I’ve had an interesting week thanks to Amazon and—I think—it showcases what could be a huge problem with some of these new mega companies like Amazon. Relatively low-level employees gain incredible power and can do impressive damage on a whim. I think my experience also showcases some of the risk of blending consumer services and products with corporate services and products because you couldn’t get me to use AWS on a bet now—it would simply be too risky.
Let me explain.
My Amazon Nightmare
What happened was about two weeks ago I saw a series of charges pop up on a credit card I rarely use for Amazon purchases. I couldn’t reconcile the charges with my Amazon account and thinking someone had stolen my credit card I immediately notified Citibank, challenged the charges, and requested a new credit card. Now my thinking was that if these charges were somehow legitimate Amazon would contact me, help me reconcile them, and explain why they switched cards without my authorization and things would be good. Given that I’ve been with Amazon since 1998, am a founding Amazon Prime Member, have a ton of other Amazon services—and just spent around $10K on Amazon—I thought they’d treat me well. Oh, how wrong I was.
So, a little over a week later I wake up on Sunday morning and want to buy something. Mid process I’m kicked out of my account with a message that the account has been closed. At the same time all my Kindles, Echos, and Fire TVs deauthorize. I can’t access any of my paid-up services (Prime Movies, Prime Music, Kindle books), nor can I even look at my account information. I call Amazon customer support and they tell me they can’t access anything either and the only way I can now interact with the firm is via email or fax. (FAX really?!? The 1990s called and want their tech back).
I check my inbox and there is a note that says I have an account problem at the same time they shut off all my Amazon stuff and locked me out of services I’d already paid for. In this note, there was a demand for over $1,700 tied to a single order (which I later find out was a purchase of a $179 Echo Show—no idea how $179 became $1,700). There was no discussion of what that order was (I had to look it up once I regained access) and my requests to have someone help assure this was something I purchased got no response. So, I authorized the charge only to get another note asking for yet another $1,700+ for a series of items—which also provided no details—the following day.
By Tuesday, after authorizing the payment for these charges, I once again had access to my account and could see what was going on. There was no apology or help with reconciling the charges. My already purchased items were held hostage against charges that I couldn’t reconcile without access to my account and Amazon made no effort to show me that the charges were legitimate (As it turns out, the first $1,700+ was not).
During this time, they cancelled every purchase that was in transit and attempted to cancel the Christmas gifts to my wife without notice, among other things. These were all charges that went through to the authorized card. I didn’t really catch this until I noticed things that were supposed to have shown up didn’t. I think my days of exclusively doing Christmas shopping on Amazon are over.
Abuse Of Power
I’ve seen and had to clean up for things like this several times. While I was at IBM we had a tech that decided to pull the plug on a client because they didn’t want to pay for support, effectively putting that client out of business. As you can imagine that didn’t go well for that tech or IBM. Certainly, we all saw that poor guy get dragged off the United flight because they decided they wanted to put a United employee in his seat and that didn’t end well either. We’ve had Google techs harass Google Gmail users because they could, and we have example after example of executives and employees abusing their power to sexually exploit women of late.
In short, we are suddenly surrounded with power abuses. This suggests that we should have far more controls over mega-companies like Amazon because relatively low-level employees have excessive power to do harm as my case illustrates.
Now, imagine a likely future where your groceries, medications, access to your home and car, and even some of your critical utilities might be controlled by Amazon. If you do something they don’t like, you can’t get food, medications don’t show up, and you could be locked out of your home. In effect you become Amazon’s slave and that wouldn’t end well for any of us.
Wrapping Up: Why I Wouldn’t Use AWS
Netting this out, I no longer trust Amazon. They’ve showcased behavior that I find not only unacceptable in a vendor, but their reaction to my questioning charges on a generally unused credit card, suggest extortion which should be unacceptable with any vendor. Imagine if I ran my business on AWS and they had cut—for several days—my access to my own data, effectively shutting me down while making demands for payment for bogus invoices. I’d have to pay or go out of business and by the time you could get through the courts you’d likely be broke.
This also showcases the danger of having both consumer and business services under the same brand. One side screws up and it is likely to lose customers for both sides. Because of this I wouldn’t touch AWS with someone else’s 10-foot pole. A cautionary tail for firms wanting to do both under the same brand and those depending too much on one company.
My New Year’s resolution is to do a ton less business with Amazon.