Amazon Scam Artist

Big questions about Amazon's HQ2; teens vs Facebook's web-based curriculum; and more


  • This is civic tech: Our new Civic Tech Field Guide site is now up in beta, and co-curator Matt Stempeck explains here how to quickly add a listing to the more than 2,000 entities currently categorized.

  • Dana Chisnell, the co-founder of the Center for Civic Design, offers this primer on why US elections work the way they do, and how ballot design standards are supposed to work. Bonus link from her, on why we need more sustained attention to what works in civic tech.

  • The long-running Chi Hack Night, the hub for much of Chicago’s civic hacking community, is incorporating as an independent membership-driven, non-profit organization. Congrats!

  • Are you a “democracy entrepreneur”? Writing in the Boston Globe, Alan Khazei says “Democracy entrepreneurs use creative, innovative, and entrepreneurial techniques to make our civic life more participatory, inclusive, equitable, and just.”

  • Our friend Craig Newmark just announced a $5 million donation to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

  • Hanging out in Washington Square Park, Newmark chats with Matt Cutts, the administrator of the United States Digital Service, about his experience being a “nerd-in-residence” at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. As far as we know, the squirrel is not a plant.

  • Apply: The Startup in Residence project is looking for a few more applicants that can tackle challenges in San Jose, Fremont and southern Nevada.

  • Apply: GlobalHack is looking for nonprofits in the St. Louis area that need a specific tech need solved.

  • Apply: Kairos is looking to hire a program manager focused on developing the strategic digital skills and leadership growth of Kairos fellows.

  • Attend the Civic Tech Innovation Network’s open forum, November 22-23 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

  • Cutting down the Amazon: With the news that Amazon’s second headquarters competition is ending with the selection of New York and Washington DC, and the realization that these places aren’t getting a new HQ2 but just a routine expansion, criticism is rising. In The New York Times, state assemblyman Ron Kim and Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout argue that it should not get any subsidies, or that at a minimum before the deal is finalized the specific terms should be made public: “Despite the familiar promises, Amazon is not a good partner. Not for the cities it occupies, not for the merchants who depend on it, not for the workers it employs. The company does not seek partnership; it seeks control,” they write. “For every job Amazon may create today, hundreds of jobs at small businesses could be lost.”

  • Congressmember-Elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) tweets that her office has been getting calls all day from Queens residents concerned about the new Amazon move into their neighborhood, and asks if the company has promised to hire locally, whether the jobs it’s bringing will be high-wage, and noting that “Amazon is a billion-dollar company. The idea that it will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks at a time when our subway is crumbling and our communities need MORE investment, not less, is extremely concerning to residents here.”

  • Apart from New York and Washington, DC, 236 other cities tried to woo Amazon to build its second headquarters in their backyards, and as David Dayen writes for In These Times, the company “now has a treasure trove of non-public information about America’s future,” including data about plans for transportation, housing, education and workforce development. He writes, “If you knew a city was going to build a road in a particular place, you could make a lot of money buying up the real estate there. Imagine that on a national scale and you can see how Amazon will grow far wealthier from the data it collected than even the raw dollars extracted from HQ2’s big winners.”

  • Writing for Jacobin, Lester Spence points out that the city of Newark, working with New Jersey governor Chris Christie, had pieced together $7 billion in tax subsidies in its Amazon bid—a number that is more than ten times Newark’s annual budget, or roughly $100,000 for each of the 50,000 jobs Amazon had suggested would come with its new HQ. A different model of urban economic development is needed, he writes.

  • “Why the hell are U.S. cities spending tens of billions of dollars to steal jobs from one another in the first place?” asks Derek Thompson in The Atlantic.

  • Ring is an Amazon-owned smart doorbell company, and as Bea Bischoff reports for Medium, it has a creepy new mobile app called Neighbors that appears to be totally focused on getting people to collect video and post reports about supposed crime taking place in their neighborhoods. There’s really nothing that could go wrong with that, right? Bischoff notes that there is little evidence that neighborhood watch programs, even the more conventional kind, reduce crime, but “What is clear is that neighborhood watch is great at violating people’s civil rights, encouraging racial profiling, and annoying neighbors. And these problems are only poised to get worse as high-tech peer-to-peer surveillance increases.”

  • In a blow to independent businesses that refurbish and sell used Apple products, Amazon has struck a deal with Apple that will allow only authorized resellers of Apple products on the Amazon marketplace, Jason Koebler reports for Motherboard.

  • In The New Republic, David Dayen argues that Wisconsin governor Scott Walker‘s over-zealous pursuit of the Foxconn deal, wherein he promised the Taiwanese manufacturer billions in tax subsidies for a dubious number of new high-tech jobs, helped cause his bid for re-election to fail.

  • Life in Facebookistan: Teenagers at one Brooklyn high school, the Secondary School for Journalism, walked out en masse to protest their school’s adoption of “Summit Learning,” a web-based curriculum designed by Facebook engineers and backed by Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, reports Susan Edelman for The New York Post. The kids objected to being made to stare at screens for hours a day and for poor training of teachers on the program. Parents have also raised concerns about the data being collected. Late on Saturday, the city’s department of education said the school will drop the program.

  • NPR’s Weekend Edition host Scott Simon took Facebook to task for failing to protect the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar from genocide. You know you are in trouble when the nicest guy in radio scolds you.

  • Facebook says it takes its consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission to protect user privacy seriously, but as Nicholas Confessore, Michael LaForgia and Gabriel Dance report for The New York Times, it actually failed to carefully oversee the data-usage partnerships it had with companies like Microsoft and Research in Motion, and tried to hide that fact, until persistent questioning from Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) forced the issue open.

  • End times: Here’s a map of the United States made up of 1,000 songs that reference specific locations.