Few companies generate as many column miles of media coverage and news as Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN). That's especially true in the coronavirus-centered first half of 2020. Amazon's media buzz tends to peak around the holiday shopping season and then die down to a softer hum in the spring, but the company's current headline volume is quite comparable to last December's record-breaking chatter.
It's impossible to cover the entire range of Amazon's newsworthy actions in one short article, but here's a sampling of the e-commerce giant's most engaging headlines in recent months.
Facial recognition controversy
Amazon's online retail operations are paired with a highly profitable cloud computing business. Under the umbrella of Amazon Web Services (AWS), Amazon offers a variety of computing tools out of its global network of high-powered data centers.
Among these tools, you'll find a facial recognition system known as Rekognition. In a widely discussed policy statement in early June, the company placed a one-year moratorium on allowing law enforcement bodies access to Rekognition.
This decision was not made in a vacuum. IBM (NYSE:IBM) led the way two days earlier when the tech giant dropped its entire facial recognition business to support racial justice in America. Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) chose a middle ground on the same day as Amazon's announcement, promising not to sell facial recognition tools to American police departments "until we have a national law in place, grounded in human rights that will govern this technology." Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) subsidiary Google has long refused to provide any facial recognition tools at all because of its potential for abuse and mass surveillance concerns.
It's fair to say that a consensus against allowing the police to use facial recognition systems is forming in the tech community, and Amazon is joining that accord through its one-year ban. Each leading tech company has chosen a different approach here, and we still don't have a legal framework in place to guide other tech titans or hungry start-ups in the long run. Stay tuned, and keep an eye on Amazon's attitude toward facial recognition in a law enforcement context.
The COVID-19 pandemic dominates every conversation these days, and the health crisis is certainly making an impact on Amazon's operations in 2020.
Stay-at-home orders and remote work policies boosted Amazon's top-line sales in the first quarter, and the positive effect should linger in the second quarter. Amazon's earnings report for that period should arrive near the end of July.
The company's handling of the coronavirus situation has been controversial, to say the least.
On the upside, Amazon pledged to invest $4 billion in COVID-19 mitigation efforts in the second quarter in a massive effort that includes building a testing lab of its own and providing 100 million safety masks for workers in its warehouses and Whole Foods grocery stores.
Even so, workers sued the company over insufficient coronavirus management policies. Amazon immediately promised to expand its coronavirus testing of warehouse workers, and a wearable device will help employees maintain a safe distance in the warehouse environment. The lawsuits linger on, and many workers view the distancing tool as an overbearing surveillance effort.
"They would probably have a lot of people quit if they do make this a mandatory thing," said one user in a private online forum for Amazon's warehouse workers.
Choosing the right balance between making virus-fighting policies and respecting individual freedom is a challenge for any company, and Amazon's unique place in the COVID-19 health crisis only magnifies the difficulty.
Trillionaire Jeff Bezos
Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is known to be one of the richest humans on this planet. According to Forbes, his net worth stood at an incredible $162 billion on June 22. The second richest person is Microsoft founder Bill Gates, whose current wealth adds up to $109 billion.
Bezos' wealth is built around his ownership of Amazon stock, which accounts for roughly 11% of the company's total share count. At today's share price of approximately $2,700 per share, those 55.5 million shares are worth a cool $147 billion.
To be clear, Amazon's market cap currently stands at a mere $1.35 trillion. I will take several years of impressive returns to drive the stock price so high that Bezos' 11% slice becomes worth a full trillion.
But Bezos was the first person to pass the $100 billion mark three years ago, so it's kind of fun to think about where the world's wealthiest man might go next. Product comparison site Comparisun recently ran the numbers and came up with a trillion-dollar net worth for Bezos in 2026, one year before Chinese real estate tycoon Xu Jiayin. Alibaba (NYSE:BABA) founder Jack Ma would join the trillionaire club in 2030, all based on the growth trajectories of each billionaire's current holdings.
News outlets around the world picked up on this analysis and discussed it at length over the last couple of months.
Stepping through the same calculation backward, Amazon would need to be worth nearly $9 trillion in 2026 to reach that lofty target. That works out to a compound average return of 34% over the next six years.
I would welcome that kind of wealth-building rocketry as a (much smaller) Amazon shareholder myself, but the chances of actually achieving Comparisun's quick and dirty growth estimates are close to zero. Jeff Bezos may eventually become a trillionaire, and maybe he'll be the first businessman to cross that goal line, but he'll have to wait a lot longer than six more years.