Affiliated with the University of California's systemwide
Humanities Research Institute
The MacArthur Foundation
It is the world's biggest online business. But with questions being asked about its treatment of employees, what is it like to work at Amazon? Carole Cadwalladr lands a job in one of its giant warehouses and discovers the human cost of our lust for consumer goodsThe first item I see in Amazon's Swansea warehouse is a package of dog nappies. The second is a massive pink plastic dildo. The warehouse is 800,000 square feet, or, in what is Amazon's standard unit of measurement, the size of 11 football pitches (its Dunfermline warehouse, the UK's largest, is 14 football pitches). It is a quarter of a mile from end to end. There is space, it turns out, for an awful lot of crap.But then there are more than 100m items on its UK website: if you can possibly imagine it, Amazon sells it. And if you can't possibly imagine it, well, Amazon sells it too. To spend 10½ hours a day picking items off the shelves is to contemplate the darkest recesses of our consumerist desires, the wilder reaches of stuff, the things that money can buy: a One Direction charm bracelet, a dog onesie, a cat scratching post designed to look like a DJ's record deck, a banana slicer, a fake twig. I work mostly in the outsize "non-conveyable" section, the home of diabetic dog food, and bio-organic vegetarian dog food, and obese dog food; of 52in TVs, and six-packs of water shipped in from Fiji, and oversized sex toys – the 18in double dong (regular-sized sex toys are shelved in the sortables section).On my second day, the manager tells us that we alone have picked and packed 155,000 items in the past 24 hours. Tomorrow, 2 December – the busiest online shopping day of the year – that figure will be closer to 450,000. And this is just one of eight warehouses across the country. Amazon took 3.5m orders on a single day last year. Christmas is its Vietnam – a test of its corporate mettle and the kind of challenge that would make even the most experienced distribution supply manager break down and weep. In the past two weeks, it has taken on an extra 15,000 agency staff in Britain.
Jeff Bezos's 'plan' for drone deliveries is little more than a publicity stunt – timed for the biggest online shopping day of the yearThe future is here! Flying robots will, any second now, be delivering your Christmas books, DVDs and gadgets to your door within 30 minutes of you ordering them, thanks to a new initiative announced by Amazon on CBS News' 60 Minutes on Sunday.It's a brave new world, a whole new paradigm. Or so you'd think if you read most of the breathless coverage about the announcement, which will only get worse: expect a torrent of turgid think-pieces in the next 48 hours about who's going to get "disrupted" as a result of this latest shake-up – and what it means for the US's already beleaguered postal service.Here's the problem: it's all hot air and baloney. As Jeff Bezos, Amazon's CEO, acknowledged in the 60 Minutes segment, his plan to begin delivery by drone won't be enacted until around 2018 – and that's a hugely optimistic timeline.The practical issues are manifold: the technology to make the drones operational in any sense is not yet in place. It's all well and good for the unmanned vehicles to fly to a particular GPS site, but how does it then find the package's intended recipient? How is the transfer of the package enacted? What stops someone else stealing the package along the way? And what happens when next door's kid decides to shoot the drone with his BB rifle?None of that starts to come close to the legal minefield using drones in this way entails. At present, flying drones of this sort for commercial use would be illegal in the US. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which regulates this area, intends to make commercial drones legally viable and workable by 2015, but this deadline is all-but impossible: managing the skies with this much low-level traffic is a problem people are nowhere near solving. Opening up crowded urban areas full of terror targets to large numbers of flying platforms is always going to be packed with conflicting interests and difficulties. And all this has come before the first lawsuit caused after someone is injured by a faulty drone (or that one your neighbour shot), crashing down to earth.
More than 38,000 people sign petition against Apprentice star and Sun columnist's apparent jibe about Scottish life expectancyThe Apprentice star and Sun columnist Katie Hopkins has apologised after offending Scottish social media users with an apparent joke following the Glasgow helicopter crash.Several facebook groups were formed in protest and more than 38,000 people signed an online petition calling for Hopkins to be banned from TV after she tweeted on Saturday: "Life expectancy in Scotland based 07/08 birth is 59.5. Goodness me. That lot will do anything to avoid working until retirement."The petition said: "On the 30th of November 2013, Scotland was still in shock and trying to come to terms with a horrible crash that took the lives of innocent people. Within 24 hours of this happening Katie Hopkins posted vile remarks on Twitter about how long the people of Scotland live for."This is unacceptable and distressing to those who lost friends and family."We the undersigned are sick and tired of ITV and Channel 5 giving her airtime and want her banned from all TV shows on your channels such as This Morning and The Wright Stuff."This woman is nothing more than an attention seeker who does not deserve to be a celebrity."Consultant Julie Hendry tweeted: "@leicspolice I'd like to report this racist and insensitive comment from supposed media professional @KTHopkins."Hopkins, who has almost 82,000 Twitter followers, appeared to make matters worse by retweeting criticism of her, tweeting the following day: "Am told I am the Biggest Bitch in Britain. Following Independence I will only be the Biggest Bitch in England. Always a positive if you look." She added: "Yikes, I am being reported to Channel 4 and the BBC. In a moment I will forced to read the Labour manifesto and subscribe to the Guardian."She later jokingly tweeted: "There appear to be a number of conflicting petitions out there to have me hung and quartered. Please do feel free to sign them all. PC tastic."However, on Monday she tweeted, linking to a Scottish NHS document: "My tweet on Scotland was directly related to this article: I apologise to those I offended.
When I was a teenager, I thought it would be great to be an adult and be surrounded by people who weren't mean to each other all day. Enter stage left: the world wide webBack in the early 90s, when I was still at school and words such as "friend" and "message" were nouns as opposed to verbs, a particular incident occurred. For a month or so, a book had been circling among my classmates in which we wrote anonymous mean things about each other, and the statements that were deemed the funniest – invariably, the meanest – would get (anonymous) stars of approval. One day someone wrote in the book that a classmate whom I'll call Rose had made out with her cousin. More details about this fascinating make-out session were added to the book daily, and reading about Rose and her cousin became the only reason any of us wanted to come to school in the mornings. Eventually the writer of the story, whom I'll call Charlotte, couldn't resist claiming the attention she felt was duly hers and let her involvement be known.The saga now reached peak hysteria and Rose tearfully went to a teacher. Charlotte was forced to admit that she had made the whole thing up, all because she wanted some stars. (Naturally, the most salacious story a privileged, protected 13-year-old girl could think of was someone making out with their cousin.) All of us stared down at the floor as she confessed, because even though we knew Charlotte had now laid herself open to the most deliciously sharp mockery, hadn't we been, in some vague way, worse? And so it was collectively, if wordlessly, decided that this incident would never be mentioned by any of us again. But I remember vaguely thinking: "Won't it be great to be an adult when people won't lie and be randomly mean to look cool?"Enter stage left: the internet.As the proud possessor of a history GCSE, I know the pre-internet past is littered with examples of mendacious, even psychopathic adults. But even putting my history GCSE to its fullest use, I cannot recall an era in which so many adults behaved quite so much like children.
Firm's boss says the online giant practises 'piracy capitalism' as trademark case loomsIn the cut-throat world of retail, it is a David-versus-Goliath battle.In one corner, there is Lush, the relatively small cosmetics company that takes a strong ethical stance on issues such as the environment, animal testing and giving to charity. And in the other, there is the might of Amazon.Lush does not allow Amazon to sell its products and its co-founder, Mark Constantine, is extremely critical of the way the US company operates. But when visitors to Amazon type the word "lush" into its search field, they are directed to alternative cosmetic products that the online giant suggests they might like to buy instead.Now Lush is taking Amazon to court, claiming it is infringing its trademark.According to documents filed in court, "Lush brought trademark infringement proceedings against Amazon on the basis that when the term 'Lush' was searched for on Amazon's website, the results returned were for goods which, although they featured the word 'lush' in a number of contexts, were not in fact made by Lush. Amazon had also bid on the Google AdWord 'Lush Bath Products' but did not, in fact, sell any Lush products."The case, on which a ruling is expected early next year, potentially has wide-ranging consequences. If Lush is successful, it could deter online retailers from making suggestions for alternatives to products that they do not sell and restrict how they use Google.The case has similarities with another dispute between two well-known brands. In May, a judge found that Marks & Spencer's use of "Interflora" in Google AdWords, to produce results for its own service, infringed trademarks belonging to the flower delivery network.The case will also serve to compare the two companies' business models.Lush reportedly donates around 2% of its profits to charity and has supported a number of direct-action groups, including Plane Stupid, which campaigns against the expansion of UK airports, and Sea Shepherd, which opposes Japanese whaling.
If you want to buy drugs or guns anonymously online, virtual currency Bitcoin is better than hard cash. Canny speculators have been hoarding it like digital gold. Now the world's leading bankers are even talking about as a rival for real money. How does it work, where can you get it and is it the future?The past weeks have seen a surprising meeting of minds between chairman of the US Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke, the Bank of England, the Olympic-rowing and Zuckerberg-bothering Winklevoss twins, and the US Department of Homeland Security. The connection? All have decided it's time to take Bitcoin seriously.Until now, what pundits called in a rolling-eye fashion "the new peer-to-peer cryptocurrency" had been seen just as a digital form of gold, with all the associated speculation, stake-claiming and even "mining"; perfect for the digital wild west of the internet, but no use for real transactions.Bitcoins are mined by computers solving fiendishly hard mathematical problems. The "coin" doesn't exist physically: it is a virtual currency that exists only as a computer file. No one computer controls the currency. A network keeps track of all transactions made using Bitcoins but it doesn't know what they were used for – just the ID of the computer "wallet" they move from and to.Right now the currency is tricky to use, both in terms of the technological nous required to actually acquire Bitcoins, and finding somewhere to spend them. To get them, you have to first set up a wallet, probably online at a site such as Blockchain.info, and then pay someone hard currency to get them to transfer the coins into that wallet.A Bitcoin payment address is a short string of random characters, and if used carefully, it's possible to make transactions anonymously. That's what made it the currency of choice for sites such as the Silk Road and Black Market Reloaded, which let users buy drugs anonymously over the internet. It also makes it very hard to tax transactions, despite the best efforts of countries such as Germany, which in August declared that Bitcoin was "private money" in which transactions should be taxed as normal.
Figures from world's biggest bookseller trumpeted as sign of how self-publishing and smaller labels are changing the industryAs many as a quarter of the top 100 Kindle books on Amazon.com are from indie publishers, according to data revealed at a trade presentation by the retailer.A chart detailing the 25 top-selling indie titles in 2012 was passed on by an audience member via Twitter.Though the term "indie" is broad, covering everything from self-published authors to publishing houses that fall outside the big six, the news has been interpreted as a victory for the go-it-alone author.A spokeswoman for Amazon.com said: "This figure is referring to Kindle books on Amazon.com in 2012, with "indie" meaning books self-published via Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). So a quarter of the top 100 bestselling Kindle books on Amazon.com in 2012 were self-published via KDP."Writer.ly , an online marketplace that connects authors with freelance editors, book designers and marketeers, tweeted a picture of the Amazon-branded slide on Tuesday. It displayed the top 100 books, with about a quarter of the covers highlighted, under the title "A Quarter of top 100 on Amazon.com Indie-Published".Writer.ly, like Amazon, is based in Seattle.Though the figure refers to Amazon's US book market, it is a strong indicator of what's in store for the UK. "If the UK isn't quite there yet then it's just a time lag – we are seeing that more and more of the top books around the world are published by authors themselves," said Orna Ross, director of the UK Alliance of Independent Authors, which represents self-published writers."We are in the middle of a major change. I wouldn't be at all surprised if we reached a situation where the majority of the top books are author-published. I don't see what would stop that," Ross said.Hugh Howey, whose novel Wool became a self-publishing phenomenon after it was picked up by a publisher and hit the US bestseller lists, tweeted: "Taken together, indie authors form a new major publisher to round out the big six.
For some like Elan Gale, digital rants are akin to slipping into another world without repercussions. But words still matter onlineThe story of a man live tweeting his "feud" with a fellow irritable airline passenger did the so-called rounds on the internet. It happened during the peak US holiday travel at Thanksgiving. It was dubbed "hilarious" by various outlets, like Jezebel , the Mirror, and Yahoo!. Elan Gale, the man behind the tweets, appears to have gained a significant number of new Twitter followers and managed to trend a hashtag #TeamElan, to obtain – I suppose – support. Yet, beyond the laughter and the mockery, beyond his and those media outlets' massive audience's jeers and "support", there's a disturbing aspect of laughing at harmless strangers that should trouble us all; one that appears excused just because it's "online" and because the other person made some minor errors.Let's look beyond the fact that the alleged distressed woman could have been your anxious mother, sister, friend, lover; let's also look beyond the disproportionate response of using a platform where Elan had about 30,000 followers at the beginning (increasing beyond 100,000 after) to encourage laughter and mockery and antagonism of a stranger who wasn't harming anyone, beyond irritation.What's worrying are the excuses from Elan Gale and his apologists, premised on a blinkered notion of defending "niceness", while hypocritically using phrases like "eat my dick" and saying she has an "idiot face".Taking to a digital space, for some people, is like slipping into an alternate dimension – one without repercussions. People already do this by labelling spaces "cyber" and "real" (beyond actual useful concepts), as if the two areas exist in different spheres of causal unassailability.But you need only ask anyone who's lost a job because of dodgy pictures on Facebook or Twitter to recognise there are repercussions; that cyberspace isn't an area of moral immunity, that your social media presence isn't one devoid of ethical responsibility.
The recent Twitter conversation featuring big brands trying to out-LOL each other is not funny. No, it's part of a trend that will bring about the downfall of societyQuick question: how many sleeps until Christmas? I should warn you that if you answered with a number – any number at all – then you're dead to me. On the other hand, if your response was something along the lines of, "I am an adult human being, and your assumption that I calculate time in a measurement as infantile as sleeps is both the strongest possible insult to me and a tremendous embarrassment to this publication," then we're going to be fine.Until recently, the increasing cutesification of society has been relatively easy to ignore. Experience has taught me that reading the product description on the back of an Innocent smoothie – essentially an In the Night Garden script about fruit – will cause me to involuntarily clench my fist so hard that I'll cover myself in apple pulp. Similarly I know that I can't use Aussie shampoo, or see a bag of Percy Pigs, or watch any advert where a woman with the voice of a three-year-old sings a twee ukulele version of a song I used to like, because I'll end up curled tight into the foetal position, shivering and weeping into my fists for days. I know this.But it's getting harder to avoid. Buzzfeed recently published a post called This Is The Best Twitter Conversation You Will Read Today. The conversation consisted of several brands gamely trying to out-LOL each other in a number of infuriatingly zany ways. First Yorkshire Tea asked Tesco Mobile if it wanted a cup of tea. Then Jaffa Cakes got all "Hey, what about Jaffa Cakes, guys?" And then a packet of crisps waded in and suggested that Tesco Mobile should kiss Jaffa Cakes on the lips or something. I didn't – I couldn't – finish the post, but presumably it ended with a large petrochemical multinational putting a baseball cap on backwards and rapping the theme tune to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. The post shouldn't have been called This Is The Best Twitter Conversation You Will Read Today.
PM favours model used to successfully police online child abuse, but broadband companies are wary of infringing free speechThe government is to order broadband companies to block extremist websites and empower a specialist unit to identify and report content deemed too dangerous for online publication.The crime and security minister, James Brokenshire, said on Wednesday that measures for censoring extremist content would be announced shortly. The initiative is likely to be controversial, with broadband companies already warning that freedom of speech could be compromised.Ministers are understood to want to follow the model used to crack down on online child abuse. The Internet Watch Foundation, which is partly industry-funded, investigates reports of illegal child abuse images online; it can then ask service providers to block or take down websites.The prime minister, David Cameron, is understood to favour a similar model for terrorist content. A government-funded body, possibly within the counter-terrorism referral unit, will order companies including BT, TalkTalk, BSkyB and Virgin Media to block websites, according to industry sources."There are freedom of speech issues," said one source. "For extremist material the government needs to ensure there is a process in place to test what is illegal."Following the killing of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich, Cameron vowed to "drain the swamp" in which he said Islamic extremism was being allowed to breed.Action against websites inciting terrorist acts was one of a series of measures announced by the PM in June, with others including extremist groups on campuses and in prisons, support for madrasas promoting tolerance and helping mosques expel extremists.Broadband companies and the search engines Google and Bing have already agreed to help police child abuse material, by blocking content and posting warnings and links to watchdogs and advice sites. From next year, all customers of the major broadband companies will be asked whether they wish to install filters that block violent or adult content.
World wide web inventor dismayed about US and UK attempts to undermine privacy and security, revealed by Edward SnowdenTim Berners-Lee is known as the gentle genius with the mild touch, a man who is strikingly modest despite having created one of the epochal inventions of the modern age, the world wide web. But get him on the subject of what the National Security Agency and its British equivalent, GCHQ, have been doing to crack encryption used by hundreds of millions of people to protect their personal data online, and his face hardens, his eyes squint and he fumes."I think that's appalling, deliberately to break software," he says in an entirely uncharacteristic outburst of ire. Of all the reasons he is concerned about Edward Snowden's disclosures relating to UK and US spying on the web – and there are many, as we shall see – it is the cracking of encryption revealed by the Guardian in partnership with the New York Times and ProPublica that seems to rile him most."Internet security is hard," he says with emphasis. "All systems have undiscovered holes in them, and it's only a question of how fast the bad guys can discover the holes compared with how fast the good guys can patch them up."We are talking in his office in the wildly shiny and curvaceous Frank Gehry building at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Berners-Lee leads the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a global community working to develop standards for the web. He continues with the encryption theme: "So it's naive to imagine that if you introduce a weakness into a system, you will be the only one to use it. A lot of the IT industry feels that's a betrayal."Berners-Lee is astounded by the internal contradiction in the way London and Washington have handled the threat of cyberwarfare. The two governments have elevated the fight against organised hacker gangs and militarised cyber-attacks from states such as China to the rank of a top national security priority. Yet at the same time their spying branches have actively aided cybercriminals by weakening encryption.
Jon Lawrence and Sean Rintel: There are some ways you can take to protect your privacy in this climate of mass surveillance – and here we offer eight. Nothing, however, beats collective action and a bill of digital rightsJon LawrenceSean Rintel
Cuban physician and scientist, who would have been 180 today, developed theory that yellow fever was spread by mosquitoesGoogle's latest doodle celebrates the birthday of Carlos Finlay, the Cuban physician and scientist who theorised that yellow fever was spread by mosquitoes.Of French and Scottish descent, Finlay was born in 1833 in Puerto Príncipe, now the Cuban city of Camagüey, and studied at Jefferson medical college in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He finished his studies in Havana and Paris before settling in Cuba to open a medical practice.Finlay was appointed by the Cuban government in 1879 to work with a North American commission studying the causes of yellow fever, and two years later was sent as the Cuban delegate to the fifth International Sanitary Conference in Washington DC.At the conference, he urged the study of yellow fever vectors and later stated that the carrier was the mosquito Culex fasciatus, now known as Aedes aegypti.When a US army's Yellow Fever Board arrived in Cuba in 1900, he sought to persuade it of his mosquito-vector theory.Finlay's hypothesis and exhaustive proofs were confirmed by the board's head, the US army doctor Walter Reed, paving the way for the eradication of yellow fever and saving generations of lives throughout South America, the Caribbean, Africa and the southern US.As General Leonard Wood, a physician and military governor of Cuba, put it: "The confirmation of Dr Finlay's doctrine is the greatest step forward made in medical science since Jenner's discovery of the vaccination."Finlay died in August 2015 from a stroke caused by severe brain seizures in his home in Havana.Google doodleMedical researchBiologyInternetSearch enginesGoogletheguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds
The 90th anniversary of the legendary soprano's birth is marked in the latest Google doodleThe birth of singer Maria Callas 90 years ago has been celebrated in a new Google doodle.The animation shows the legendary soprano performing on stage. Callas, who died in 1977, was a colourful figure who was renowned as a prima donna.The New York-born daughter of Greek parents first appeared on stage in the early 1940s. Despite a relatively short career – it lasted until 1965 – many consider her the greatest soprano of all time. But there are those who have asked if the personal price she paid for her success was worth it.She went through a drastic loss of weight in the 1950s and, in her later career, her performances would become more sporadic. By the time of her last appearance, her vocal powers had waned.Writing for the Guardian in 2007, the critic Tim Ashley wrote: "It has always been said – and even she herself would never deny it – that her voice was not classically beautiful. In her day, many people disliked that sometimes throttled, sometimes metallic sound, and there are some who still do. What she stood for, however, was truth rather than beauty, for expressive veracity rather than display."Her personal life was tinged with tragedy. She had a love affair with Aristotle Onassis, who would later marry Jacqueline Kennedy, the widow of John F Kennedy. And her relationship with her mother became strained. By the time she died, Maria Callas was a virtual recluse.Last month, the actor Faye Dunaway said she was determined to finish a film – which she is also directing and producing – telling Callas's life story. The Independent quoted Dunaway as saying: "That woman changed an art form and not many people can say that. Callas is to opera what Fellini is to cinema."Google doodleInternetSearch enginesGoogleOperatheguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds
An ill-judged tweet can land you in a whole lot of legal bother, as Peaches Geldof and Sally Bercow know only too well. So the attorney general's new guidelines are essential readingIt doesn't seem real to think that you could take your phone out of your pocket right now, type a few words on it, and put yourself irrevocably on the path to prison. In the UK, however, those are the risks that all journalists live with. And as the attorney general points out today, whenever you publish something on the internet, you are a journalist as well. (But without a legal department or a scuzzy reputation.)From now on, the attorney general's office will issue its own public advisory notices, which previously had been sent only to mainstream news outlets whenever a specific case was causing concern. And it warns that sentences may get stiffer, as people can't claim ignorance in mitigation. If you like to talk about what's happening in the world online, follow @AGO_UK, and the rules below.Don't name and shame When the footballer Ched Evans was convicted of rape last year, his victim, a 19-year-old woman, was named more than 6,000 times on Twitter by people who thought he was innocent. Since then, nine people have been convicted and fined. Naming them, of course, is perfectly legal.Don't assume it's already out there Peaches Geldof says she found the names of the women who allowed their children to be abused by Ian Watkins "on several different websites", and believed they'd already been released by the courts. Enraged that the women's identity was being protected, as she saw it, she named them herself. The trouble was that HM Courts and Tribunals Service had published the names by mistake. Nor was it the women who were being protected anyway. It was their children, who Geldof's followers might now have been able to identify. Geldof herself may yet face a criminal prosecution, so even this account of the fiasco needs to be worded carefully.Don't retweet it if you wouldn't tweet itLate last year, thousands of people falsely identified Lord McAlpine as a paedophile by naming him as the anonymous subject of an inaccurate Newsnight film.
We meet the founders and executives at 16 of the most exciting tech startups in Cambridge to find out what attracted them to the city and where they are headingJing Zhang (1), director of operations, and Roger Coulston (2) CSOAqdotCompany launched: 2012What it does Aqdot has developed and patented new technology for creating microcapsules filled with a range of active ingredients.These ingredients can then be released, under control – a technique that can be tuned to myriad applications."The early priorities are the home care, personal care, nutraceuticals and agrochemicals markets," says ZhangWhy Cambridge? The company has close links to the University of Cambridge chemistry department, while the city's ability to attract talent is also beneficial, as is its accommodating and supportive entrepreneurial community. "This is ideal for a young start-up like us," says Zhang.Future Plans The next few years should see Aqdot develop significantly. "The primary opportunity is for us to grow by licensing the technology," says Zhang. "This would be among a variety of other business models including straight licensing, joint development agreements, joint ventures and production of our product." Work is currently underway to commercialise the technology.Steve Greaves (3), CEO, co-founder Cambridge Communication Systems (CCS)Company launched: 2010What it does Mobile traffic is currently reliant on "macro-cells" – base stations with high-level antennas covering large areas. But with mobile data exploding, cells covering smaller areas are required.CCS has harnessed microwaves to create a flexible, cost-effective small-cell system that uses street level antennas and boasts a self-organising network.The company secured £1.3m seed funding in December 2011. "In less than a year the company had completed laboratory trials and had deployments of pilot systems with two of the world's largest mobile operators," says Greaves.Why Cambridge? Many of the company's members have long been associated with research and businesses in Cambridge, making it the logical location for CCS.
Margaret Hodge, chair of the parliament public accounts committee, is one of several MPs urging an Amazon boycott. We look at alternative places to shopMargaret Hodge is one of several high-profile MPs who are today urging shoppers to boycott Amazon this Christmas because of the internet giant's "aggressive" tax avoidance.Hodge, the Barking Labour MP who chairs parliament's public accounts committee, says she hasn't used Amazon for a year, "and I have found plenty of alternatives for buying goods online". She adds: "You have to take a stand. If there are enough of us who do it, we will damage their business."She is one of at least eight MPs – all Labour so far – backing a campaign by Ethical Consumer, which describes itself as the UK's leading ethical and environmental magazine. It is calling on shoppers to turn their backs on Amazon and give their custom to high street and online retailers that appear to be paying their fair share of tax.The other MPs are Natascha Engel (North East Derbyshire), Michael Meacher (Oldham West and Royton), Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch), Austin Mitchell (Grimsby), Dennis Skinner (Bolsover), John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) and Grahame Morris (Easington).Hodge said her boycott of Amazon was because it was "one of the global companies aggressively avoiding paying tax on the profits they earn from the business they undertake in the UK".Its competitive prices and convenience can make it very hard to resist. So where can shoppers spend their money and be reasonably confident the company concerned isn't funnelling the cash offshore and paying virtually no corporation tax?Ethical Consumer researches the social and environmental records of different retailers, and has rated some alternatives across different sectors.• Big high street/online retail names: Four were singled out for praise: Debenhams, John Lewis, Next and Lush.• Bookshops: Researchers rated 22. The two top-scoring names were online charity bookstore Green Metropolis, and Oxfam. Close behind was Better World Books, which works in partnership with literacy charities, followed by eBooks.
Apprentice star repeats apology for timing of tweet after Glasgow helicopter crash, but insists she doesn't see self as controversialAn online petition protesting against Katie Hopkins's tweet about Scottish life expectancy in the wake of the Glasgow helicopter crash has passed 70,000 names, as she gave an explanation of how she came to send the controversial message.The Apprentice star and Sun columnist prompted online outrage after she tweeted on Saturday: "Life expectancy in Scotland based 07/08 birth is 59.5. Goodness me. That lot will do anything to avoid working until retirement."The petition read: "On the 30th of November 2013, Scotland was still in shock and trying to come to terms with a horrible crash that took the lives of innocent people. Within 24 hours of this happening Katie Hopkins posted vile remarks on Twitter about how long the people of Scotland live for."This is unacceptable and distressing to those who lost friends and family."We the undersigned are sick and tired of ITV and Channel 5 giving her airtime and want her banned from all TV shows on your channels such as This Morning and The Wright Stuff."This woman is nothing more than an attention seeker who does not deserve to be a celebrity."Gary Caldwell from Hamilton commented on the petition: "Everyone has the right to an opinion, however when a public figure uses Twitter they should be held responsible for their comments. The comments made by Katie Hopkins were vile and inappropriate on a day where our country was saddened with such tragedy. Some people have no shame."Meg Hill from Ayr wrote: "This woman is vile and offensive and shouldn't be given airtime. At the very, very least she should be made to apologise to the people of Scotland for her disgusting, insensitive remarks."Hopkins apologised on Monday for the timing of her comments, tweeting with a link to a Scottish NHS document: "My tweet on Scotland was directly related to this article: I apologise to those I offended. It was poor timing."She appeared on Pete Morgan's breakfast show on BBC WM on Tuesday, saying: "Just to set the backdrop to it, we'd just done a week on The Wright Stuff and independence was a massive issue.
'Tide of surveillance and censorship' threatens future of democracy, says inventor of world wide webThe UK and US must do more to protect internet users' privacy, the inventor of the world wide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has warned as a new survey of online freedoms is released.Berners-Lee warned that "a growing tide of surveillance and censorship" posed a threat to the future of democracy, even as more and more people were using the internet to expose wrongdoing.His remarks came before the second annual release of a global league table that classifies countries according to a set of freedoms. Since last year, the US has dropped from second place to fourth, while the UK has remained in third place. Sweden still tops the list, though Norway now takes second place. All of the Scandinavian countries – Sweden, Denmark and Norway – feature in the top 10.The UK was poorly placed on privacy rights but was lifted by its high scores for availability of relevant content and the internet's political impact.The table is compiled by comparing 81 countries, combining measures such as the extent of access to the internet, how much censorship is employed, and how "empowered" people are by its availability. The list has been expanded from the 61 countries surveyed last year.Last year Berners-Lee introduced the inaugural index by pointing out that there was no off switch for the internet – a fact that was proving uncomfortable for a number of governments that had tried to shut down radical dissent in the previous 12 months through the Arab spring.But this year his remarks focused more on the threat of surveillance, which has been highlighted by the Guardian's revelations about the extent of online spying and subversion of internet protocols by the US's National Security Agency and the UK's GCHQ.The survey found that 76 of the 81 countries examined did not meet "best practice" standards for checks and balances on government interception of electronic communications.Speaking before an event to launch the updated version of the index, the 58-year-old British computer scientist said: "One of the most encouraging findings of this year's Web Index is how the web and social media are increasingly spurring people to organise, take action and try to expose wrongdoing in every region of the world.