Thursday, September 12, 2019

Inside Job: Amazon.com Employee Stole Credit Data of 106 Million

Amazon.com is rotten to its core. This latest case of "employee gone bad" (https://heavy.com/news/2019/07/paige-adele-thompson/) is yet another example of the widespread patterns of misbehavior, misconduct and mismanagement by Amazon.com employees that have been ongoing for the better part of two decades. From alleged money laundering to racketeering to computer fraud, the culture of misconduct and malfeasance starts at the top with the win-at-any cost disruptor model espoused by Amazon.com executives. A few examples for reference:

Misconduct stemming from office of the CEO: In 2013, dozens of Amazon.com employees and the CEO's own wife were caught flooding Brad Stone's book, The Everything Store, with unfavorable reviews to keep the book from damaging the reputation of Amazon.com and its CEO. (http://readindies.blogspot.com/2016/08/amazons-blackened-soul.html)

Misconduct organized and ordered by executives: In 2018, at least 50 Amazon employees were caught creating fake accounts on Ebay and accused of multiple federal crimes, including criminal conspiracy, fraud and racketeering. (http://robertstanek.blogspot.com/2019/08/amazon-employees-caught-creating-fake-accounts.html)

Misconduct organized and ordered by executives: In 2019, Amazon.com was caught in a highly unethical and likely criminal pay-for-praise scheme involving several hundred employees. (http://robertstanek.blogspot.com/2019/08/amazon-caught-in-pay-for-praise-scheme.html)

Although the SEC, FTC and DOJ are all circling Amazon.com with possible intent to act, the federal crimes, misdeeds and abuses of Amazon.com executives and employees have so far carried on with impunity—more likely due to the deep (dare I say, cozy) relationships Amazon.com has with the Justice Department, U.S. Intelligence and hundreds of other government agencies than a lack of evidence. However, with the deepest secrets of our government, including the Sensitive, Secret and Top Secret information of the Justice Department (https://aws.amazon.com/stateandlocal/justice-and-public-safety/) , U.S. Intelligence (https://aws.amazon.com/federal/us-intelligence-community/)and more (https://aws.amazon.com/government-education/defense/), hosted on Amazon’s cloud servers, this latest case of "employee gone bad" is likely too hard to overlook.

To wit, the Amazon.com employee involved in the theft of the credit data of over 100 million people did so by using the knowledge gained working in Amazon’s Web Services division as a software engineer to hack into the data Capital One stored on Amazon’s servers. This data was stored in the Amazon Simple Storage Service, also referred to as Amazon S3, which is a service offered by Amazon Web Services to supposedly securely store the data of thousands of companies. Care to guess where many of the deepest secrets of the Justice Department, U.S. Intelligence and hundreds of other U.S. agencies are stored? Yep, Amazon S3.

While Capital One, like Amazon.com, largely downplayed the extent of the damage done in the data breach, the estimated dollar cost of the damages, as stated by Capital One itself, are telling: $100 to $150 million in damages. (https://www.inc.com/minda-zetlin/paige-thompson-capital-one-hack-former-amazon-engineer-social-security-numbers.html). Most troubling about all this? The (technically "former") Amazon.com employee involved used knowledge and skills gained from 2015 – 2016 to hack the Capital One data stored on Amazon’s S3 servers in 2019. This was an inside job. Amazon Web Services tactics, techniques and security surely should have changed considerably in 3 years—however, clearly they had not. Sort of like the lengthy Amazon Web Services S3 outage on February 28, 2017 that was so bad Amazon couldn’t even get into its own servers to warn anyone—a problem that occurred because of gross mismanagement involving Amazon Web Services procedures and tactics. Other examples of gross mismanagement? How about:

* the days’ long outage in April 2011 that Amazon didn’t make a public statement about for a week,

* the infamous Friday the 13th outage of September 2013 that left regional customers without service for several hours due to a simple load balancing misconfiguration,

* the lengthy Amazon Web Services S3 outage in November 2014 because of the failure of the AWS CloudFront DNS server,

*  or the 10-hour outage in June 2016 due to stormy weather that hit numerous prime websites and businesses.

As I stated previously, the culture of misconduct and malfeasance starts at the top of the company while the patterns of misbehavior, misconduct and mismanagement extend throughout the entire organization. More examples of mismanagement and failure of Amazon Web Services:

2017 - https://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2017/03/02/aws-outage-that-broke-the-internet-caused-by-mistyped-command

2017 - https://www.datacenterknowledge.com/uptime/equinix-power-outage-one-reason-behind-aws-cloud-disruption

2015 - https://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2015/09/24/heres-what-caused-sundays-amazon-cloud-outage

2015 - https://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2015/09/21/amazon-data-center-outage-affects-netflix-heroku-others

2013 - https://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2013/09/13/network-issues-cause-amazon-cloud-outage

2012 - https://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2012/10/27/cascading-failures-caused-amazon-outage

2012 - https://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2012/07/03/multiple-generator-failures-caused-amazon-outage

2012 - https://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2012/06/30/amazon-data-center-loses-power-during-storm

2012 - https://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2012/06/29/another-outage-amazon-cloud

2011 - https://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2011/08/15/amazon-provides-more-details-on-dublin-outage

2011 - https://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2011/04/29/amazon-networking-error-caused-cloud-outage

2011 - https://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2011/04/21/major-amazon-outage-ripples-across-web

2010 - https://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2010/12/13/amazon-hardware-failures-caused-outage

2009 - https://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2009/07/19/outage-for-amazon-web-services

With this much going wrong and the regulatory hammer looming, is there any wonder why there is an outflow of executives, including Zumwalt, Blackburn, Wilson, Jain, and Chew for starters. In his new book, Talking to Strangers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about Harry Markopolos, the guy who gift-wrapped and delivered the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme to the SEC. Much like the case of Amazon.com, federal regulators spent years ignoring Markopolos and what was plain to see before their eyes. They couldn’t be bothered to conduct a thorough and proper investigation. Like Harry Markopolos told Malcolm Gladwell: "the truth is in the math"; "people have too much faith in large organizations"; "the emperor has no clothes".

The truth of Amazon.com is in the math too—in the patterns of misconduct and malfeasance that start at the top of the company. Indeed, the emperor has no clothes, and that’s something I have said before as well.

Circling back, bottom line, this person worked for Amazon S3 as a software engineer, subsequently hacked Amazon S3 and did so using intimate first-hand knowledge gained while employed at Amazon S3. This intimate first-hand knowledge included information about possible vulnerabilities, how those vulnerabilities potentially could be exploited and exactly how Amazon S3 worked. As a former Amazon S3 software engineer, this person knew exactly what to do and where to go once she got into Amazon S3. So let's call this hack what it was: An inside job. If Amazon.com were a bank and a former teller knew the contents of the bank vault and then robbed safety deposit boxes 7, 17 and 73 of their contents, everyone would call this what it was: an inside job. Well, that’s exactly what happened. This was an inside job. This former employee knew exactly the vulnerabilities to look for, how they could be exploited and which deposit boxes to steal—and she learned it all while working at Amazon S3.

Thanks for reading, I’m William Robert Stanek, Microsoft’s #1 author for nearly 20 years, and author of over 250 topselling books.

--

Addendum: Interesting comments earlier on Facebook and in private regarding said employee's role at Amazon.

As explained in the article, this person was employed by Amazon as a software engineer for S3 from 2015-2016. The Capital One data was stolen from Amazon's S3 servers in 2019. This was done using insider knowledge and tactics gained while working for Amazon. Amazon and Capital One both have underplayed how damaging this whole thing was... though Capital One admits this is likely to cause the company $100 - $150 million in damages.


P.S> This case gets curiouser and curiouser when you dig below the surface. Basically, the "employee" did the crime then gift-wrapped herself for authorities by not only giving them a trail of breadcrumbs to follow but copping to the crime on social media. This ensured quick arrest and abrupt ends to certain internal investigations (and primarily at Amazon.com). Inquiring minds might want to hazard a few guesses why. Two obvious questions for starters: What else might have been uncovered with continued, deep investigation? Who else might have been uncovered? I’m sure the curious can discern others.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Amazon Reviews: Broken System

Between 1 in 3 and 2 in 3 product reviews on Amazon.com are fake. They are bought and paid for. They are written by friends and family. They are swapped and traded on Facebook. They are incentivized from readers. Talking about this problem as I have for nearly 2 decades now has made me the repeat target of the thousands who make their living writing reviews, the millions of sellers who benefit from the fake praise and the dozens of Amazon employees working the system for personal and/or professional benefit.

Having reported problems with reviews to Amazon hundreds of times over decades and received repeated, direct retaliation from Amazon employees for doing so, I learned the hard way about the active involvement of Amazon employees in Amazon’s own marketplace, whether to ensure the success of themselves, family or associates or simply to ensure the failure of particular targets. This occurring repeatedly despite state and federal laws protecting those who report criminal activity, corporate malfeasance and other corporate wrongdoings from retaliation by those they are reporting.

Letters and emails to Amazon executives were answered with retaliation, as were letters and emails written to Amazon’s own legal team. This occurred because of the hundreds of billions of dollars of commerce that flow through Amazon annually. This occurred because those who rock the boat are targeted and thrown overboard. This occurred because of Amazon’s deep ties with local, state and federal government. This occurred because Amazon's executives buy entire newsrooms. This occurred because the truth could utterly destroy Amazon's marketplace dominance.

With control within the government and within the media, Amazon knows it has little to fear. Maybe a decade or so from now they’ll get a fine with a slap on the wrist despite ongoing, widespread corruption and corporate malfeasance. How quaint of them to recently throw their hands up in the air and declare they can no longer guarantee their marketplace. Meanwhile their own employees have steered billions in sales from one direction into another, harmed the sales of this product to ensure the success of that and more. Meanwhile Amazon employees have enriched themselves, their families, their friends, their associates. Meanwhile their executives have become billionaires by ensuring not even the truth affects the flow of commerce across their server engines.

If you know me, you know I’ve written many times about this problem, this widespread corruption. You know Amazon has targeted my books repeatedly because I’ve spoken out, because I’ve complained about my books being bombarded with unfavorable reviews by unscrupulous competitors, because I’ve let others know that Amazon itself was part of the problem. Speaking out about this problem has cost me millions of sales and tens of millions in earnings—and yet I will continue to speak out. I will not be silenced by Amazon’s continued heavy-handed retaliation or the criminal actions of its employees or others.

For those who don’t know me, please do take the time to read the numerous articles I’ve written about this problem. You’ll find the articles here at Linkedin, in my personal blogs (http://robertstanek.blogspot.com/ and http://williamstanek.blogspot.com), at Go Indie (http://readindies.blogspot.com/) and on my websites (http://www.williamrstanek.com and http://www.robert-stanek.com/). You’ll find posts about this problem going back to 2003 here @ http://www.robertstanek.com/rsblog.htm. I do of course write as William Stanek, Robert Stanek, William R. Stanek and William Robert Stanek.

Thanks for reading, I’m William Robert Stanek, Microsoft’s #1 author for nearly 20 years, and author of over 250 topselling books.


Thursday, August 15, 2019

Amazon Caught in Pay-for-Praise Scheme Involving Hundreds of Employees

Last August Amazon began recruiting so-called “fulfillment center ambassadors,” compensating them to generate praise for the company on twitter (and also elsewhere in social media and on Amazon’s websites). Several hundred employees have been enlisted into the highly questionable, unethical (and likely fraudulent) scheme so far. It’s not the first time Amazon has resorted to highly questionable, unethical practices when its public image or sales/earnings were at risk. Amazon has used fake praise, fake reviews and other fake commentary widely in the past. My article titled “Amazon’s Blackened Soul” (http://readindies.blogspot.com/2016/08/amazons-blackened-soul.html) highlighted the fake reviews generated by Amazon employees, including Bezos’s own wife, to kill sales of Brad Stone’s book about Amazon and Bezos entitled “The Everything Store,” while simultaneously ensuring any bad press or other fallout related to the book was whitewashed and minimized.

Persons associated with Amazon, and in particular employees, had a vested, financial interested in limiting the success of Stone’s book, reducing its potential impact on Amazon’s bottom line and controlling the message surrounding the book. None more so than executives, management staff and others holding stock or stock options in the company. Amazon guidelines do not allow any persons with a financial interest in a product (either for or against) to review a product, but that didn’t stop persons associated with the company from ensuring their messaging, damage control and spin was heard far and wide.

Stone’s book had the potential to cause both a significant hit to Amazon’s public image and an enormous impact on Amazon’s bottom line, especially in the days leading up to and following its publication. Without Amazon’s public spin and careful management of perception through reviews and other means, Stone’s book could have caused lasting, long-term damage to the company and its reputation, not to mention its CEO.

Make no mistake that Amazon was in a precarious position in the timeframe surrounding the publication of The Everything Store. Amazon as a public company had never been consistently profitable in its nearly 20-year history (at the time), quite the contrary it had been a consistent money loser. A sway in public opinion could have derailed its access to capital markets. The difference between Amazon then and Amazon now is nearly a trillion dollars in market capitalization.

Caught in this latest scheme, Amazon has admitted that the company is paying employees to generate praise on twitter. (See https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2019/08/15/amazon-ambassadors-program-pays-workers-positive-twitter/2023111001/) Meanwhile, the pay-for-praise scheme extends into other social media sites and onto Amazon’s own websites, where it has been used to combat criticism, complaints and more related to the company. By paying its employees to generate praise for the company, Amazon has once again ignored the basic tenants of the foundation upon which the company is supposedly built.

Amazon terms of service forbid anyone from trying to manipulate their reputation in Amazon’s marketplace. Amazon’s terms of service forbid anyone from compensating for feedback of any kind. With Amazon unabashedly breaking its own rules any time it suites, is it any wonder that fraud is rampant both within Amazon’s own rank and file and on its websites where there are over a billion fake reviews. (See http://robertstanek.blogspot.com/2019/06/amazons-fake-reviews-robert-stanek.html)

As I’ve discussed previously in Amazon Employees Caught Creating Fake Ebay Seller Accounts (https://robertstanek.blogspot.com/2019/08/amazon-employees-caught-creating-fake-accounts.html), Amazon gets away with decades of corporate malfeasance, federal crimes, abusive practices and more by publicly claiming to be a marketplace disruptor. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the company has tight controls over the press and state, local and federal government, and works over time to manage public perception, to spin reality, and perform damage control whenever it is caught in the act.

Let’s circle back, what’s most interesting about all this is that Amazon strictly prohibits sellers from protecting their reputation on its websites (and by extension in social media) by direct response, commentary or otherwise, regardless of whether the reviews, feedback and/or commentary the seller is seeking to protect themselves from are patently false, paid for by competitors, developed as part of smear campaigns or otherwise.

Heard of Prime Day? Who hasn’t. Amazon has spent an estimated $100 million+ developing and deploying strategies to protect its Prime Day events and sales from negative commentary and criticism, including training and paying for nearly 1000 employees, consultants, contractors and other affiliated persons that manage strategy, marketing, damage control, spin and messaging while striking back against criticism, complaints and any other commentary Amazon dislikes in the days leading up to, occurring on and subsequent to Prime Days.

Now this is all just very strange since this occurs not only in social media in real time but also on Amazon websites in real time despite clear terms of service explicitly prohibiting any and all parties from such behavior. Odd how rule-maker Amazon not only completely ignores the rules but breaks them whenever the company wants. Odder still that this is all part of a planned and carefully deployed strategy to protect Amazon’s reputation and sales at all costs, as ordered by the executive officers and management of the company. Hello Mr. Bezos.

So, hmmm. No party can do anything, such as simple response or commentary to patently false or fake feedback, on Amazon websites, and by extension according to terms of service no party can do anything in social media that is contrary to Amazon’s terms of service, such as simply asking those who had a positive experience with a product for comments or feedback—regardless of whether said product is being falsely maligned or flooded with fake commentary. Only Amazon can do this because only Amazon can do whatever it wants whenever it wants despite clear terms of service mandating otherwise—and only Amazon employees, consultants, contractors and other paid workers can make positive commentary and/or ask others for their positive experiences.

Hmmm… Take a moment to appreciate the scale of the 1,000-person operation plotting for and protecting Prime Days and related events from any criticism and commentary Amazon considers unsuitable. That’s a scale and scope that only a company with a near trillion-dollar market cap could afford. But just because you can throw millions of dollars at something doesn’t make it right, fair or just. People who want to criticize, complain and comment about negative experiences related to Amazon should be able to do so without real-time damage control operators stepping in with positive and contrary opinion, spin and damage control. It is in fact highly questionable, unethical (and possibly fraudulent) to pay hundreds of people to generate positive commentary for a company or product—even for a trillion-dollar company named Amazon.

So there you have it, not just one but two more examples of questionable, unethical and likely criminal schemes used by Amazon to manipulate public opinion, spin reality and ensure nothing affects its bottom line. The least of the schemes discussed involves several hundred employees, the greater involves many hundreds—a scope and scale that boggles the mind and clearly demonstrates that congressional and federal inquiries of Amazon should only be the beginning of deeper investigations on the path toward mandated federal oversight, extensive federal sanctions and ultimately the breakup of this monopoly’s stranglehold over US e-commerce.

It should be clear to all that by paying its employees and others to fight criticism, spin reality and generate positive commentary on its websites and social media that Amazon has opened itself up to liabilities and prosecution the company is otherwise protected from under Section 230 of the Communications Decency act. Amazon executives and managers made clear and unmistakable decisions to pay employees and others to generate content and commentary, and therefore opened themselves up to prosecution, not only for the many false, misleading and otherwise controversial statements and content generated and displayed on company websites in the pay-for-praise schemes but for any and all content generated.

Thanks for reading, I’m William Robert Stanek, Microsoft’s #1 author for nearly 20 years, and author of over 250 topselling books.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Amazon Fraud Again: Amazon Employees Caught Creating Fake Ebay Seller Accounts


In 2018, at least 50 Amazon employees were caught red handed creating fake accounts on Ebay and accused of multiple federal crimes, including criminal conspiracy, fraud and racketeering. Over a period of years, the Amazon employees had created hundreds—if not thousands—of fake seller accounts to lure sellers away from Ebay’s marketplace. The Amazon employees were caught after a months’ long investigation and sting operation designed to catch Amazon in the act of setting up the fake accounts with the intention of luring sellers to Amazon’s marketplace—and away from Ebay.

Over the many years Amazon employees operated as fake sellers on Ebay, they redirected thousands of sellers to Amazon, redirecting tens—if not hundreds—of millions of dollars in sales to Amazon. You might imagine when this extensive level of corporate malfeasance is uncovered there’d be explosive media coverage and damaging headlines. Yet you’ll be hard-pressed to find coverage of these happenings anywhere. (https://www.seattletimes.com/business/ebay-accuses-amazon-of-poaching-sellers-from-its-site/.)

Amazon successfully buried the bad press, ensured what little press coverage there was appeared deep in the news, and leveraged its power and influence to push the crimes out of federal courts and into resolution via arbitration, thereby ensuring the federal crimes of its employees were swept under the rug. Amazon gets away with decades of corporate malfeasance, federal crimes, abusive practices and more by publicly claiming to be a marketplace disruptor. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the company has tight controls throughout the United States over police forces and news rooms, and works over time to manage public perception, to spin reality, and perform damage control whenever it is caught in the act. Amazon does this all while laughing at the FTC, DOJ and other federal agencies investigating the company for antitrust and numerous other issues.

Sound Orwellian, like something out of the novel 1984? Not at all, through its Ring division Amazon has deep connections with police forces across the country—countless of which are indebted to the company for helping them solve crimes. Amazon in fact requires police forces to shill it’s surveillance cameras using secret agreements and private kickback arrangements in the guise of donations. https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/mb88za/amazon-requires-police-to-shill-surveillance-cameras-in-secret-agreement

Amazon has control over news rooms through its CEO’s purchase of The Washington Post. Control over the DC-based Post, not only provides Amazon with access to news rooms and reporters around the world, it also provides Amazon with access to and influence over federal agencies and the White House. Look any day at the press list for the White House and you’ll see how this is managed. When Bezos/Amazon want a story gone or buried, it’s a done deal. Case in point this story of widespread corporate malfeasance and federal crimes which was white-washed from existence. Crimes that should have included criminal conspiracy, fraud and racketeering--just for starters.

Amazon’s deep relations with federal, state and local government ensures many of the company’s other federal crimes, misdeeds and abuses have never seen the light of day. How deeply is Amazon embedded into the United States government? So much so that you’ll find dedicated recruitment pages for federal, government, and state agencies (including https://aws.amazon.com/federal/ and https://aws.amazon.com/government-education/government/), the Department of Defense (https://aws.amazon.com/government-education/defense/), U.S. Intelligence (https://aws.amazon.com/federal/us-intelligence-community/), Justice Department (https://aws.amazon.com/stateandlocal/justice-and-public-safety/), and on and on. Amazon’s own words are telling: With over 2,000 government agencies using Amazon Web Services (AWS), we understand the requirements U.S. Government agencies… AWS provides cloud capability across all classification levels Unclassified, Sensitive, Secret, and Top Secret.

Amazon is so embedded into our government that it is impossible to perform any fair or just oversight of the company. All those government agencies working with Amazon are handled with close (dare I say, cozy) relationships between many employees of Amazon and many employees of the government agencies. Those cozy relationships exist at all levels from the executive down. With such close ties to the DOD, DOJ, US Intelligence and hundreds of other agencies, is it any wonder Amazon can do whatever it wants, whenever it wants. Not to mention the fact that not only does one of the most corrupt corporations in the world have ties into every branch of state, local and federal government throughout the United States, that same corrupt corporation holds the most sensitive data and secrets of the United States on its servers and by holding that data, ensures it will never have a judgement day.

Control the police, control the media, control the federal government. What’s next for future President Bezos? Oh wait, with those controls Bezos doesn’t need to be president to run the country, does he. He just needs to remember which puppet strings to pull when. Is there any question now why the Amazon monopoly continues unchecked?

Thanks for reading, I’m William Robert Stanek, Microsoft’s #1 author for nearly 20 years, and author of over 250 topselling books.



Thursday, June 27, 2019

Amazon's Black Eye Deepens: A Public Sham/e

Speaking out about fake reviews has made me the target of the thousands who make their living writing reviews for pay. This continues despite Amazon's public dispute with over 5000 paid reviewers at Fiverr--no few of which were writers, who unable to make a living at writing, made their living writing reviews.

1 billion--and counting. The approximate number of fake product reviews at Amazon, according to an approximate 1 in 3 estimate. Multiple billions, if you go with the more likely estimate of 2 in 3. This includes incentivized reviews, paid reviews, friends & family reviews and all other reviews that otherwise would not exist without those involved cheating the system. Pick a random product at Amazon with oodles of reviews and odds are nearly 100% that you've stumbled upon a cheat. Take 2 recent purchases made on the same day as examples of just how broken Amazon is.

The first purchase I made were special gloves for those with carpal tunnel. I bought the gloves, not because of the 857 glowing Amazon reviews, but because of the oodles of websites that said W-O-W what a fantastic product it was. The company's website also looked legit. There were dozens of products from this company all glowingly reviewed at Amazon.

How good were the extra large men's gloves I ordered? Well, I couldn't really tell you because the product I received wouldn't fit the hands of an 10-year-old child, let alone a full-grown adult. If I hadn't ordered multiple pairs of the gloves in two different varieties, I might have believed there had been a labeling mistake or something--which is the first of many lies the seller tried to convince me of when I tried to get my money back. In the end, the seller agreed to reimburse me while also telling me to keep the gloves. I was supposed to donate them or such. Think about that for a moment these quasi-medical-grade gloves were supposed to be worth $25+ per pair and the seller didn't even want them back.

The second product was a support brace from a company positioning itself as a medical equipment supplier. Again, I bought the brace not because of the 1312 glowing Amazon reviews, but because of all the websites that told me this was the best product of its class on the market. As with the carpal tunnel gloves, I was so impressed with what the websites were telling me that I bought several braces and several pairs of special compression socks for my daughter who has down's syndrome and needs special footwear. These medical supplies weren't cheap. $58 for one brace, as an example, and $30+ for each pair of the special socks.

The company looked legit--it too had dozens of related products all glowingly reviewed, along with all these websites telling me how great the product was. Imagine my dismay when I received are what I believe to be $5 products that were made in China. It took some doing, but I did finally get this seller to refund my money, but it cost me $12 in postage sending the products back to get it and a lot of frustration.

*It's important to point out that I ordered both products on the company website. I did not order the products at Amazon. However, the products were fulfilled by Amazon and shipped from Amazon's warehouses.*

After I finally got my money back on these purchases, I went back and looked at the products, the seller websites, all those related websites. I'm a sophisticated buyer, who knows not to trust any reviews at Amazon, and yet I still had been suckered into buying fraudulent products.

These sellers had built or paid their way into sophisticated consumer-oriented websites where hundreds of other products had been reviewed and compared. These sellers had created or bought dozens of customer testimonial websites. These sellers had bought and paid for a mind-boggling number of glowing product reviews at Amazon. These were mega operations, selling cheap knock-off products that weren't fit for use and using tens of thousands of fake reviews at Amazon to help them do it.

Thanks for reading, I’m William Robert Stanek, Microsoft’s #1 author for nearly 20 years, and author of over 250 topselling books.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Remembering My Long-Time Friend Brian Jacques on His 80th Birthday

As I write this, today June 15, 2019, my friend, Brian Jacques, creator of Redwall, would have been 80. Of all the writers I’ve corresponded with over the years, from Raymond Feist to CJ Cherryh to Mercedes Lackey in the hey days of CompuServe, Brian was the wittiest and most fun. It was the highest of honors to host Brian when his fall 2005 book tour of the Western USA brought him to my adopted home town of Olympia, Washington. At the time, I wrote about Brian’s visit on a tribute page to him and his books, which I posted to share with my readers @ http://themagiclands.com/brianjacques.htm. The page is still there, hasn’t changed in 15 years.

One of the best things about Brian’s visit was that my son, Will, who was 13 at the time, got to meet Brian and get all of his Redwall books signed. Will was, and remains, a Redwall fan, having read all of Brian’s books multiple times. My two youngest were also at the signing and they enjoyed getting their pictures taken with my friend Brian. 

As I had promised Brian, I also gave him copies of the children's editions of my books, The Kingdoms & the Elves of the Reaches, which are set in my fantasy world of Ruin Mist. Brian and I enjoyed swapping stories of our created worlds, having bonded over our similar experiences with Catholic school teachers beating us with rulers.  

Brian was a hoot to listen to at author events and book signings. He loved his characters and got into the role of his characters actively in the telling. Brian loved a good feast as well, as any attentive Redwall fan knows.

Brian also challenged me to give back to readers and the writing community, to share my personal skills and experiences with others. Brian always spoke fondly of his days working with blind children and how he got his start. Early conversations with Brian were key in inspiring me to dedicate many hours and years to give away one million books to schools, libraries, community centers and others, though especially to teachers in classrooms who needed books for their students who otherwise would have no books at all as well as to schools for the blind, like the one in rural Scotland where students had access for many years to my entire catalog of books, including many educational and learning titles in the Bugville Critters, at no cost.

To say Brian Jacques loved the written word is an understatement. Brian lived for the written word and I think the only thing he loved more was bringing his stories and ideas to life with spoken word. Brian and I had running conversations about digital audio and in particular Audible, where my books had been runaway bestsellers--#1 Fiction, #1 Fantasy, #1 YA/Childrens for many weeks in spring and summer 2005. Brian was more familiar with traditional audio on tape and hesitant about the digital world--ebooks, kindle, audible, and such. I don't know if my words on the subject swayed his thoughts on the subject, but I'd like to think so, as his books did start to become available for both kindle and audible.

In the fall of 2005, none of us could have known that Brian would be taken from the world just a few years later. I was, in fact, looking forward to his promised next West coast USA tour and another visit with my long-time friend. For me, Brian Jacques will forever remain one of the true few who could paint pictures with words.

We all miss you, Brian, though it is perhaps fitting that the final Redwall book is about rogues. As a rogue scoundrel who worked many odd jobs in his life, this was perhaps Brian’s last wink and nod to the world.

Goodnight, Brian. Goodnight, Redwall.

Thanks for reading, I’m William Robert Stanek, Microsoft’s #1 author for nearly 20 years, and author of over 250 topselling books.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

First Round to Patrick Rothfuss, Who Knew Being a Children's Book Writer Was So Fraught with Peril

It's no secret Patrick Rothfuss and I are both from Wisconsin or that we knew each other as "kids" or that I live in Washington state where Rothfuss did his graduate studies. What's not so well known are the lengths Rothfuss and persons associated with him have gone to to try to push my fantasy novels down while propping Rothfuss's up. 

Fifteen years into this, I can hardly believe it's still going on. That every day Rothfuss Adjacent persons "work" the search engines to ensure the anti-Stanek sites and pages they created appear high in the search results on Google, Yahoo, beyond then subsequently prop up their pro-Rothfuss sites and pages. That every day these persons do similar work to push down my status while pushing up Rothfuss. As a computer expert with over 20 years as one of the world's leading technologists, it's easy enough to see this handiwork and identify the sources.

It's almost as if it's these persons' full time job--because it pretty much is and has been since at least 2007. Since Rothfuss got friends to take down the Robert Stanek wiki page and post a full ready-to-go Rothfuss wiki page on 8 May 2007. I guess when you have friends who are Wiki editors and fantasy bloggers you, your brother, your "wife", can do whatever you want to whomever you want without fear of repurcussion.

I guess if your book was a book written for adults that had special appeal to young adults (the Alex awards criteria) you'd be glad if your book wasn't one that could have possibly competed against Rothfuss in 2008. If your  book had, you might have been the one on the receiving end instead of me (or alongside me). Things with Rothfuss kind of go llike that. My first fantasy work was published in 2002--the year Rothfuss won his writers of the future award, the L Ron Hubard contest, meanwhile Rothfuss spent the next four years trying to get published while my Keeper Martin (adult) and Kingdoms and the Elves (YA versions of the same) books climbed the bestseller charts. Amazon SciFi/Fantasy Top 50, 26 weeks, Audible #1 Fiction, 12 weeks. Audible #1 Kids & YA, 20 weeks. Audible Kids & YA Top 10, 180 weeks.

That had to kind of really suck for Patrick Rothfuss (and those close to him who were eager for his success). But unlike normal people who would have focused on something positive, these folks focused on lashing out at those who were doing and achieving what Rothfuss couldn't at the time. Then instead of moving on when Rothfuss finally got his work published, they continued to lash out. Like when Rothfuss/Adjacents told friends/fans/followers in an official entry in the Rothfuss blog and then in an official entry on the Rothfuss facebook page that I was a self-published fraud and asked them to trash my books and flood my book review pages with negative reviews.

Odd considering I had been a successful, bestselling author since 1995. Odd because I had over 100 books to my credit at the time. Odder still because not only had those many, many books been read by millions but they were also published/distributed by some of the most highly regarded publishers of the day: Macmillan, Pearson, Random House, Simon & Schuster, Time Warner and others.

In the age of Trump, Rothfuss's kind of fake news might not have taken on a life of its own. But a decade ago when this kind of news came from an otherwise trusted source like Patrick Rothfuss, people listened and didn't question or bother to check the facts.

With GRRM and JK Rowling becoming  billionaires, it doesn't take a genius to figure out why so much time and effort has been spent to harm fun, family-friendly books like "Keeper Martin's Tale" and "Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches". All I can do is urge you to read the  books for yourself and decide whether they are for you. Read the books if for no other reason that certain parties have spent thousands of hours trying to get you not to.

Thanks for reading, I’m William Robert Stanek, Microsoft’s #1 author for nearly 20 years, and author of over 250 topselling books.

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