business news in context, analysis with attitude

…with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

• The New York Times reported over the weekend that the House Judiciary Committee, “which is investigating the market power and behavior of the companies, sent letters directly to Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Tim Cook of Apple, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Larry Page of Google” asking to see internal communications to and from “eight executives at Amazon, 14 at Apple, 15 at Facebook and 14 at Google … The lawmakers are looking for signs of executives’ intent when they made decisions that harmed competitors.”

The Times writes that “with the request, which was posted on the committee’s website, the lawmakers sent a not-so-subtle message that executives would be held responsible for the replies, and that the investigation would continue to play out publicly.”

The big tech companies are being hit from all sides - by state and federal regulators, as well as by Congressional committees - by challenges that hinge on the increasingly prevalent position that all of these companies are acting in ways that are anti-competitive.

• The Washington Post reports that Amazon has begun outsourcing skills for its Alexa-powered smart speaker system to the general public.

According to the Post, “Amazon made its Alexa Answers program available to the general public this week after several months of beta testing, opening up its artificial-intelligence assistant to crowdsourced recommendations for unprogrammed questions.

“The process is relatively simple. Anyone can go to the Alexa Answers site, where questions frequently posed to the smart assistant are published in under 300 characters. The answers — which do not require a citation — are fed into Alexa’s algorithms. The responses are rated by other Alexa Answers users via a star system on the site, and by Alexa users via a ‘Did that answer your question?’ audio prompt.”

The story makes a fair observation - that in addition to being a way to make Alexa smarter, it also is a way to perhaps assuage folks concerned that Alexa has taken on a kind of Big Brother quality, listening to conversations into which it has not been invited. This makes it all seem more collaborative and collegial.
KC's View: