Is Amazon a modern day monopoly? Yes – but not in the way many may think. The company's real power stems from Amazon Web Services (AWS) rather than its retailers Amazon.com and Whole Foods.
The larger goal of her project, she said, was not just to cut Amazon out of her life. Rather, Hill wanted to understand all of the invisible ways the public interacts with the multinational company. In order to do this, she worked with a technologist who built her a virtual private network (VPN) that prevented her devices from connecting to Amazon servers. The result? The journalist found it “impossible” to fully block the company as it controls more than 20 million Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. In contrast, Facebook operates only 120,000.
How did Amazon acquire so much web traffic? This gets into the corporation’s unseen hand. While most people associate Amazon with the retailer Amazon.com and Whole Foods – Amazon acquired Whole Foods in 2017 – the most profitable piece of the company is Amazon Web Services (AWS). Launched about a decade ago when the organization needed to build a platform to host its own data, it has grown exponentially in the time since.
Hill refers to AWS as the “backbone” of the Internet. Gizmodo’s websites are hosted by AWS. The “On Point” site relies on AWS. Most government sites dependent on AWS. Even Netflix, Amazon’s competitor for entertainment content, employs AWS. She was, therefore, unable to use vast parts of cyberspace during her study – this included all digital entertainment, including movies, TV, and music. In addition to Netflix, YouTube, Apple Music, Spotify, and Hulu all rely on AWS to deliver their content to users.
This was all revealing for me given I'm one of those who most associate Amazon with Amazon.com and Whole Foods. I order from the former regularly, and I enjoy the convenience of having virtually anything delivered to my home within two days (I'm an Amazon Prime subscriber). I have, however, felt some reservation lately when adding items to my shopping cart, as I’m constantly reminded by every and all media that founder, chairman, CEO, and president Jeff Bezos is the world’s wealthiest person. (“Bezos: Wallpapers His Penthouse With $100 Bills!!!”) My hesitation had to do with not wanting to put more money in his pocket. After learning of the power of AWS, however, I’m not sure forgoing my purchases of eye drops and snack bars will have much impact on Mr. B’s finances.
As for Hill’s experiment, I'm floored by her initiative. I wouldn’t want to put myself in her position and have to give up Netflix, YouTube, Apple Music, and the rest even if it was for a few weeks. I have vivid memories of life before these resources, and they've made my life vastly more enjoyable and entertaining. So, if Amazon has been inventive and enterprising enough to position itself as a go-between me and cute cat videos and old “Friends” episodes, then I reluctantly tip my hat to thee.
I'm Eli Natinsky and I'm a communication specialist. This blog explores my work and professional interests. I also delve into other topics, including media, marketing, pop culture, and technology.