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Amazon after the tornadoes

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Good morning! This Wednesday, everyone’s looking to see what Amazon does next, Big Tech isn’t crazy about California’s new privacy law, and guess which country is building an embassy in the metaverse.

All eyes on Amazon

A series of tornadoes swept through Kentucky and Illinois last week, killing more than 80 people, including six at an Edwardsville, Illinois, Amazon delivery facility. The building almost completely collapsed after a tornado formed in the parking lot and blew directly through it.

Details are scarce about what happened and why people died. That includes information on whether appropriate safety protocols were followed and whether the building was built properly to withstand severe weather events.

  • Amazon said that the building was built in compliance with local weather codes and that appropriate safety protocols were followed. The company also said that rescue workers and officials from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration will determine whether there is any official or legal blame for what appears to be an accident caused by the severe weather.
  • OSHA, which regularly investigates workplace fatalities, has opened an official investigation into the collapse and has six months to issue a report and determine whether the company was in violation of any federal regulations.
  • There are 26 open OSHA cases with listed violations across the United States over the last four years, according to federal records.

If OSHA finds that Amazon is at fault for failing to follow proper building codes or proper safety training procedures, it could affect hundreds of other warehouses across the country.

  • Workers are already calling out the company’s currently paused cell phone ban, saying that the policy would prevent them from communicating with first responders and wouldn’t allow them to get weather updates in the future.
  • Workers also allege that they hadn’t been given enough safety training and that they weren’t allowed to take time off because of the severe weather, which could change the way Amazon does these trainings across the board.
  • And Amazon’s other business practices — such as the number of contractors employed in its warehouses, which brings another set of risks — are being scrutinized.

If officials find that Amazon isn’t to blame, it’s still the country’s second-largest private employer (and on track to become the largest in the next few years). And that means that it has a responsibility to ensure the safety of its thousands of workers.

  • Given the country’s extreme dependence on Amazon’s fulfillment network and its data centers, the building collapse raises questions of whether existing Amazon infrastructure needs to be reassessed for vulnerabilities to the increasing likelihood of dangerous weather events due to climate change.

Even if every structure and workplace policy perfectly follows existing safety codes and procedures across the country, the sheer size and importance of this infrastructure and number of employees might mean that Amazon needs to consider more precautionary safety codes or procedures. A rising tide lifts all boats, after all, and if Amazon enforces strict safety policies, everyone else may follow suit.

— Anna Kramer (email | twitter)


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People are talking

The metaverse is cool, but Tim Armstrong is more focused on the “earthverse”:

  • “People don’t go on vacation on their phones. They don’t swim on their phones … Maybe someday and again in the future, the metaverse story will eclipse the human story, but I think that’s a long time away.”

Elizabeth Warren thinks DeFi is the “most dangerous” area in crypto:

  • “This is where the regulation is effectively absent, and — no surprise — it’s where the scammers and the cheats and the swindlers mix among part-time investors and first-time crypto traders.”

Elon Musk had a few words of his own for Warren after she pushed back on his selection as Time’s Person of Year:

  • “Please don’t call the manager on me, Senator Karen 🙏”

Could Matter solve the smart home mess? Amazon’s Chris DeCenzo and others believe in it, but it’s hard to bet on a connectivity protocol that isn’t here yet:

  • “At the end of the day, we’ve got to get there. And that’s going to be a journey.”

Making moves

NuScale is going public via a SPAC. The nuclear tech firm would have a pro-forma enterprise value of $1.9 billion in the deal.

Nike bought RTFKT Studios, which makes NFTs and shoes for the metaverse.

Pranesh Anthapur joined Kraken as chief people officer. Anthapur last worked at Uber as VP of HR.

Moran Goldboim is Codefresh’s new VP of product. Goldboim spent over a decade at Red Hat and most recently served as its senior principal product manager.

Several tech leaders signed on to the Giving Pledge, including DoorDash’s Tony Xu, Canva’s Melanie Perkins, The Trade Desk’s Jeff Green and Shift4 Payments’ Jared Isaacman.

In other news

Several women are suing Tesla for alleged sexual harassment. Six female employees at the Fremont factory filed separate lawsuits claiming they were sexually harassed, and some said they were retaliated against after reporting the complaints.

Google is preparing to eventually fire workers who don't play by the vaccine rules. A memo obtained by CNBC said that employees who weren't vaccinated by Jan. 18 would be put on administrative leave, then unpaid leave, and eventually fired.

Big Tech isn’t a big fan of California’s new privacy law. Companies like Google and Pinterest are pushing back on the California Privacy Rights Act over concerns about the privacy agency’s definition of “automated decision making.”

Apple and Google have huge control over smartphones, a U.K. regulator said. The watchdog wrote in a report that the two tech giants make it hard for people to use alternative web browsers on their phone, limiting innovation.

Instagram reached 2 billion monthly active users, sources told CNBC. The company hasn’t publicly announced this number since 2018, when it reached 1 billion MAUs.

Barbados is setting up an embassy in the metaverse. The country will establish an embassy in the online world Decentraland, which the country hopes will help it keep up with modern tech.

How much could one color really affect tech? The Pantone Color Institute chose “Very Peri” as the color of the year to represent a shift in the digital and physical world, and it wants Microsoft’s help to bring the color to millions online.

Apple’s mandating masks in all of its stores. Before the rule, only shoppers needed to wear masks in regions that required them.

Where no man has gone before

You saw him go into space on the Starship Enterprise. But now you can watch William Shatner go to space for real: The Amazon documentary “Shatner in Space” is out today.

The documentary details everything that happened before, during and after the “Star Trek” actor became the oldest person to make it to space on a Blue Origin spacecraft. Shatner has said that everyone should be able to see space, and now we get to see it from his perspective.


Whether you work on the top floor or the shop floor, Workplace celebrates who you are and what you can bring to your business. Discover the place where you can be more you.

Learn more

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