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From Amazon to Ebay: the dark side of e-commerce giants

From Amazon to Ebay: the dark side of e-commerce giants

by Fabiana Aloisi | March 12, 2018

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AP Photo via Business Insider

I admit it. I'm a loyal Amazon customer, but then again who isn’t? It only takes a little: a credit card, a cell phone, or a computer - and then a simple click. And we have the world at our finger tips, without having to waste hours in stores or long lines, risking perhaps not even finding what we are looking for.

Amazon and the other web giants are changing the world

The e-commerce giants like Amazon, Alibaba, Ebay and, not least, Facebook – which just recently launched its marketplace – are revolutionizing the world and our buying habits.

Their web pages present themselves to us in a simple, comfortable, and convenient way, making us more and more used to the idea of their uniqueness and irreplaceability. But is all that glitters really gold? Behind such ease and simplicity is there a price that we will have to pay in the future? The question we should start asking is how these marketplaces are transforming the world and ourselves. Is there a dark side to these giants?

Just a few months ago, Jack Ma, founder and president of Alibaba, declared to an audience of entrepreneurs that the internet and artificial intelligence will provoke social upheavals with painful consequences for the world over the next 30 years. The spread of new technologies will have a disruptive effect on the economy and society, threatening all the old industrial sectors and traditional jobs. Let’s think only of the robots that will replace almost all manufacturing work, effectively cancelling millions of jobs all over the world in one fell swoop, with tragic consequences for families.

Privacy: a right to defend and protect

But if this aspect was already known and widely expected for years, another that we often underestimate is that related to our privacy. Amazon, Ebay, but also Google, Facebook and others, base their business on our personal data. Are we sure that it is good to let Facebook know our tastes, or is it advisable to let Google suggest which pizzeria to go to or which road to take?

It was the White House itself that launched a strong warning on this issue of Big Data a few years ago, asking for greater protection and transparency in the management of personal information of users by these companies. The Obama Administration’s report  pointed to the ocean of data collected by public and private companies that can be used improperly or for unlawful purposes.

At Family and Media we have already dealt with the question whether there exists anywhere a citizen’s right to control their own data circulating on the network, finding considerable diversity between Europe and the United States. At this stage the issue of how our data is used by web giants is still wide open, and it will be fundamental to tracking the future of human rights.

Marketplace: a danger for small shop owners

Returning to our marketplaces, we often forget that, preferring the online purchase to the traditional "offline" we do nothing more than render more powerful the groups that already have incalculable power and wealth and render small retailers, from the trusted booksellers to the grocery store near home, even poorer. Perhaps we should learn to balance our buying habits, remembering that there are other fundamental factors to consider beyond the wallet, convenience and speed.

Before our next purchase, we might think of the fact that Amazon in recent years has made several acquisitions, expanding its sphere of influence and achieving a dominant position in the market; last August it acquired the sixth largest supermarket chain of the United States, Whole Foods Market.

Furthermore, Amazon is using its third-party marketplace as a laboratory to spot new products to sell and exert more control over pricing.  Atlantic journalist Robinson Mayer points out: "In the past, the criticisms of Amazon were focused on the Marketplace feature, which allows small shops to sell their products on Amazon. Some merchants have accused Amazon of actually using Marketplace as a laboratory : after having collected data on the products that sell better, it introduces the market of competing products that cost less, and puts them up for sale on its site."

In short, our purchases are equivalent to choices, very important choices. Let’s try to think about what is more ethical and fair, not just what is more convenient.

Fabiana Aloisi writes for Family and Media, where this article was first published. It is republished here with permission of Family and Media.

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