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Recode Daily: How Amazon is preparing its workforce for robots

Plus: Postmates has explored a sale to companies like DoorDash and Walmart. 

Inside an Amazon fulfillment center.
Amazon admits that automation will replace many workers’ jobs. 
Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Amazon admits that automation will replace many workers’ jobs. To prepare for this impending reality, Amazon announced this week that it will spend $700 million to retain and retrain about 100,000 workers in the US by 2025. Amazon says it aims to give warehouse workers the opportunity to learn technical skills, like software engineering, that could lead to better jobs at Amazon or other firms.

  • The big deal: The Times points out that this is “an acknowledgment that advances in automation technology will handle many tasks now done by people.” That’s something Amazon has avoided admitting until now.
  • Some background: In May, Reuters reported that Amazon had started implementing machines to automate boxing orders. Each machine is able to replace at least 24 human workers.
  • Walmart, on the other hand, says its new robots will make employees happier. Walmart will soon have robots for tasks including floor-cleaning, shelf-scanning, and delivery-sorting. As Vox puts it: “This is the paradox of automation.” Because sure, it’s not fun to carry out boring and repetitive tasks, but “we can see that people like to be employed and make enough money to live.”
  • Hot tip: Curious about Amazon’s origins and its rise to e-commerce dominance? Subscribe to the Land of the Giants podcast, coming later this month from Recode’s Jason Del Rey.
    [Adam Satariano / The New York Times]

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Postmates has explored a sale to companies like DoorDash and Walmart. Sources tell Recode that the food-delivery startup, which filed for its IPO over five months ago, has had acquisition talks during that time with some of its competitors. Postmates has taken the matter seriously enough that it is working with Qatalyst Partners, the investment bank famous for selling companies, to see if there’s a good deal to be struck.

  • If a sale were to happen, it could have consequences beyond those who have become familiar with their local Postmates delivery courier. It could affect how much you pay for meal deliveries. It could influence the conversation around labor rights (Postmates’ drivers are technically contractors). And it would tell us a lot about how companies are eyeing the IPO market, which has seen some lackluster performance from Uber’s and Lyft’s highly anticipated debuts.
    [Teddy Schleifer / Recode]

The taxman cometh … for Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook, in France. A new law means the country will tax tech companies 3 percent; it is expected to bring in 400 million euros ($450 million) in revenue in 2019. The law applies to digital platforms “that connect users in transactions” and “digital advertising services that collect data,” meaning that Airbnb and Uber will also feel the effects. In total, the law will apply to about 30 global tech companies.

  • The idea: The law is meant to bring in tax revenue from companies that “create value through French internet users” and reap revenue from companies that “often bypass taxes by opening regional offices but keeping their headquarters in countries with more lenient levies.”
  • The impact: The Trump administration said on Wednesday that it will investigate whether or not France’s law is “an unfair trade practice that could be punished with retaliatory tariffs,” according to the New York Times. This would likely escalate tensions between the US and the European Union.
    [Rhonda Richford / The Hollywood Reporter]

Facebook’s new transparency tool tells you why an ad was targeted at you (and how to opt out, yay!). That’s the good news. The bad news (as BuzzFeed puts it) is that: “looking at it may end up just making you feel worse about how your data is passed around by third-party data brokers — credit reporting bureaus and marketing agencies — like Halloween candy.” This new tool shares more information than what Facebook had previously disclosed about how it targets ads, which was basically just age and location data. You can now see in your account’s Facebook Ad Preferences exactly which companies and “data brokers” have your info. From there, you’ll also be able to opt out.

  • What are data brokers? And how do they have my data? A data broker is a third-party data collection agency that keeps lists of “anonymized customer data” collected from online transactions, and it may offer some of that data to help marketers target their ads.
  • The big deal: People don’t trust Facebook like they used to. And the eerily accurate ad targeting “has only raised more suspicions” for users. So this new move is one of Facebook’s attempts to be a bit more transparent about how its “symbiotic relationship with the advertising world” works.
    [Katie Notopoulos / BuzzFeed News]

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Listen to Recode Media wherever you get your podcasts — including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Overcast.

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