Change at Amazon? Bezos moves over, Jassy steps up
Jeff Bezos at Amazon Spheres Grand Opening in Seattle via Seattle City Council on Flickr

Change at Amazon? Bezos moves over, Jassy steps up

Yesterday afternoon, I received at least 5 push notifications within moments of each other about urgent breaking news. Has COVID gotten under control in the US? Was Trump finally arrested for inciting insurrection? Did Jeff Bezos give his fortune over to ending poverty, hunger, homelessness?

No.

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, is “stepping down.” At least that’s how the media is putting it. Bezos is in fact transitioning to Executive Chair of the Amazon Board. I prefer to think of it as “stepping to the side” instead, as he’ll retain a significant amount of influence and control.

The new CEO will be Andy Jassy, who until now has headed up the Amazon Web Services division. While most people haven’t heard of AWS because you’re not buying it on amazon.com, CNBC calls it a “profit engine for its parent company.” 52% of Amazon’s revenue comes from AWS.

AWS is a suite of services that power a lot of the Internet. From web servers and databases to Internet of Things and beyond, the “cloud” that AWS creates is used by large and small companies. When you hear about multiple websites going down at the same time, it’s likely because of an AWS fault. (The US-East-1 server area is particularly unreliable, compared to the rest.)

What does Jassy bring?

For Amazon as a profit-seeking company, Jassy is clearly a good choice. He’s been with the company for 22 years and exists near the highest levels of the company and has made AWS extremely profitable.

Alfred Ng, writer for The Markup, posted a few interesting clips on Twitter yesterday featuring Andy Jassy from a PBS FRONTLINE documentary*.

Some choice quotes from Jassey are below, but it’s worth watching the full 16-minute interview from February 2020:

  • On ICE using AWS services:
    • Interviewer: “You’ve sought to empower Immigration and Customs Enforcement at a time when the UN has called the sit at the border a violation of human rights… I’m curious where you draw the lines on who you’ll do business with and who you won’t do business with.”
    • Jassy: “First, I don’t think we’ve sought to enforce or to enable Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. I don’t think we’ve said that they’re a customer”
    • Interviewer: “But you did seek their business, I believe”
    • Jassy: “No, no, not directly. I think that… we have always said, and we feel very strongly about this, it is unbelievably important for the safety of the country and the world for the US government to be able to have access to the most modern, sophisticated technology, which the cloud is and we believe AWS has the most capability in the cloud.”
  • On shutting off government access to services when abused:
    • Jassy: “We get a number of documented complaints of misuse of technology all the time… we get those types of complaints all the time, we haven’t had them about governments.”
    • Tech for the People: Amazon certainly has gotten complaints – even from its own employees.
  • On cops using law enforcement:
    • Interviewer: “We spoke to a former principal scientist at AWS who told us that she didn’t think facial recognition is appropriately battle-tested and ready for prime time, and that she, along with a number of other scientists, have called for Amazon to stop selling facial recognition to police departments until there can be an auditing system or some public oversight and appropriate legislation. Why is that not something that you’re doing?”
    • Jassy: “I would stay simply because the technology could be abused in some way doesn’t mean that you should ban it or condemn it or not use it.
    • Tech for the People: A few months later, Amazon did put a temporary hold on sales of its Rekognition software to police departments, thanks to public outcry and the movement for Black lives. Police departments still use services like Clearview AI.

There’s a lot more in the interview, but that’s a good start to give us an idea of who Jassy is and what his politics are: The politics of profit. Cozying up to the government and providing it with the best services he can in order to bring in more money.

Does Jassy bring change to Amazon? The answer is a clear no, unless you only care about the face. Bezos, by keeping Jassy as CEO of AWS and then choosing him as his successor, has embraced this drive to continue letting police and the rest of the state use their technologies to harm instead of help.

*Why don’t I embed YouTube videos or Tweets here? Because I respect your privacy and right to not be tracked. I’m working on a system to allow you to opt-in to seeing that content if you want, though.