AWS launches pay-per-session pricing for its QuickSight BI tool

Amazon QuickSight, the company’s business intelligence tool for AWS, launched back in 2015, but it’s hard to say how much impact the service has made in the highly competitive BI market. The company has far from given up on this project, though, and today, it’s introducing a new pay-per-session pricing plan for access to QuickSight dashboards that is surely meant to give it a bit of a lift in a market where Tableau and Microsoft’s Power BI have captured much of the mindshare. Under the new pricing plan, creating and publishing dashboards will stay cost $18 per user and month. For readers, though, who only need to have access to these dashboards, AWS now offers a very simple option: they will now pay $0.30 per session up to a maximum of $5 per month and user. Under this scheme, a session is defined as the first 30 minutes from login.
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Australians will no longer be able to order from Amazon’s American site

Starting in July, Australians will be blocked from ordering items on Amazon’s United States site. The company said today that shoppers in Australia will be redirected to its local site, Amazon.com.au, and that its international sites, including Amazon.com, will no longer ship to Australian addresses. The change is in response to a new tax regulation that goes into effect on July 1 and requires businesses earning more than $75,000 AUD a year to charge Australia’s 10% Goods and Services Tax (GST) on low value items imported by consumers. Called the “Amazon tax,” the new policy was introduced following concerns about the impact of Amazon and other large overseas e-commerce businesses on Australian retailers, who have to apply GST to all products they sell. A loophole in tax regulations, however, means that the GST is currently applied only to items purchased from overseas retailers if they are
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Stitch Fix CEO doesn’t seem worried about Amazon

Stitch Fix CEO Katarina Lake did not express much concern over Amazon and its entrance into fashion with Prime Wardrobe at the Code Conference today. Lake says that while she does think about Amazon, that Amazon offers a “fundamentally different” value proposition. With Amazon, Lake said, the value proposition is about having a “sea of choice.” With Stitch Fix,”in a lot of ways ours is almost the opposite,” she said. Stitch Fix is an e-commerce company that aims to figure out your personal style, and then send you a handful of items the company thinks you’ll like. As a side note, this product has worked horribly for me but quite well for some other people. Stitch Fix went public last year and part of being public, Lake said, is having fiduciary duty to do what is best for the company and its shareholders. With that in mind, Lake said,
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Amazon will now directly pay top Alexa ‘kid’ skill developers in the U.K. and Germany

Amazon is expanding its program that pays developers directly for their top-performing Alexa skills, by now offering these “developer rewards,” as they’re called, to those based in the U.K. and Germany who publish “kid” skills. This emerging skill category was one of the last to be included in the developer rewards program, which already offered payments for top skills in over half a dozen other categories, including Education & Reference; Food & Drink; Games, Trivia & Accessories; Health & Fitness; Lifestyle; Music & Audio; and Productivity. The developer rewards program quietly launched just over a year ago, as a way to encourage developers to build voice apps for Alexa before the ecosystem had expanded to include support for other monetization options like the in-app purchases and subscriptions offered today. The program helped to seed Amazon’s skill store with more content, while also rewarding quality apps that gain traction
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Amazon begins nationwide expansion of Whole Foods discounts for Prime members

Amazon introduced 10 percent savings at Whole Foods for Prime members earlier this month, and today it kicked off a nationwide expansion of the initiative. The Prime Whole Foods discount — one of a number of measures following Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods — has expanded to 12 more states, including northern California, Colorado and Texas, with more set to follow soon. The collaboration is yet another reason to subscribe to Amazon Prime, and the compelling package for consumers gives retailers — both online and offline — further reason to fear Amazon. The offer was launched in Florida first but this expansion is the first of a wave that are designed to allow Prime customers across the entire U.S. to get discounts at Whole Foods and Whole Foods Market 365 stores by the end of this summer. Whole Foods currently has over 470 stores in the U.S.,
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FCC asks Amazon and eBay to stop selling fake pay TV boxes

On Friday, the Federal Communications Commission sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and eBay CEO Devin Wenig asking their companies to help remove the listings for fake pay TV boxes from their respective websites. These boxes often falsely bear the FCC logo, the letter informed, and are used to perpetuate “intellectual property theft and consumer fraud.” With the rise in cord cutting, a number of consumers have found it’s just as easy to use a software app like Kodi on a cheap streaming media device to gain access to content – like TV shows and movies – that they would otherwise miss out on by dropping their pay TV subscription. As an added perk, various software add-ons enable consumers to stream movies still in the theaters, too. It’s an easier way to access pirated content than visiting The Pirate Bay and downloading torrent files. While Kodi’s open
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Amazon leads $12M investment in India-based digital insurance startup Acko

Amazon appears to be restarting its funding efforts in India after Acko, the digital insurance startup in India, confirmed that the U.S. retail giant led a new round of funding for its business. Amazon — which has been linked with an Acko investment since the start of this year — backed lending startup Capital Float last month, and now it has led a $12 million funding round for Acko alongside Ashish Dhawan, the founder of PE firm ChrysCapital, and existing backer Catamaran Ventures. The deal takes Acko to $42 million raised to date. Acko was founded in late 2016 by Varun Dua, one of the co-founders of insurance comparison site Coverfox. With Acko, Dua is taking a deeper step into insurance with a digital-only business aimed at disrupting the $10 billion industry in India by leveraging the growth of internet access in India to democratize coverage and develop more
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Family claims their Echo sent a private conversation to a random contact

A Portland family tells KIRO news that their Echo recorded and then sent a private conversation to someone on its list of contacts without telling them. Amazon called it an “extremely rare occurrence.” Portlander Danielle said that she got a call from one of her husband’s employees one day telling her to “unplug your Alexa devices right now,” and suggesting she’d been hacked. He said that he had received recordings of the couple talking about hardwood floors, which Danielle confirmed. Amazon, when she eventually got hold of the company, had an engineer check the logs, and he apparently discovered what they said was true. In a statement, Amazon said “We investigated what happened and determined this was an extremely rare occurrence. We are taking steps to avoid this from happening in the future.”

What could have happened? It

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Amazon Music’s app adds hands-free listening, courtesy of Alexa

In September, Amazon announced it was adding support for Alexa voice control to its Amazon Music app for iOS and Android. However, it was implemented as a tap-to-talk function – something that didn’t quite mesh with the hands-free voice control experience Alexa is known for. Today, Amazon is addressing that problem by rolling out hands-free listening to the Amazon Music app instead, as a result of user feedback. That means customers can command Alexa to do things like play or pause music, move back and forth between songs, and create playlists by asking, as well as take advantage of Alexa’s more innovative features around playing music by mood, activity, genre, lyrics, artist or song title. For example, you can ask Alexa to do things like “play the song that goes ‘I’m lovin’ I’m livin’ I’m picking it up” and she’ll play Ariana Grande’s latest single, “No Tears Left to Cry,” notes
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Amazon facial recognition software raises privacy concerns with the ACLU

Amazon hasn’t exactly kept Rekognition under wraps. In late 2016, the software giant talked up its facial detection software in a relatively benign AWS post announcing that the tech was already being implemented by The Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon for suspect identification.

The ACLU of Northern California is shining more light on the tech this week, however, after announcing that it had obtained documents shedding more light on the service it believes “raises profound civil liberties and civil rights concerns.”

The documents in question highlight Washington County’s database of 300,000 mug shot photos and a mobile app designed specifically for deputies to cross-reference faces. They also note that Amazon has solicited the country to reach out to other potential customers for the service, including a company that makes body cameras.

“People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government,” ACLU

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Alexa gets smarter about calendar appointments

As digital assistants improve, we’re learning new things to expect from them, but the tasks that a real-life assistant may have handled before can still be a bit of a challenge to home assistants. Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant is gaining functionality to help it get smarter about working with your calendar. The new abilities will let users move appointments around and schedule meetings based on other people’s availability. If you’ve been shared on someone’s calendar availability, Alexa will be able to suggest times that work for both of you. Just say, “Alexa schedule a meeting with [name]” and Amazon’s assistant will search through your schedule for a good time, suggesting up to two time slots that could work. On a more basic feature level, Alexa won’t make you cancel appointments and reschedule them if a meeting time changes. You’ll be able to just ask Alexa to move an existing meeting,
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Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine teams with Amazon’s Audible on audiobooks and originals

Reese Witherspoon’s media empire, Hello Sunshine, has teamed up with Audible to work on an audiobook project. The collaboration will initially see the launch of a showcase of Audible audiobooks as selected by Reese’s Book Club, which focus on strong but complex female characters. However, the two companies said that further down the line Hello Sunshine Witherspoon and Amazon-owned Audible will work together on original audio productions, details of which will be announced later in the year. You may already have heard of the Hello Sunshine brand in passing. Witherspoon’s company is producing a range of content including feature films, TV shows, social series, and more, including the upcoming Hulu original series starring Witherspoon and Kerry Washington, “Little Fires Everywhere,” based on Celeste Ng’s 2017 bestseller. It’s also producing a number of series for Apple’s forthcoming streaming service, including a comedy series with Kristen Wiig, a true
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Amazon to launch a new app store with tools for its two million sellers

Amazon is launching new app store with tools created specifically to help its sellers manage their inventory and orders. Called the Marketplace Appstore, it will feature apps made using Amazon Marketplace Web Service (Amazon MWS) by Amazon and third-party developers screened by the company. According to a report by CNET, the Marketplace Appstore launches to sellers today. There are now about two million sellers on Amazon, including more than a million small to medium-sized businesses in the United States. Amazon MWS is an integrated web service API that allows sellers to share data about their inventory, orders and logistics with Amazon in order to automate more tasks. It also enables sellers to build apps for their own accounts and other sellers. The company told CNET that “many developers have innovated and created applications that complement our tools and integrate with our services. We created the Marketplace Appstore to help
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Now you can buy a laptop with Alexa preinstalled

It was just matter of time, really. Amazon’s push to get its smart assistant on every piece of hardware imaginable now includes Windows 10 laptops, starting with Acer’s Spin 3 and 5 lines. Both include models sporting Alexa, currently available at retail.

Acer looks to be all in with the assistant — Alexa is coming to a number of other PCs from the company, including the Nitro 5 Spin gaming laptop and its all-one-ones, in the coming weeks. Beyond that, the company’s also bring Alexa to a number of existing systems courtesy of a software update, arriving later this week.

In a press release, Alexa VP Steve Rabichin says the company is “delighted” to be working with Acer. Well, yeah. The PC space was a pretty clear next step for Amazon, having already established a strong foothold in the smarthome space and slowly attacking the mobile market through third-party partnerships.

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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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