SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Amazon is turning 20 years old. In 1994, Jeff Bazos left the Wall Street hedge fund where he worked after they declined to invest in his idea. And he began to sell books out of his garage. Today, Amazon is a retail and entertainment empire selling books and shoes, computers, overcoats, band saws, sofa beds, kimchi, canned beans, artwork, wine, grills, generators, drones, kitty litter, pool filter pumps and garden gnomes, etc., etc., and more. Type in kitchen sink. You'll find dozens. Mr. Bazos chose the name Amazon incidentally because it begins with an A to pop up to the top of alphabetical listings and because it has a Z to convey that the company would sell everything from A to.
Amazon can be a controversial copy as it expands now producing as well as selling entertainment and even providing cloud storage for the Department of Defense. But we might use Amazon's anniversary as a way to mark how much buying and selling has changed in just 20 years and how our personal sense of privacy may have too. Amazon, among others, has prospered by being able to amass - stress mass - enough information to create a commercial portrait of each customer. Algorithms calculate that if we buy say a pair of blue suede shoes, gargle with cool mint mouthwash and listen to Miranda Lambert, we might one day want to purchase a certain brand of refrigerator. And here's a picture. Sometimes the instantaneous calculations they make may make you feel like the victim of a peeping Tom. This week, I mentioned my admiration for the movie Lawrence of Arabia on Twitter. I went to Amazon to look at a children's book and found they'd already lined up DVDs of Peter O'Toole movies and suggested I look at a pair of desert boots.
There's nothing truly sneaky. We agree to let online enterprises absorb the information we can register with each keystroke - what we search for on the web, like or dislike on social media platforms or simply browse through books or desert boots and try to mine our curiosity for sales. There may be a real generational difference in outrage. Older people may squirm to think that their curiosities and interests are being so monitored and measured. Some young people who've grown up with the web may wonder why they're so fussy. But it's a young Australian writer, J.R. Hennessy, who wrote in the Guardian this week we trained ourselves to value Facebook's open society without privacy.