Amazon’s Next Move After Losing a $10 Billion Contract to Microsoft—Data Sheet

October 28, 2019, 1:05 PM UTC

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Companies with bad news to report often make announcements late in the day on Friday, hopeful that journalists with one foot out the door won’t have time to dig in properly.

The Pentagon chose such timing last week to disclose the winner of a hotly contested project. It is known as “JEDI,” an up-to-$10-billion contract to supply cloud computing services to the Defense Department. The competition had become a two-company race between Microsoft, the eventual winner, and Amazon, the cloud market leader. Microsoft has distinguished itself by remaining publicly open-minded about working with the U.S. government. Amazon distinguished itself in multiple ways, including by drawing accusations of unfair competition and also by having a CEO that the President of the United States doesn’t like.

Amazon professed surprise at its defeat and hasn’t said yet if it will protest, as it has a right to do in the procurement process. There are future contracts in the offing and public complaining might not be Amazon’s best look, considering the leader of the free world already publicly inveighs against them.

Leader or follower, it is safe to assume Microsoft is qualified to fulfill the terms of the project. And, while Amazon undoubtedly could have also, it is Microsoft that has the longer history emphasizing products for large customers. Amazon Web Services, which has a noted contract with the Central Intelligence Agency, began its commercial life appealing to startup technology companies.

It’s unlikely anyone will ever know what influence the leader of the free world did or didn’t have on the awarding of the contract. What’s certain is that he ought not to be commenting one way or the other on something as technical as a cloud-services engagement. And it’s not hard to see how bureaucrats would want to avoid angering the voluble Twitterer in Chief. (The New York Times recently detailed the effects of Presidential pronouncements in a heated case of military justice.)


I really want to believe Mark Zuckerberg’s heartfelt-sounding commitment to helping the business of journalism and his love of free speech, as he detailed in a New York Times op-ed this weekend. If only his company hadn’t already done so much damage to the business of journalism and concepts of free speech.


For all the talk of business as a force for good, it’s worth acknowledging the unique role of government. Here’s a thoughtful editorial and riveting article from The Economist about a U.S.-government-funded news agency called Radio Free Asia (part of Voice of America parent U.S. Agency for Global Media) and the work it has done to expose the detention of China’s Muslim Uighur ethnic group.

Adam Lashinsky

On Twitter: @adamlashinsky


This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.


We interrupt this interruption. Not enough beeps and boops in your day? A Senate legislative proposal with strong backing wants to make those national emergency alerts that pop up on our phones also show up on video streaming services. Netflix and unchill?

Truth and consequences. An algorithm used in the healthcare industry to guide the treatment of tens of millions of people is biased against black patients, according to a new study published in the journal Science last week. The study of records from 50,000 patients found that the computer formula systematically downplayed the health needs of black patients. The study did not name the algorithm or the company that sells it.

Not a pretty picture. Customer data from 7.5 million users of Adobe's Creative Cloud service were found in an unsecured online database. The information included user names and email addresses but not passwords or financial data.

Heartbreaker. The tech startup founded by is struggling and some workers say they have not been paid in weeks, The Verge reports. The startup, called, sells an assortment of gadgetry and hardware, including wireless earbuds and a smartwatch called Puls.

What you asked for. On Wall Street, AT&T saw shrinkage while Spotify posted a surprise profit. At AT&T, revenue dropped 3% to $44.6 billion, worse than analysts expected, but the company also said it would sell some "non-strategic assets," as activist hedge fund Elliott Management sought. AT&T shares, previously up 29% this year, gained 2% in premarket trading on Monday. Spotify said it was able to reduce marketing and R&D costs, leading to a profit of $267 million. Analysts were expecting a loss. Shares of the music streaming giant, up only 6% in 2019, gained another 6%.


A problem you might not have considered that can hold back societal progress? Database programming decisions made in the 1950s. Writer Meredith Broussard explores how so much database code reinforces a binary gender worldview. In a piece for Slate, she explains some of the complications.

It’s not inclusive. It is specifically exclusionary to someone like Zemí Yukiyú Atabey, an NYU graduate student who identifies as genderqueer and nonbinary. Atabey’s pronouns are ze (“Where is ze?”)/zem (“I don’t have the tickets. I gave them to zem.”). “As a nonbinary person, there is no option most of the time,” ze says of entering personal information in databases. “There’s only male or female, which doesn’t fit my reality or identity.” Microsoft Word, the program I used to compose this story, marked all of Atabey’s pronouns with the red squiggly underline. Meaning: The people at Microsoft who wrote Word do not recognize Atabey’s pronouns as acceptable English words, even though the genderqueer community has been suggesting the use of ze and hir as pronouns for at least 20 years.


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We certainly have a bounty of sketch comedy to enjoy in the mobile video age, as we've evolved far from just SNL bits going online. Washington Post pop culture critic Elahe Izadi posted a list of the 20 most influential comedy skits, including works by everyone from Robot Chicken to Key & Peele (and enough SNL, too). There's plenty of laughs–and room for some debate.

Aaron Pressman

On Twitter:@ampressman


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