Trump reportedly pushed USPS to double Amazon’s shipping rates

According to new reporting from The Washington Post, President trump personally pushed United States Postal Service head Megan Brennan to jack up shipping prices on Amazon and and other firms.

The story comes from unnamed sources, who suggest that, thus far, the Postmaster General has held out against pressure from the President. If enacted, the new pricing structure would likely cost the online retailer and others billions.  g

Amazon has been in Trump’s crosshairs from some time, of course. In late March, he took to Twitter to personally call out a “scam” he believed was costing the USPS “billions,” writing, “If the P.O. ‘increased its parcel rates, Amazon’s shipping costs would rise by $2.6 Billion.’ This Post Office scam must stop. Amazon must pay real costs (and taxes) now!”

Brennan has reportedly pushed back on the notion that deals with companies like Amazon have

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AWS adds more EC2 instance types with local NVMe storage

AWS is adding a new kind of virtual machine to its growing list of EC2 options. These new machines feature local NVMe storage, which offers significantly faster throughput than standard SSDs. These new so-called C5d instances join the existing lineup of compute-optimized C5 instances the service already offered. AWS cites high-performance computing workloads, real-time analytics, multiplayer gaming and video encoding as potential use cases for its regular C5 machines and with the addition of this faster storage option, chances are users who switch will see even better performance. Since the local storage is attached to the machine, it’ll also be terminated when the instance is stopped, so this is meant for storing intermediate files, not long-term storage. Both C5 and C5d instances share the same underlying platform, with 3.0 GHz Intel Xeon Platinum 8000 processors. The new instances are now available in a number of AWS’s U.S. regions,
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Amazon picks up Nazi-hunting series produced by Jordan Peele

Amazon has given a 10-episode, straight-to-series order to The Hunt, a show created by David Weil and executive produced by Get Out writer-director Jordan Peele. The series follows a group of Nazi hunters living in New York City in 1977, who discover a broader Nazi conspiracy. As with other contemporary stories about fighting Nazis, I’m sure this will have absolutely no resonance with our current politics and culture. Amazon is already the home of The Man in The High Castle, an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s alternate history novel in which the Nazis won World War II. Deadline reports that Sonar Entertainment (which is producing the series with Peel’s Monkeypaw Productions) was in talks with another network before Amazon jumped in. This is Amazon’s first series pickup since hiring NBC executive Jennifer Salke to take over Amazon Studios in February, following the departure of Roy Price amidst
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Food delivery’s untapped opportunity

Investors may have already placed their orders in the consumer food delivery space, but there’s still a missing recipe for solving the over $250 billion business-to-business foodservice distribution problem that’s begging for venture firms to put more cooks in the kitchen.  Stock prices for Sysco and US Foods, the two largest food distributors, are up by over 20% since last summer when Amazon bought Whole Foods. But, these companies haven’t made any material changes to their business model to counteract the threat of Amazon. I know a thing or two about the food services industry and the need for a B2B marketplace in an industry ripe with all of our favorite buzz words: fragmentation, last mile logistics and a lack of pricing transparency.

The business-to-business food
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Alexa developers get 8 free voices to use in skills, courtesy of Amazon Polly

Now Alexa’s voice apps don’t have to sound like Alexa. Amazon today is offering a way for developers to give their voice apps a unique character with the launch of eight free voices to use in skills, courtesy of the Amazon Polly service. The voices are only available in U.S. English, and include a mix of both male and female, according to Amazon Polly’s website. Amazon Polly was first introduced at Amazon’s re:Invent developer event in November 2016, and has been steadily ramping up its capabilities in the time since. The text-to-speech service today is capable of things like whispering, speech marks, using a timbre effect, and dynamic range compression – all which make the voices sound more natural. While the speech engine today supports a couple dozen languages, only the U.S. English voices are being offered to Alexa developers at this time. But their addition could make some
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Amazon Prime members now get 10% off sale items at Whole Foods, plus other weekly discounts

Amazon announced today it will begin offering exclusive discounts to Prime members who shop at Whole Foods — a move that’s been expected since Amazon acquired the grocer last year for $13.7 billion, and more recently shut down Whole Foods’ rewards program and digital coupons. Prime members, starting today, will be able to take 10 percent off Whole Foods’ hundreds of sale items, as well as receive other “weekly deep discounts” on best sellers, Amazon says. The savings are rolling out initially to the Whole Foods stores in Florida, but will expand to all U.S. Whole Foods Market and Whole Foods Market 365 stores this summer. Whole Foods currently has over 470 stores in the U.S., Canada and U.K. combined, but the majority – 463 – are in the U.S. Amazon has made fairly quick work of leveraging its investment in the brick-and-mortar grocery chain.
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Amazon’s cashier-less Go stores are coming to Chicago and San Francisco

Amazon is looking to open more of its cashier-less Go stores across the United States and it looks like San Francisco and Chicago will be among the next cities to get them, according to new job postings in those cities. In response to the postings, discovered by The Seattle Times, an Amazon spokesperson confirmed that stores were being planned for both of the cities, though they didn’t specify what timing looked like. There aren’t many details beyond the general job listings, but they do list a couple of management positions around these two sites. Earlier this week, the SF Chronicle reported that an Amazon Go store could be coming to SF’s heavily trafficked Union Square downtown area. Meanwhile, the company has a permit for what would be a much smaller 635-square-foot “Amazon store” inside Chicago’s Loop area. Amazon’s Go store is designed with the idea of getting consumers in
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Seattle passes new tax on large companies despite Amazon’s howls of protest

Seattle’s city council voted unanimously to approve a new tax on the largest employers in the city, despite strong opposition by Amazon and other affected companies. The tax, on companies with more than $20 million in receipts, will amount to about $275 per employee and is intended for use in improving conditions for the city’s homeless. The original proposal was nearly twice that, but was amended as a compromise measure after local businesses protested. Amazon was the most visible of them, making the dramatic public threat of suspending construction of one of its many skyscrapers in the city and repurposing another. While the idea that a company would simply abandon a multi-million-dollar investment halfway isn’t really credible, changes to its scheduling, budget and usage plan would certainly affect local contractors — which is why many of the latter showed up to oppose the tax on Amazon’s behalf. A heated
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AWS introduces 1-click Lambda functions app for IoT

When Amazon introduced AWS Lambda in 2015, the notion of serverless computing was relatively unknown. It enables developers to deliver software without having to manage a server to do it. Instead, Amazon manages it all and the underlying infrastructure only comes into play when an event triggers a requirement. Today, the company released an app in the iOS App Store called AWS IoT 1-Click to bring that notion a step further. The 1-click part of the name may be a bit optimistic, but the app is designed to give developers even quicker access to Lambda event triggers. These are designed specifically for simple single-purpose devices like a badge reader or a button. When you press the button, you could be connected to customer service or maintenance or whatever makes sense for the given scenario. One particularly good example from Amazon is the Dash Button. These are simple buttons that
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TiVo adds Alexa voice control to its DVRs

TiVo’s DVRs are getting Alexa support. The company is announcing its lineup of DVRs, including Series 4, 5, and 6 boxes, and the new TiVo BOLT VOX introduced last fall, will be gaining support for Amazon’s virtual assistant, Alexa, which will be able to do things like change the channel, skip commercials, jump back or forward, launch apps like Netflix, and more. The company is not the only third-party DVR maker to have added support for Alexa. Thanks to developer tools like the Video Skill API, other cable and satellite TV companies, streaming services, and content providers can now add voice control to their devices and apps, as well. For example, Dish last fall became the first U.S. pay TV provider to integrate with Alexa for hands-free TV. Others working with Amazon include DirecTV and TechCrunch’s parent (by way of Oath), Verizon. Amazon’s Video Skill API was updated
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Ring’s doorbell cam allowed video access after its password was changed

This is likely to be a bit of a black eye from Amazon, as the company looks to bolster its presence in the home security space. The Information reports that, until earlier this year, a security loophole allowed users to continue to view a feed from Ring’s doorbell camera even after its password was changed.

Ring, which was purchased by Amazon for $1 billion earlier this year, acknowledged that it patched the issue in January. The update arrived after a Miami man told the company that his ex had continued to watch the feed, after he had updated the password. Even so, the update doesn’t occur immediately, CEO Jamie Siminoff acknowledged, adding that kicking users off immediately would slow down the app, according to the site.

Ring was a centerpiece of a number of recent acquisitions for Amazon, allowing the company to expend delivery directly into customers’ homes and serving

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Cleveland offered $120 million in freebies lure Amazon to the city

A Cleveland.com article detailed the lengths the small midwestern city would go to lure Amazon’s in 50,000-person HQ2. In a document obtained by reporter Mark Naymik, we learn that Cleveland was ready to give over $120 million in free services to Amazon including considerably reduced fares on Cleveland-area trains and buses. The document, available here, focuses on the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA)’s ideas regarding the key component in many of Amazon’s decisions – transportation. Ohio has a budding but often tendentious connection to public transport. Cities like Columbus have no light rail while Cincinnati just installed a rudimentary system. Cleveland, for its part, has a solid if underused system already in place. That the city would offer discounts is not surprising. Cities were falling over themselves to gain what many would consider – including Amazon itself – a costly incursion on the city chosen. However, given
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Equity podcast: Robinhood raises, Flipkart exits and MoviePass is running out of cash

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-themed podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines. This week Matthew Lynley, Connie Loizos and myself were joined by Villi Iltchev, a partner at August Capital. It was good that we had a full crew on deck, as the news flew thick and varied this week. In honor of the news cycle, we took on as much of it as we could inside a single episode. And as we’re sure that you guessed, we had to talk about the Flipkart-Walmart deal first. The staggering transaction sees the American IRL commerce giant with a proven appetite for e-commerce players bring the India unicorn into its fold. This is the second multi-billion-dollar startup deal for Walmart in recent memory. (Jet.com was the first unicorn to find new nest in the Walton’s rafters.) Amazon, naturally, was the loser in
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The many twists and turns of hardware

Note: This is the final article in a three-part series on valuation thoughts for common sectors of venture-capital investment. The first article, which attempts to make sense of the SaaS revenue multiple, can be found here; the second, on public marketplaces can be found here.

Over the past year, the VC-backed hardware category got a big boost — Roku was the best-performing tech IPO of 2017 and Ring was acquired by Amazon for a price rumored to exceed $1 billion. In addition to selling into large, strategic markets, both companies have excellent business models. Ring sells a high-margin subscription across a high percentage of its customer base and Roku successfully monetizes its 19 million users through ads and licensing fees.

In the context of these splashy exits, it is interesting to consider the key factors that have made for valuable hardware companies against a backdrop of an investment sector that has

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Tech devices that make for great last-minute gifts for anyone

Editor’s note: This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. It should be easy to give a gift. But it can be hard trying to choose what gift to give. That’s especially true with technology, where products tend to be more functional than emotional. Here’s what matters most: finding a present that connects to the recipient, creates a sense of enjoyment, and that they’re actually going to use. Here are five tech gifts that will appeal to almost anyone. Jaybird X3 Wireless Sport Earbuds The Jaybird X3 earbuds are designed for working out, but their design and great audio makes them perfect for anyone on the go. The X3’s interchangeable tips and fins offer a highly customizable, comfortable fit.
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Outdated website software lets hackers mine cryptocurrencies at your expense

An outdated version of Drupal, a popular content management system, let hackers mine the cryptocurrency Monero on over 300 websites including the websites for the “San Diego Zoo and the government of Chihuahua, Mexico.” A report by Troy Mursch outlined how the hack worked and even showed how much processing power browsers began taking up when they pointed at the hacked sites.

The hack uses a form of code injection that forces the browser to run Coinhive, a small bit of Javascript-based mining software. The code mines Monero, the ostensibly anonymous cryptocurrency. The hacked sites all pointed to a URL – “http://vuuwd.com/t.js” – where Coinhive lived. The browser ran the software and began using up

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White House will host tech industry for AI summit on Thursday

Artificial intelligence has been a mainstay of the conversation in Silicon Valley these past few years, and now the technology is increasingly being discussed in policy circles in DC. Washington types see opportunities for AI to improve efficiency and increase economic growth, while at the same time, they have growing concerns around job automation and competitive threats from China and other countries. Now, it appears the White House itself is getting involved in bringing together key American stakeholders to discuss AI and those opportunities and challenges. According to Tony Romm and Drew Harwell of the Washington Post, the White House intends to bring executives from major tech companies and other large corporations together on Thursday to discuss AI and how American companies can cooperate to take advantage of new advances in these technologies. Among the confirmed guests are Facebook’s Jerome Pesenti, Amazon’s Rohit Prasad, and Intel’s CEO Brian Krzanich.
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Snap’s CFO is out and a veteran Amazon exec is taking his place

Snap Chief Financial Officer Drew Vollero is going to be leaving his post at the Snapchat parent company next week and will be replaced by Amazon VP of finance Tim Stone, according to financial documents filed with the SEC today. Vollero was the company’s first CFO and has presided over Snap finances since joining less than three years ago. Since going public a little over one year ago, Snap has endured some rather turbulent times on Wall Street. After opening at $24, the company’s lackluster user growth numbers and ruthless competition from Facebook has left the company trading below $11 currently. This follows a particularly rough quarterly earnings report last week that saw user growth crawl and left the stock price diving. Stone comes aboard after a whopping 20 years at Amazon, where he was most recently employed as the company’s VP of finance. When Stone joined Amazon, the stock
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Barnes & Noble teeters in a post-text world

Barnes & Noble, that once proud anchor to many a suburban mall, is waning. It is not failing all at once, dropping like the savaged corpse of Toys “R” Us, but it also clear that its cultural moment has passed and only drastic measures can save it from joining Waldenbooks and Borders in the great, paper-smelling ark of our book-buying memory. I’m thinking about this because David Leonhardt at The New York Times calls for B&N to be saved. I doubt it can be. First, there is the sheer weight of real estate and the inexorable slide away from print. B&N is no longer a place to buy books. It is a toy store with a bathroom and a cafe (and now a restaurant?), a spot where you’re more likely to find Han Solo bobbleheads than a Star Wars novel. The old joy of visiting a bookstore and finding
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Microsoft shows off Alexa-Cortana integration, launches sign-up website for news

Microsoft still isn’t giving a timeline as to when its virtual assistant, Cortana, will support integration with Amazon Alexa – something the companies had announced last year. But the company at its Build developer conference today did show off how that integration will work, in an on-stage demo with support from Amazon, and it launched a new website for developers interested in receiving Alexa-Cortana integration news and information going forward. When Microsoft and Amazon first discussed integrating their virtual assistants, it was described as a two-way street – that is, Cortana could pass requests back to Alexa, and vice versa. For example, Alexa customers would be able to access Cortana’s productivity features, like booking meetings, accessing work calendars, or reading work emails. Meanwhile, Cortana users could ask Alexa to control smart home devices, shop Amazon, or use Alexa’s some 40,000 skills.  But there were some concerns those commands would
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