar's."
And then carry on as best as you
>> Jeff Bezos may say
that Amazon comes along and has given publishers like yourself
access to a huge distribution channel for your books.
Has Amazon been good for your business?
>> Well, absolutely they have.
Any bookseller that sells our
books is good for our business.
So, I'm not complaining that
Amazon is selling our books.
I'm just complaining of the way
that their tactics are hurting the industry I love.
>> NARRATOR: In addition to granting interviews, Amazon
responded to written questions.
Regarding Dennis Johnson's
characterizations, it told us, "Amazon disagrees with this
>> Were you
uncomfortable with that sort of ruthlessness ever?
>> Well, no, 'cause I was in retail-- I mean, people think
You know, I looked, and some
people at Amazon, "Wow, that's kind of mean," and I'm like,
"Oh, a retailer and a supplier having a disagreement?
Stop the presses!"
It happens all the time.
I mean, you know, look, you've got a finite margin, and
somebody's going to have to give.
And-and a lot of times Amazon wasn't the one giving.
>> Kindle is a purpose-built reading device.
>> NARRATOR: The tension between Amazon and book publishers would
ramp up even further with the unveiling of the Kindle, which
helped the industry transition to the digital age, but gave
Amazon more power to set prices lower.
>> And new releases are only $9.99.
>> NARRATOR: Around that time, Barry Lynn, an advocate for
broad antitrust enforcement, was growing increasingly concerned
by what he was hearing from publishers.
>> If the door was open, the publisher would say, "Hey, you
know, Amazon, they're just a terrific customer, they're our
They buy the most books, they
sell the most books.
We love them."
Then you close the door, and they say, "Amazon is destroying
our business model, they're destroying our business, they
have way too much power, we must do something about them."
>> NARRATOR: Lynn wanted publishers to speak up
publicly and thought federal antitrust regulators might
investigate whether Amazon was a monopoly, illegally abusing its
market dominance in anticompetitive ways.
>> And they'd say, "No way, I'm not going to talk about Amazon
I'm not talking about them on
They will take retribution
>> To which you
>> "Well, that's why we have to
do something about it."
>> NARRATOR: Jennifer Cast ran
Amazon's books division in its formative years.
>> We've had a difficult time in some ways getting
publishers to talk to us on camera about Amazon.
In part, it seems the reason is that they're afraid.
How do you react to that, that publishers find it
uncomfortable to talk about Amazon publicly?
>> I don't know, I mean, I-I haven't seen that.
>> I haven't been in your shoes.
I'm sure they have...
I mean, if you're saying that they-they
don't talk negatively about us, I mean, I know they have a lot
of good things to say about us.
Um, you know, I-I don't know why
they wouldn't speak their minds.
We certainly value speaking our
>> There is this
well-known anecdote about cheetahs and gazelles, this
Do you know about that?
>> I don't.
>> We've talked to
former Amazonians about it, where Jeff had said, "We should
basically try to negotiate with book publishers and try to get
better terms and treat the smaller publishers as a cheetah
would go after a wounded gazelle."
>> I didn't hear the cheetah and gazelle example, but what we
were looking for was people that were willing to move away from
the old model of bricks and mortar to a new model, which
was, you know, a-a virtual store that had many different types of
opportunities to present their books to customers.
>> I want to talk a little bit about how we think about
innovation at Amazon.com.
>> NARRATOR: Amazon would begin
to accumulate even more power in 2005, when Bezos quietly rolled
out a revolutionary new program: Amazon Prime.
>> Now they have something called the Prime shipping
>> Amazon Prime-- we only
launched this a week ago-- you pay $79 a year, and you get
two-day shipping for free.
>> NARRATOR: It was a risky bet,
and it paid off.
>> The lynchpin, or the glue, if
you will, and probably the seminal moment in Amazon's
business history, was the introduction of what has become
the most successful membership program in history, and that's
>> Many of you in this audience
will already be Amazon Prime members, bless you.
This is very much appreciated.
>> It changes the way you shop.
>> NARRATOR: Eventually more than 150 million people would
sign up for the free shipping-- a tremendous expense for Amazon.
But to Bezos, it was worth it.
>> The Prime program at Amazon
is one of the most important drivers of Amazon's growth.
When you go on and look to buy a product, and it's available in
two days, delivered to your door anywhere in the country, that
Amazon Prime program becomes a mechanism that keeps bringing
you back as a customer to keep buying and keep searching for
new products on Amazon.
>> NARRATOR: Two-day delivery
anywhere in the country was a big promise for a company that,
at the time, had less than ten warehouses.
So Bezos went on a building spree.
♪ ♪ Across the country Amazon
warehouses began to spring up, filled with millions of
products being sold on Bezos's platform.
He'd call them fulfillment centers, and they'd create
hundreds of thousands of jobs in places hard hit by the Great
>> Ten percent of Pennsylvania
>> Job market is in complete
>> NARRATOR: Like Allentown,
>> At that time, it was
tremendous news that an employer was coming and actually opening
a facility and hiring people, versus, you know, gutting half
>> NARRATOR: Spencer Soper was a
business reporter for the "Allentown Morning Call" when
Amazon opened in the area in 2010.
He began hearing stories about working in the warehouse.
>> People are basically in this big, sprawling warehouse that's
stocked with goods in very random fashion.
And they have scanners that tell them which things to get.
And people are walking maybe ten, 15 miles a day.
So people just kind of crisscrossing this big warehouse
all day long.
>> NARRATOR: As workers told him
about the punishing pace to meet the daily quota of packages, and
the intense heat, Soper and his colleagues started to
>> People really felt like
Amazon was playing fast and loose with their, with their
>> NARRATOR: Soper discovered
there had been numerous complaints to authorities at the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA.
>> They actually had a complaint from an emergency-room doctor
who called their hotline one day saying, "Listen, you might want
to check out this Amazon place.
I've had, like, people parading
through my emergency room to be treated for heat stress."
There was a security guard who worked in the facility who sent
a complaint to OSHA saying that he saw pregnant women suffering
heat stress in-in the facility.
And so there's just, like, these
red flags right and left.
>> NARRATOR: After an
investigation, OSHA said Amazon needed to keep the temperatures
in the warehouses lower.
In a statement at the time, the
company said it installed new industrial air conditioning and
pledged that worker safety was its number-one priority.
>> Amazon is shrewd businesspeople, shrewd
businesspeople know when they have leverage.
And when you're the only shop hiring people in town, you can
push them a lot harder than you can when-when they've got
>> NARRATOR: Over the following
years, Amazon would hire hundreds of thousands of
workers and become one of the largest jobs
creators in the country.
At the fulfillment centers,
Bezos experimented with new techniques and technologies to
>> Willingness to experiment is
the key to be able to do new things.
So we do, you know, hundreds of experiments every day in our
fulfillment centers to get a little bit better.
Kind of like incremental invention.
♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: When a company
called Kiva perfected a warehouse robot, Amazon bought
the whole company.
>> Amazon has acquired Kiva
They make shipping robots.
>> NARRATOR: It helped transform the work environment in Amazon's
>> When I first showed up at
Amazon in 1999, I led our Global Operations team.
>> NARRATOR: Jeff Wilke created the Amazon fulfillment center
system and is one of two C.E.O.s under Jeff Bezos.
>> As we've added 200,000 robots, in that same time frame
since 2012 we've added 300,000 people in our fulfillment
So what happens is the robots
change the work, so they allow us... people don't have to walk
as far, which is a complaint that we've heard in the past.
They make the job safer, they make them higher quality,
because we present a smaller set of options to-to employees.
And that's all good for customers, and it's good for
>> NARRATOR: But at the same
time, complaints have persisted.
>> People who've worked in
warehouses for decades say, "This is different.
This is not the same."
We're here today because we
want to make sure that these workers know about their rights
in the workplace, especially around heat.
>> NARRATOR: Sheheryar Kaoosji is an advocate for warehouse
workers in the San Bernardino, California, area-- an Amazon
hub, with ten fulfillment centers and over 15,000
>> Because of the way that
Amazon operates, because of the way that they set their rates
for productivity, it's a lot harder work physically but also
>> NARRATOR: We sat down with a
group in San Bernardino who'd recently worked at Amazon.
>> When they first got here, I thought it was exciting.
Like, for me, I was thinking maybe I could find a-a place
where, you know, I'm going to set roots of a good job, you
know, move up in-in the place.
But after being there for a
while, I was like, "There's no way."
>> It's like, "Okay, this is where I can probably make a
But once you worked there for a
certain amount of time, it's just like, it's just not
realistic, how they expect you to work.
>> NARRATOR: Like dozens of workers we've spoken to around
the country, they say they've struggled to keep up with the
rate Amazon expected them to pick and pack items.
>> How realistic are the rates that they're giving you?
I mean, what's...
>> Not realistic at all.
>> Not-not realistic?
There's absolutely no way to make rate, you know, you got to
find little ways to-to cheat it, because once you hit rate,
by the end of the week, they raised it, they bump it up
Because they start seeing, "Hey,
people can hit those rates, can hit those numbers, hey,
let's push them a little harder."
Every week it seemed like it was going up.
♪ ♪ >> You have security cameras
right behind you at all times, that are looking at you
And if you don't meet standards
or the rates, you're out the door, you're just disposable.
>> Every worker has a scanner at all times that basically track
exactly where you're at.
>> And they have a little blue
line at the bottom of the screen, and it has, like, how
many seconds that you have to have it done by the time it hits
zero, and it puts you into panic mode.
>> And pretty much you can't talk to people, you can't be in
the same aisle as them, you just constantly have to sit
there scanning like a robot all day long.
If they catch you not scanning, you get a write-up.
>> And what they're doing is they're producing this mass of
data that they are using to be able to analyze the entire
>> We're not treated as human
beings, we're not even treated as robots.
We're treated as part of the data stream.
>> It's the incentive at any warehouse, on any assembly
line, to get the most out of any worker.
>> To make rates, to-to
be as efficient as possible, to be as productive as possible.
So, I don't see exactly what's different about Amazon as
opposed to any other warehouse.
>> Amazon is the cutting edge.
Other warehouses are starting to adopt these technologies, other
companies are definitely interested in doing what Amazon
Data collection could become
basically the standard for all workers, and that there's...
you're never good enough, you're never able to keep up.
♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: Amazon told us work
rates are not based on individual employee's
performance, and that the scanning devices workers use are
not for tracking people but inventory-- a common practice in
the warehouse industry.
>> We've talked to
workers around the country, both current and former workers.
They've described the pace of work as being really grueling.
In the early thinking about rates and how far you could
push human beings in terms of their productivity, what was the
thinking about that?
>> Well, obviously if the rates
are too high, you're not going to have people showing up for
So, we have 600,000 people at
the company, most of them are in the fulfillment centers, and
they-they come to work every day, they stay for years.
These are considered great jobs in the hundreds of communities
where we have fulfillment centers all over the world,
and in the U.S. we have, almost every state has an operation in
it, and people come to work because these are great jobs.
They're safe, we pay double the minimum wage, the national
minimum wage, we have terrific benefits.
The benefits for the folks that work on the floor are the same
benefits that my family has access to-- our family leave is
like 20 weeks.
So, the rates are set so that we
can accomplish what we need to, which is get orders to customers
in a-a reasonable time and in a high-quality way, and that
creates a workplace that people want to come back to, and they
>> NARRATOR: Amazon wouldn't
tell us how long fulfillment-center workers stay
on the job or how often they're injured.
But workers we spoke to say the rates are higher than other
warehouses-- and that the company rebuffs attempts to
>> We do not believe unions are
in the best interest of our customers, our shareholders, or
most importantly, our associates.
>> NARRATOR: This is a clip from a video the company says it
used in the past to teach managers about employees'
rights and labor laws.
>> The most obvious signs would
include use of words associated with unions or union-led
movements like "living wage" or "steward."
>> Early on, Amazon took a position to basically be
Why was that decision made?
>> I don't think we made the decision to be anti-union.
We just feel that all of the things that-that unions
would-would want to-to get us to do, we've already done.
>> What-what about setting rate, though?
Do you not see that there's a little bit more leverage in the
hands of management in this scenario than there would be in
a unionized environment?
>> I don't know, it's hard to
speculate on that, but-but I do think that we have the
obligation to set rates that are, again, going to encourage
people to seek these jobs and deliver for customers, you know,
what we've promised.
>> What would you say to
someone, though, who's, who's worked in-in your fulfillment
centers that feels as though there's been... that-that humans
are increasingly being treated like robots?
'Cause it's something that we've actually heard, and I don't
sense it's hyperbole.
>> Well, that's not the
experience that-that I had in setting it up or that I've
It's, it's certainly true
that-that these jobs are not for everybody, and there-there may
be people that don't want to do this kind of work.
>> NARRATOR: Amazon executives also stress the company has
become an industry leader in training its workforce for
>> We just announced a pledge
recently to spend $700 million to upskill, which is basically
creating career opportunities for people, 100,000 of our
We pay 95% of tuition to go
to-to college to get a skill that isn't about Amazon, that's
about creating options for the employees, and I would expect
those people to take advantage of that, work for us for a
couple of years and then go do something that they would much
rather do, and that's okay.
>> There will be people
that will hear what y'all are saying, and they'll say, "Well,
you signed up for physical labor, a job is a job, there
were benefits, and they are now investing $700 million to
do retraining for other types of jobs.
What's the real grievance?
What is there to complain
>> I actually used to think that
way for a while whenever I, when I first started, whoever I heard
complaints from, I was like, "Well, it was in the job
description, and you signed up for it."
The part they don't talk about is the safety rules that you
have to ignore to make rate.
It's not just you go in, okay,
and you-you do your job, and that's it.
>> So, you're in, you're in a weird bind.
>> It's incredibly hard to meet rate while following all the
>> A complaint that
we've heard from workers in terms of the sort of automation
of their work as humans, some of them telling us that, yes, there
are high safety standards in these fulfillment centers, but
that in order to make rate, they're having to cheat the
standard a little bit.
>> Well, I would say that's not
So I, from the moment that I
arrived 20 years ago, I made it very clear to our operations
teams that we will not compromise the safety of our
employees to do anything else.
So, we have, we have a culture
that if-if we are asking people to do something that is, that
they have to do too fast to be safe, they can raise their hand
and say, "This isn't right," and-and we'll fix it.
(phone vibrates) >> NARRATOR: For years, Amazon
has put a happy face on its business and its workforce.
("Give a Little Bit" by Supertramp playing)
>> ♪ Give a little bit Give a little bit of your
♪ >> Even in Amazon's commercials,
the people are almost like shadows and silhouettes.
It's all about boxes, and there's just like happy boxes
singing and bumbling their way to your door, like, oh, no, no.
>> ♪ There's so much that we need.
>> They don't want you to even think about how they do this.
They just want you to be wowed and, "Oh, how'd this, how'd this
>> ♪ I'll give a little bit of
my love to you.
♪ >> They wanted people to just
think, "Whoa, magic!"
>> NARRATOR: And magic was a big part of Bezos' marketing
strategy, with an emphasis on the company's miraculous level
of innovation and growth.
>> We started Amazon Prime in
2005, but then something very extraordinary happened.
In 2011, the slope of that graph
changed-- a lot.
>> NARRATOR: As Amazon grew, he
wanted his top executives to think about the kind of company
it was becoming.
He wrote a memo titled,
A copy of it was obtained by
>> The memo is another example
of Jeff being very prescient about the future.
It's Jeff grappling with the idea that not all big companies
That there is something that we
get uncomfortable with when we talk about very big companies.
"Rudeness is not cool.
Defeating tiny guys is not cool.
Risk taking is cool.
Winning is cool.
Polite is cool.
Defeating bigger, unsympathetic
guys is cool.
Inventing is cool.
Explorers are cool.
Conquerors are not cool."
>> Some businesses, you can tell when you go in and have
meetings with them, they have a conqueror mentality.
And there's a big difference between being a conqueror and
being an explorer.
And I think in, you know, this
very inventive space that we're in, it pays to explore.
♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: But to some
watching Amazon's growth, the company was falling short of
that ideal, and taking steps to make sure nothing got in its
In 2013, Amazon was moving to create its own delivery system
and made a key decision: rather than hire its own drivers, it
built a network of independent businesses to deliver packages.
>> They weren't just going to dabble here and dabble there.
They were going to go and create a system that would rival
FedEx or UPS.
>> NARRATOR: ProPublica reporter
Patricia Callahan, in conjunction with Buzzfeed, has
investigated the system Amazon set up.
>> They figured out a way to get around regulation.
The cargo vans they choose are big enough to stuff with
hundreds of Amazon packages, but they're small enough that
they're not regulated by the federal government.
>> An 84-year-old woman struck and killed by an Amazon
>> A woman hit and killed in a
>> NARRATOR: ProPublica and
Buzzfeed found that drivers are under intense pressure to
>> After striking him, the
van maneuvered around Salinas and his dog.
>> NARRATOR: And they documented more than 60 crashes, including
13 deaths, since 2015.
>> An infant critically injured
in a car crash has died.
>> When it came time to figure
out who's responsible, Amazon would always say, "It's a
contractor, it's not our responsibility."
>> Now you've been able to find 13 deaths.
And that's over the course of several years.
Is that statistically significant given all of the
packages that they deliver in any day or any given year?
>> I don't pretend to claim that there's only 13 deaths and
that I found every single one.
I just found enough to show that
this is happening around the country.
With UPS, there's a record.
There's a federal record you can
look at how many serious injury and fatal accidents they have.
With Amazon, that doesn't exist.
No one knows the safety records
of all of Amazon’s contractors.
>> NARRATOR: Amazon disputed the
It would not release any data on
crashes involving its driver network but told us it had a
"better than average" safety record and that nothing is more
important to them than safety.
>> Any accident is one accident
too many, so just as we were focused on safety in the
fulfillment centers and product safety, we are... we set very
high standards with all of those partners for safe performance.
We have training videos for the third parties that work with us
to help them understand what we expect in terms of the drive, we
have mapping software that we use to help them find the right
Every one of our drivers is
required, including the third parties, are required to have
comprehensive insurance, including liability insurance,
so that if there is an accident that the person who's injured is
>> Amazon wants to get Prime
members their packages even faster...
>> NARRATOR: In the last year, Amazon announced a change to the
way it handles Prime deliveries.
Instead of delivering packages
in two days, they promised to do it in one.
>> Free next-day delivery all across the U.S....
>> It's impossible for me to imagine a world 20 years from
now where a customer comes up to me and says, "Jeff, I love
I just wish your prices were a
Or, "I love Amazon.
I just wish you delivered a little more slowly."
>> NARRATOR: At the same time the delivery network was being
set up, Amazon was also rapidly expanding its product offerings,
inviting more sellers onto the site.
(computer plays tune) Including those from China.
>> It basically makes it to where it's super-easy for these
companies, who are maybe not as careful with adhering to
the law, where they're able to just start a business up on
Amazon, import some stuff, sell it, cause some problems, and
>> NARRATOR: Rachel Greer worked
in product safety at Amazon, and worried that the site was being
flooded with untested and potentially unsafe products.
>> Are there proper warnings?
Has it been safety-tested for
If a child chews on it, will
the paint come off?
Is that paint leaded?
>> Most people would assume that there's a pretty
high safety standard on Amazon.
>> And that assumption would be
>> NARRATOR: She says that's
because Amazon, like other tech companies, takes the position
that it's not legally responsible if its customers are
harmed by products sold by third parties on the site.
>> If someone buys something that causes harm at Walmart or
at Target, a consumer can sue Walmart or Target.
>> Right, 'cause no one's forcing you, when you come
into Walmart, to enter the doors of Walmart.
They aren't making you sign away your rights.
>> But when do you sign that when you go on Amazon.com?
>> When you make your account.
When you accept the terms and
>> NARRATOR: People have been
challenging Amazon's terms and conditions in court.
Some have even been successful.
>> Ultimately, who's on the hook
when a customer buys a dangerous product on Amazon?
Who takes ultimate responsibility for that?
>> Well, in the rare case where that, where something like that
happens, if it's a third-party seller, the sale is by a
third-party seller, and it is the seller's responsibility to,
to sell a legitimate product to a customer, and then, when
Amazon is the retailer, and we sell a product to the, to a
customer, then it's our obligation to make sure that we
understand the manufacturer and the supply chain for that
product and its, and its safety.
>> But when the other
sellers are selling in your store, you're not responsible
for it ultimately, if they're selling your customer a
defective or dangerous product?
>> I think the way things work
in the U.S. is that the seller of record is the person who is
setting the price and who is purchasing the product, and for
things not sold by Amazon-- and it says on the detail page,
it'll tell you who the seller is-- it's the seller's
responsibility for those things, and for us, it's very clear.
It says Amazon.com whenever we sell it.
>> Do you audit your sellers in terms of whether
they're actually providing safe products to your customers?
>> We do...
You know, some of our sales...
So about, almost 60% of our sales are by third parties,
and those sales, some of them come directly from the third
party, so we're not involved at all.
>> But you take a cut.
I mean, it's on your
infrastructure, it goes through Amazon.com, so, I mean...
>> Well, it's on our infrastructure in terms of the
website and payments, but we're not...
>> And fees that, you know, you're taking a cut of the
>> Sure, sure, and we're
providing, you know, traffic that, that...
You know, it's kind of the way they think about marketing is
why they would pay that fee, but...
It's harder to, before an experience, inspect that, that
>> A South Carolina woman who
bought a hair dryer on Amazon said this happened.
>> Fire is coming out of the hair dryer.
>> NARRATOR: Amazon's approach has had consequences.
>> A hoverboard caused a fire that destroyed their home.
>> NARRATOR: Dangerous products were flagged by authorities in
>> ...found dozens of school
supplies that had high levels of toxic metals.
>> NARRATOR: And a recent report found thousands of banned,
unsafe, or mislabeled products.
>> I'm having a hard time
understanding something, which is that, that...
You know, Amazon's entire brand is about the customer, right?
>> That it's...
>> Oh, I reminded them of this over and over again.
>> You reminded them of what?
>> I said that no customer wants to buy an unsafe product.
No customer wants selection that harms their child.
No customer wants to buy something that burns down their
house because it looks cool and it's the latest, coolest thing.
>> Sitting here today, are you able to basically say
that the products that you sell on Amazon.com are safe?
>> What I can say is, we work really hard to make sure that
We've spent $400 million in the last year on systems that seek
out things that are not safe, and, you know, there are
millions of sellers and hundreds of millions of products, and
our job is to, as fast as we can, weed out the ones that
don't belong on our site.
We're going to have to be
vigilant as a retailer and as a technology company, and we are
definitely dedicated to, to protecting the safety of our
>> NARRATOR: We heard that
concern for the customer over and over in our interviews with
>> Customer trust in a company
like Amazon, it's sort of foundational.
>> Customer obsession is the first leadership principle, and
it, it's not a corporate slogan.
>> We try to stay really focused
>> Very focused on, on
delivering results for our customers.
>> Providing a great customer experience that customers want.
>> Delivering that, that customer delight.
>> NARRATOR: This commitment to the customer, and to keeping
prices low, had another benefit: it helped them avoid running
afoul of regulators who enforce the nation's antitrust laws.
>> It's important to understand sort of that there's two
fundamental philosophies of antitrust, of anti-monopoly law.
You know, there's the traditional philosophy, in which
you, you want to break up all potential concentrations of
power that you can.
But for the last 30 years,
there's been this change in how we do antitrust.
And this is the idea that the only purpose of antitrust should
be to drive prices lower, to serve the interest of the
>> NARRATOR: Lynn had been
urging regulators to take a more traditional approach and
examine whether the company was gaining market power in
exploitative ways: stifling fair competition, but keeping prices
low for consumers.
>> We live in a society
of consumers, though, and seemingly there is some net
benefit to all of us when prices are low.
So, what's wrong with that view of things?
>> It's obviously good for people to... for all people if
we can drive down prices, if we have lower-priced drugs, if we
have books that anybody could buy.
That's a good thing.
It's a good thing for society,
and it's a good thing for us as consumers.
But we're not only consumers, we're also citizens.
We're also producers.
We're also people who think and
who make things and who grow things, and we want to have
access to open markets.
>> NARRATOR: Once again, the
tension was most pronounced with book publishers.
Amazon was selling around 40% of all new books in America
and two-thirds of all electronic books, thanks to the success of
Then, one of the world's largest
publishers, Hachette, decided to push back.
Franklin Foer was one of its authors.
>> Hachette and Amazon set out to renegotiate their e-book
And Hachette said, "No, we don't
accept the terms of your contract."
And Amazon basically said, "To hell with you, Hachette.
We're going to stop delivering your books.
If somebody searches for a Hachette title, we're going to
redirect them to another publisher."
>> Amazon's battle with Hachette and the authors that Hachette
publishes is heating up.
>> NARRATOR: As Bezos's virtual
blockade dragged on for months.
>> A bitter, seven-month
>> NARRATOR: Thousands of
authors, including bestsellers like Douglas Preston, were
caught in the middle.
>> Some authors were losing 50%
to 90% of their sales from Amazon.
It was absolutely devastating to first-time authors.
It actually destroyed their careers.
>> Did you see your sales plummet?
>> I did, yes.
I saw my sales plummet
>> NARRATOR: In frustration,
Preston penned an open letter on behalf of all authors.
It was published in "The New York Times" with more than 900
>> We authors have loved Amazon.
We have enthusiastically supported it, and this is how
they treat us?
This is not right.
>> Amazon has been accused of doing everything from raising
prices to deliberately delaying shipments.
>> Is this what happens when Jeff Bezos decides to flex his
>> NARRATOR: While Hachette and
Amazon were at an impasse, Douglas Preston, Franklin Foer,
and other authors went to Washington, and asked the Obama
administration to open an investigation.
>> I went to the Justice Department and I went to the
Federal Trade Commission with the Authors Guild, and we tried
to explain to them why this power was so dangerous.
We pointed it out of all the ways in which Amazon was
bullying the publishing industry.
>> The Department of Justice listened to us.
And their answer was essentially this: "Amazon is one of the most
popular companies in the country.
(camera clicks) They have brought tremendous
services to consumers, and they've brought lower prices."
And that we hadn't given them any kind of reason to open an
>> NARRATOR: Eventually,
Hachette and Amazon would settle their dispute, with
Amazon allowing Hachette to set its own prices for e-books, but
offering it incentives to keep them low.
>> It's great to be here at Amazon.
(crowd cheering) >> NARRATOR: Amazon would thrive
during the Obama years, and eventually account for nearly
40% of all online commerce in the country.
>> Last year, during the busiest day of the Christmas rush,
customers around the world ordered more than 300 items from
Amazon every second.
>> NARRATOR: But the complaints
about its tactics would continue, with retailers of all
kinds concerned that Amazon had become the online-shopping
>> You've got to be on Amazon.
You have to be there, because that's where everyone is.
100 million Prime subscribers.
They are the de facto e-commerce channel in the United States,
period, end of list.
>> Amazon executives
have told us that there are many other options out there.
There is Walmart, there is Alibaba.
As a seller, you've got options.
>> I've heard that response from
Amazon executives before, and we did that, we were listed, we
listed all of our products on every other online marketplace.
But it's a testament to just how good Amazon is.
All of the others that were non-Amazon combined did about
ten percent of what we were doing on Amazon.
>> NARRATOR: Businesses big and small have been accumulating
complaints about Amazon's hold on them.
>> On Amazon, the customer belongs to Amazon-- it doesn't
belong to the third-party seller.
You're basically renting the Amazon customer.
>> NARRATOR: James Thomson used to recruit brands to come onto
Amazon and now advises them on how to do business with the
>> I represent brands today that
face a number of challenges with Amazon.
>> NARRATOR: Among those challenges, businesses say that
Amazon has access to their valuable data, which gives it an
They also complain about
increasingly higher fees to stay on the platform, and pressure to
use Amazon's warehouses and shipping services.
We spoke to numerous name-brand companies, but none would share
its grievances on camera.
>> My account was suspended.
>> NARRATOR: Some small businesspeople have been
talking about their experiences-- good and bad--
>> When you're selling on
Amazon, you're playing in someone else's playground.
>> Who gets placed where, whether or not your product
shows up in the search results...
>> They suspended my account without warning.
>> These are all things that are governed by Amazon's rules.
And if there's a dispute within that arena, if you feel you are
mistreated, you know, the judge and jury is Amazon.
>> They don't care, they'll just kill your account like that or
>> There are all sorts of crazy
stories about why people get their accounts shut down on
And it could take a week, it
could take months, it could be never before you're back online
Amazon has the upper hand and
the ability to basically take your business away from you at
any given moment.
>> Selling on Amazon, take one.
>> NARRATOR: Amazon said third-party sellers account for
more than half of everything sold on the site.
>> I sell mini-longboard skateboards.
>> I sell mineral water.
This is what I do.
>> NARRATOR: And it's committed to its sellers'
success-- proactively contacting them when their accounts are at
risk of suspension and offering an appeals process to resolve
>> You already have great
>> NARRATOR: But in the eyes of some businesses, Amazon has
essentially become like the railroads at the turn of the
last century that controlled the flow of commerce across the
>> Start selling today.
>> Do you see yourself as being kind of like the rails
for e-commerce, that sellers bring their goods to market
on your rails, through your marketplace?
>> I don't think of it that way, and here's why: the, the vast
majority of stuff that's...
Well, all of the stuff that's
sold is manufactured, right?
So it's manufactured, meaning
there are brands and factories that produce stuff and then sell
We're one percent of the retail
sales in the world, about.
>> Well, you are the
biggest marketplace online, right?
>> No, so, again, I, I don't...
The idea that there's an online,
distinct for brands to sell their stuff and distinct from
physical, just doesn't make sense to me, and we're far from
the largest retailer.
So, I, I describe this as
retail, and we're competing against Walmart and Target and
Costco and Carrefour and Alibaba and Tmall and all kinds of folks
who are, are now selling both physical stores and online.
>> NARRATOR: In addition to pointing to other large
retailers, inside the company employees have been
schooled in how to talk about its size and power.
>> When I worked at Amazon, we had training specifically on the
use of terms like "monopoly."
We were not allowed to use a
term like "market share."
Amazon has what's known as
"market segment share."
What is market segment?
What is market segment share?
I don't know, but I know that
the lawyers at Amazon feel those terms are, are much safer than
using terms like market share.
>> So market share was
something they were really concerned about.
>> Clearly somebody with the necessary legal training or PR
training recognized that Amazon was growing very quickly, and
when we were asked to use the term "market segment" and
"market segment share," in essence it's a polite way of
saying, "I'm not going to talk to you about how big we are."
>> NARRATOR: Since leaving Amazon 20 years ago, Shel
Kaphan has been watching the company with increasing
concern, and he's speaking about it for the first time.
>> I think that the characterization of Amazon as
being a ruthless competitor is true, and under the flag of
customer obsession, they can do a lot of things which might not
be good for people who aren't their customers.
>> I know you're not a legal scholar, but are you
basically concerned that Amazon is a monopoly?
>> I'm, I'm concerned that it has that type of power.
I think it, you know, whether you technically can call it a
monopoly or not, I don't know.
>> NARRATOR: That question has continued to loom over Amazon.
>> I think that Amazon is looking out, and the existential
threat that they may face is going to be from government.
It's whether or not policymakers are going to step
in and intervene and say, "You have too much power."
>> NARRATOR: For years, Bezos has been ramping up Amazon's
profile in Washington.
>> Amazon has been lobbying the
F.A.A. to lift...
>> Trying to cozy up to
politicians, so that they will give him the biggest tax breaks
>> NARRATOR: Spending millions a
year on lobbying.
>> Amazon lobbied more
government entities than any other tech company.
>> NARRATOR: And hiring as its spokesman the former White House
press secretary Jay Carney.
>> You've got an army of
lobbyists, many of whom have revolved in and out of
government, including yourself.
What are you hoping to get for
all that lobbying spend and all that influence?
>> 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.
And also, we can be a resource, an information provider to
policymakers and regulators.
It's not lobbying in the
traditional sense, in terms of trying to persuade somebody to
do something, it's just answering questions and, and
providing data and information.
>> NARRATOR: Bezos himself would
also become a presence in the capital, and eventually buy the
largest private residence in town.
>> Jeff Bezos never really showed much interest in
politics, but as he's cemented himself in the city, he's
started to acquire this physical presence.
He bought a mansion, then developed it into a place that
is explicitly designed to be social.
>> It has a big ballroom, I mean, it is designed to create a
real presence for him in the nation's capital, where he can
hobnob with the people who make decisions.
>> NARRATOR: He'd even bought the hometown newspaper...
>> Jeff Bezos sent a thunderbolt through the media world this
>> NARRATOR: Spending a quarter
of a billion dollars to rescue the struggling "Washington
>> I do believe that democracy
dies in darkness.
I think that the capital city
of the United States of America needs a paper like "The
>> I got to say, you know, full
credit to him, he hasn't intervened in any of the
coverage of the paper.
And he's invested in the paper.
Every dollar of profit that the paper makes is plowed back into
making it a better paper.
>> Bezos allowed the "Post" to
hire, to restock its newsroom, he reversed what had been an
atmosphere of sort of decline.
I'd say "The Washington Post"
has really flourished under, under Bezos's ownership.
>> Let's cut this digital ribbon.
>> NARRATOR: At the time, critics saw a more cynical
>> Perhaps he's buying "The
Washington Post" to buy some sort of protection.
>> This deal could give him more
influence over politics.
>> Nobody hangs out in
Washington, DC, just to go to the free museums.
You buy a home in Washington, you buy a newspaper in
Washington, because it is the most influential city in the
world, and you want to lay your hands on that power.
♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: Bezos saw a
business opportunity there, as well.
The Obama administration planned to modernize the federal
government by embracing cloud computing.
Bezos had been quietly building a revolutionary cloud computing
He called it Amazon Web
>> It's basically computing
power in the cloud, but really it's Amazon's server farms
around the world that give people access to the kind of
technology services they need.
>> NARRATOR: To keep Amazon
running, Bezos had developed an unprecedented digital
He realized he could rent parts
of it out, not just to businesses, but also to the
>> Our infrastructure is built
to satisfy the security standards of the most
>> He's already got a huge edge
over the other big competitors in it.
So he wants to take that lead and capture the U.S. government.
>> NARRATOR: In 2013, he got a major boost when it was
revealed that Amazon Web Services had designed a
computing cloud for the C.I.A.
>> Amazon Web Services was
awarded a ten-year contract for $600 million.
>> Amazon is helping the C.I.A. build a secure cloud computer
>> The C.I.A. contract was
probably one of the best things that happened to Amazon's cloud
It lifted all doubts about the
security of the cloud and on whether you could trust Amazon
with your most precious data.
>> The message to the world is,
"If the C.I.A. trusts Amazon with its data, then maybe other
companies and government institutions can, as well."
>> NARRATOR: And they did.
>> Experience it with Expedia.
>> NARRATOR: A.W.S. became by far the world's leading
>> On CBS.
>> NARRATOR: Today, more than a million businesses, as well as
PBS, pay Amazon to store and manage their data.
>> NARRATOR: Bezos had again anticipated the next frontier in
technology, and had made himself indispensable to it.
>> What Jeff Bezos is after is really creating a company that
is the infrastructure, that owns the infrastructure for how
commerce is done.
And that's an incredibly
powerful place to be.
>> Please welcome chief executive officer of Amazon Web
Services Andy Jassy.
>> NARRATOR: Andy Jassy created
and runs A.W.S.
He credits the service with
making it easier to do business and sparking innovation
throughout the economy.
>> Look at what A.W.S. has
enabled with regard to change in our society.
Look at, Netflix changed the way that we consume digital content,
and Airbnb changed the way that we get accommodations, and Hola
and Grab and Lyft and Uber changed the way that we get
A.W.S. has enabled, has been a
part of enabling all these huge innovations and changes in
consumer experiences that have, have made life better for
>> And we're the cloud with the
most capabilities, the most innovation, the most customers.
>> NARRATOR: The division generated $35 billion in sales
>> Amazon Web Services.
>> Build On.
>> NARRATOR: The success of A.W.S. gave Bezos billions to
expand Amazon from a company that sells everything to a
company that does everything.
A top priority...
>> To boldly go where no man has gone before.
>> NARRATOR: ...was to create the sci-fi future he'd fallen in
love with as a child.
>> Gentlemen, this computer has
an auditory sensor.
It can, in effect, hear sounds.
>> NARRATOR: A world of artificial intelligence, in
which computers can think and make decisions for humans and
>> Jeff Bezos is a big fan
of "Star Trek."
He, he admits that that was on
his brain when he came up with the idea that Amazon should be
pursuing a little disk that you can bark commands into.
>> This is his "Beam me up,
Scotty" fantasy realized.
>> We started working on this
And our, our vision was, in the
long term, it would become the Star Trek computer.
>> When it first arrived from Amazon, I didn't know what it
>> NARRATOR: In 2014, Bezos's
talking computer, the Amazon Echo, hit the market.
>> Is it for me?
>> It's for everyone.
>> NARRATOR: The voice known as Alexa would embed Amazon deeper
into the lives of millions of people.
>> Alexa, what do you do?
>> I can play music, answer
questions, get the news and weather.
>> They call it a personal assistant, and just that term
implies this intimate connection that we then begin to develop
>> Alexa, sing the ABC song.
>> ♪ A, B, C, D, E, F...
♪ >> I believe that when we think
about the future and the future with artificial intelligence,
given where we currently are today, Alexa in some ways
represents the moment that it becomes seamlessly interwoven
with our lives.
>> Alexa, how many teaspoons are
in a tablespoon?
>> One tablespoon equals three
>> Oh, okay.
>> And the problem is that we forget that it's there.
>> Alexa, lights on.
>> NARRATOR: But Alexa is also listening-- and she's learning.
>> I'm answering questions and learning more.
>> NARRATOR: And that helps Amazon in the race to dominate
>> Every time you ask Alexa something, you're making the
Alexa algorithm better.
It's one of the reasons why
Amazon, having had a head start, is able to kind of preserve that
head start, because they've got the most data of anyone.
>> Alexa is one more way for Amazon to gather extremely
And this data collection is
extremely important to this business model.
It's extremely hard to do, and, you know, convincing people to
just deploy something like this in their home is a brilliant
>> NARRATOR: Dave Limp is
Amazon's head of devices.
>> How is it that you
convinced tens of millions of people to put what is
essentially a, a listening device in their homes?
>> Well, I, I would first disagree with the premise.
It doesn't, it's not a listening device.
The, the device in its core is...
It has a detector on it.
We call it internally a
And that detector is
listening-- not really listening-- it's detecting one
thing and one thing only, which is the word you've said that you
want to get the attention of that Echo.
>> NARRATOR: Once the device is awake and the blue light is on,
And last year, it was revealed
that Amazon employs thousands of people around the world to
listen and transcribe some of those recordings to help train
>> Do you think that you
did a good enough job of disclosing that to consumers?
That, that there are humans involved in listening to these
>> We, we try to articulate what
we're doing with our products as clearly as we can.
But if I could go back in time, and I could be more clear, and
the team could be more clear, on how we were using human beings
to annotate a small percentage of the data, I would, for sure.
What I would say, though, is that once we realized that
customers didn't clearly understand this, and within a
couple of days, we added an opt-out feature, so that
customers could turn off annotation if they, if they so
And then within a month or two
later, we allowed people to auto-delete data, which they
also asked for within that, within that time frame.
You know, we're not going to always be perfect, but when we
make mistakes, I think the key is that we correct them very
quickly on behalf of customers.
>> NARRATOR: But even one of the
founders of Amazon Web Services approaches his Alexa devices
>> When do you turn off
>> I turn off my Alexa when I
know for a fact that the conversation that I am going to
have, or, or whenever I just want to have a private moment.
I don't want certain conversations to be heard by
humans, conversations that I know for a fact are not things
that should not be shared, then I actually turn off those
particular listening devices.
>> We have had an incredible
The team has invented a lot on
behalf of customers, and I cannot wait to show you what we
>> NARRATOR: So far, Limp and
his team have made Alexa compatible with more than
>> Echo Frames allow you to get
done more around you and be more present in the everyday.
>> Now they're going to know more about you than anyone
They're trying to move as
intimately as possible and as quietly as possible into
>> Echo Loop is a smart ring,
packed with ways to stay on top of your day.
>> Amazon wants to have the entire environment essentially
>> Alexa, start my running
>> They want your walk in the
park, they want your run down the city street.
>> Nationwide's teamed up with Amazon to bring you the all-new
>> They want what you do in your
car, they want what you do in your home.
>> Amazon Smart Oven.
>> Alexa, bake for 30 minutes at
>> All these intimacies, all this insight is being
integrated, analyzed and integrated.
>> Alexa, alarm off.
>> That is an extraordinary kind
of power that has never before existed.
>> NARRATOR: After Alexa, Amazon would go on to spend nearly a
billion dollars to buy Ring...
>> Hey, bud, the police are on
>> NARRATOR: A doorbell camera
and app that Amazon describes as "the new neighborhood watch."
>> Hey, get away!
>> Get out of there!
>> NARRATOR: To promote it, Amazon has enlisted the help of
hundreds of local police departments.
>> It's a phenomenal tool to assist detectives.
>> NARRATOR: They give them access to a portal to request
footage and have given free cameras to hand out-- and
>> This system is so simple to
>> You have Amazon in
partnership with police departments, who have basically
turned policemen into, like, Avon salespeople for Amazon
They have given police
departments talking points and marketing materials to encourage
the installation of Ring by community residents.
None of this was public knowledge.
>> And this is Ring's first indoor cam.
It is... cute, is what I would say.
>> NARRATOR: Amazon has continued to expand the scope
Last fall, Dave Limp unveiled a
version designed to monitor the inside of people's homes.
Within weeks, hackers discovered a way to terrorize Ring
>> Did you see that
>> I did see that video.
>> What did you think of it?
>> I think that that is a industry problem.
It's not just about the, a Ring camera-- it could be about
It's about any device in that...
And we've already investigated that one to make sure what, what
the root cause was.
What we want to be able to do
in those cases is, we want to minimize them.
We'd like to detect them.
And we also want to build tools
that give them the ability so that doesn't... that, that makes
it harder for those kinds of attacks to happen.
There's a lot of bad people in this world.
>> Here's a device that you had described as cute and
seems harmless, and I'm just wondering whether you're being
straight with people about the attendant risks to your
customers that you are obsessed with, supposedly.
>> Well, it's not supposedly, we are obsessed with customers.
I, I would say that we are trying to build security
features at every level of the stack: operating systems,
authentication, fraud detection.
We offer things that customers
can turn on that make it even, make it even harder for those
attacks to happen.
>> Yo, what's up, how's your
>> Who is that?
>> What's going on, buddy?
What are you watching?
>> NARRATOR: There were a series of similar attacks across the
>> What's up, homie?
I still see you.
>> You hungry?
>> What's going on, my main man Shaq?
>> NARRATOR: And it's not just hackers.
Ring has fired some of its own employees for spying on
>> In George Orwell's
"1984," he describes a dystopia in which, "You had to live, you
did live from habit that became instinct in the assumption that
every sound you made was overheard."
And I wonder if you ever think about how easily this could
become dystopian to some degree?
>> Well, I don't want to live in
So, I do not want to invent the
technology that, or have my teams invent the technology that
would create that world.
And so... but I am an optimist.
I, I think if you take the, the absolute view of that, we
wouldn't invent anything.
>> We're increasingly
living in a world in which your products and your designs are
Do, can you see how it could be
concerning in some ways that we all can't opt out of that world
at this point?
>> Oh, sure, I can see why it
could be concerning to some customers.
Our job in building that technology is to build it in
such a way that it, that it takes into account for the
scenarios that you just talked about, as best as we possibly
You know, the, the reality of it
is, that world happened way before Ring or Alexa.
♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: That's something
that Bezos himself wrestled with 20 years ago.
>> I believe that privacy is going to be one of the prominent
issues of the 21st century.
The thing is, there are towns
now in the United States that have installed security cameras
on every corner, and their crime rates decreased by 80%,
but do you really want cameras on every corner?
There are very strange things that are going to happen over
the next 100 years with respect to technology that are going to
challenge us as a society to figure out how we want to deal
>> NARRATOR: Decades later,
Bezos would be at the vanguard of expanding the use of that
kind of technology.
>> Introducing Amazon
>> Rekognition allows you to
pass an image to us.
You can say, "Do these two faces
Which is incredibly useful for
applications in the security space.
You can imagine...
>> NARRATOR: After Amazon rolled
out a facial recognition tool, it marketed it to law
>> Recognize and track persons
of interest from a collection of tens of millions of faces.
>> NARRATOR: Police we've spoken to say it's a valuable tool to
identify suspects quickly.
>> ...appears to be a match, but
I'm gonna make sure I look at them all.
>> NARRATOR: And while Amazon has offered guidelines for how
it should be used, there are few laws governing the use of this
>> It returns anybody with
warrants that look like her.
>> NARRATOR: Civil liberties
advocates have raised concerns, as have computer scientists, who
worry Amazon has released the software before it's ready, and
that police are essentially field-testing it on the public
on behalf of the company.
>> The tools are not what I call
And we still do not understand
how well they work in the environments in which they'll be
That's where I see a danger.
>> NARRATOR: Anima Anandkumar was the principal scientist for
artificial intelligence at Amazon.
In her first interview about her concerns she told us she was
particularly alarmed by an M.I.T. study that found the
software prone to mistakes with darker-skinned faces.
Amazon has questioned the study's methodology.
>> As a researcher in A.I., I feel it's my personal
responsibility to educate the public of where A.I. truly is
Because they hear so much of
A.I. being hyped up, you know, it's supposed to be magical,
it's supposed to solve all the world's problems.
I see the potential in doing that, but at the same time we
need a reality check.
We need to ask, where is A.I.
What can it truly do well?
>> And when it comes to facial recognition, you don't
think it's ready for primetime.
>> I don't think face
recognition is ready for primetime in challenging
applications like law enforcement.
>> NARRATOR: Anandkumar and other scientists have asked
Amazon to stop selling Rekognition to law enforcement
because they say the system's accuracy is still in question,
and there are no clear regulations about how it's used.
We asked Andy Jassy about it.
>> I have a different view, and
We've had the facial
recognition technology out for use for over two-and-a-half
And in those two-and-a-half
years, we've never had any reported misuse of law
enforcement using the facial recognition technology and, you
know, I think a lot of societal good is already being done with
facial recognition technology.
Already, you've seen hundreds of
missing kids reunited with their parents, and hundreds of human
trafficking victims saved, and all kinds of security and
identity and education uses, so there's a lot of good that's
been done with it.
But I also understand that it
could be misused.
And I think at the end of the
day with any technology, whether you're talking about facial
recognition technology or anything else, the people that
use the technology have to be responsible for it, and if they
use it irresponsibly, they have to be held accountable.
>> There's been all sorts of problems with policing
in this country.
So why allow police departments
>> We believe that governments
and the organizations that are charged with keeping our
communities safe have to have access to the most
sophisticated, modern technology that exists.
We don't have a large number of police departments that are
using our facial recognition technology, and as I said,
we've never received any complaints of misuse.
Let's see if somehow they abuse the technology.
They haven't done that, and to assume that they're gonna do it
and therefore you shouldn't allow them to have access to the
most sophisticated technology out there, doesn't feel like the
right balance to me.
>> It's been difficult
to even know how many police departments are using the facial
recognition technology, and there's no public auditing to
know whether there are complaints about abuse.
How would the public ever know?
>> You know, again, I don't
think we know the total number of police departments that are
using facial recognition technology.
I mean, there's, you can use any number-- we have 165 services in
our technology infrastructure platform, and you can use them
in whatever conjunction, any combination that you want.
We know of some, and the vast majority of those that are using
it are using it according to the guidance that we've prescribed.
And when they're not, we have conversations, and if we find
that they're using it in some irresponsible way, we won't
allow them to use the service and the platform.
♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: Andy Jassy and Jeff
Bezos have said they want governments to hurry up and
regulate how law enforcement can use facial recognition.
But in the meantime, Amazon has forged ahead, and has even
discussed its services with Immigration and Customs
>> At Amazon Web Services...
>> NARRATOR: And the U.S. military.
>> ...partner community to deliver for our warfighters and
defense leaders for when it matters most.
>> NARRATOR: Bezos himself has made it clear that he sees
Amazon playing a critical role in national security, as well as
>> We are going to continue to
support the D.O.D., and I think we should.
And if big tech companies are gonna turn their back on the
U.S. Department of Defense, this country is gonna be in trouble.
>> NARRATOR: As Amazon has revolutionized one industry
after another, Jeff Bezos's reputation has grown to mythic
>> You've called what Jeff Bezos
has built a miracle.
>> Absolute miracle.
I wish I could give him a blood test or something so I could
pick it out, but...
>> You want to clone him?
>> No, I want a transfusion, actually.
>> Amazon is now worth $1 trillion...
>> NARRATOR: His every move moves the markets.
>> Amazon Advertising is just on fire.
>> NARRATOR: Starting a digital advertising business to rival
Facebook and Google.
>> Some breaking news on Whole
>> Holy cow.
>> Jim, I heard you gasp just now.
>> Holy cow, this is such a game-changer.
>> NARRATOR: Buying the grocery chain Whole Foods.
>> In a record-breaking deal, Amazon is buying Whole Foods for
>> The day the acquisition was
announced, the nation's largest grocery company lost billions of
dollars because Amazon acquired a company one-12th the size.
>> Everybody thinks Bezos is the smartest person in the world and
he's gonna come and crush me.
>> When Amazon announced the
acquisition of Pill Pack...
>> News of the deal sent
shockwaves through an industry...
>> The retail pharmacy sector shed billions of dollars.
>> Look at this story-- three titans of industry...
>> When Amazon was mentioned in a press release with Berkshire
Hathaway and JP Morgan saying they were looking at healthcare
costs-- no detail in what that meant...
>> Healthcare companies are panicked about Amazon's
forthcoming entry into the healthcare market.
>> On the opening bell the next morning, the healthcare
industry's largest players shed billions of dollars.
>> And insurance stocks are down after Amazon announced a
healthcare partnership with Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan
>> Bezos basically wants to own
the whole economy, right?
>> You think he will.
>> I kind of think he will.
I kinda think that in, like, ten
years Jeff Bezos owns every single thing there is.
>> So Amazon has these Darth Vader-like abilities to just
look at a sector and begin choking it of oxygen without
even touching it.
Amazon can begin beating
competitors without even competing.
>> You actually think that Amazon is having a negative
effect on competition in the innovation economy right now?
>> I think it's a mixed bag, I think that you could argue, and
there's evidence that they have inspired innovation in certain
But I think there's a lot of
small companies that aren't being formed, because if you go
in to try and raise money for an e-commerce company, it's,
"Well, how are we going to compete against Amazon?"
And I say, "Well, the answer can be summarized in one word:
>> All right, let's move some
>> Every single area that he
enters into, he manages to succeed in a fairly major way.
(crowd cheering) >> We've had another great Prime
>> We've never seen anything
like a company that is so integrated into the fabric of
existence, so, you know, at a certain point, it becomes
>> Amazon just yesterday said...
>> Bezos would even extend his reach into the heart of popular
>> Can you imagine Macy's
starting a media company?
We couldn't even imagine that.
But Amazon does it, and people take it seriously.
(explosion echoes) (people screaming)
>> NARRATOR: Amazon is investing billions in new shows and
>> NARRATOR: And on beefing up its streaming service, which
streams around four times as many movies as Netflix, Major
>> NARRATOR: And on beefing up its streaming service, which
streams four times as many movies as Netflix, Major
League Baseball, and PBS shows like this one.
(audience applauding) >> And the Golden Globe goes
Amazon Instant Video.
>> I want to thank Amazon, Jeff
>> To Amazon, my new best...
>> Bezos likes to joke about how, every time he wins a Golden
Globe... >> ...it helps us sell more
And it does that in a very
direct way, because when people... if you look at Prime
members, they, they buy more on Amazon than non-Prime members,
and one of the reasons they do that is, once they've paid their
annual fee, they're looking