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Amazon’s first employee thinks the company is scary-big

Amazon’s very first employee from 1994 said in a new interview that he is scared of how big the company has become since he left and that it deserves to be broken up.

Shel Kaphan, who was once Amazon’s chief technology officer, was featured in a PBS Frontline special titled “Amazon Empire: The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos” that aired on Tuesday, February 18. Kaphan shared his thoughts about where the company has gone since he left it in 1999. 

“On one hand, I’m proud of what it became, but it also scares me,” he said in his interview. “I feel like it’s important for someone in my situation to at least say what they think about what’s going on.”

Kaphan added that there’s reasonable cause to break the company up based on Amazon’s size and influence. 

“I think the characterization of Amazon as a ruthless competitor is true,” he said, adding that, “I think they are now at the scale where [breaking them up] could potentially make sense.”

Kaphan isn’t the only early-stage employee who is concerned about how the company has turned out. In December, another one of Amazon’s first employees spoke out against the company. Paul Davis, who worked as a computer programmer and helped build, told Vox that the company should be broken up. His reasoning was the company exploits smaller merchants. 

When Kaphan and Davis worked at Amazon, Bezos, the company’s CEO and founder, was trying to “get big fast,” and while the company has accomplished that, it’s come with criticism in how it’s been done. 

Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos
Eric Baradat / AFP / Getty Images

Amazon is now synonymous with Bezos, who is the richest man in the world. Many critics of the company call out Bezo’s massive wealth, as well as concerns about the company’s role when it comes to overconsumption. 

The company has also been called out for its Amazon’s Choice badges, with reports that the badge is more likely to appear on Amazon’s own AmazonBasics products and that some of these products are fake or illegitimate. 

There have been talks about breaking up the company before — especially from government officials — and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is inching closer to hitting Amazon, along with other big tech companies, with an antitrust review. Most recently, the FTC announced that it’s asking Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft why and how they acquired individual companies. 

Amazon owns Whole Foods, has a video streaming service, music streaming service, and a widely used cloud computing platform, Amazon Web Services. If it were to ever be broken up, Amazon could have to give up these separate entities and go back to its original form as a marketplace, as opposed to selling its own products. That could drive up prices since Amazon could no longer offer massive discounts on products it owns, like a Ring security system.

Digital Trends reached out to Amazon to comment on Kaphan’s interview. We will update this story when we hear back. 

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Allison Matyus
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Allison Matyus is a general news reporter at Digital Trends. She covers any and all tech news, including issues around social…
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