Amazon's first-ever employee says the company is big enough where it could make sense to break it up

Amazon's first-ever employee says the company is big enough where it could make sense to break it up
Jeff Bezos

REUTERS/Joshua Roberts


Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

After Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos, Shel Kaphan was employee No. 1 at Amazon.

"I built a substantial part of the early system that allowed them to come into existence," Kaphan told the BBC in a new documentary. "On the one hand I'm proud of what it became, but it also scares me."

Building on that criticism in a second interview with PBS' Frontline, Kaphan said he now believes Amazon is so large that breaking it up shouldn't be out of the question.


"I think that they're now at the scale where that could potentially make sense," he told Frontline's James Jacoby.

Jeff Bezos blue origin

Isaiah J. Downing/Reuters

Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos addresses the media about the New Shepard rocket booster and Crew Capsule mockup at the 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States April 5, 2017.

Kaphan's statements echo calls from lawmakers in the last few years.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has been at the forefront of a push to break up major tech companies, including Amazon, Facebook, and Google.


"As these companies have grown larger and more powerful, they have used their resources and control over the way we use the Internet to squash small businesses and innovation, and substitute their own financial interests for the broader interests of the American people," Warren's campaign proposal says. "To restore the balance of power in our democracy, to promote competition, and to ensure that the next generation of technology innovation is as vibrant as the last, it's time to break up our biggest tech companies."

Kaphan agreed with Warren's assessment in his Frontline interview.

"The characterization of Amazon as being a ruthless competitor is true," he said, "and under the flag of 'customer obsession' they can do a lot of things that might not be good for people who aren't their customers."

Beyond operating its wildly popular digital storefront,, the Seattle-based conglomerate also operates a massive cloud data operation (Amazon Web Services), runs a major video production and streaming service (Amazon Prime Video), and produces a variety of popular consumer electronics (Kindle, Ring, etc.) among other ventures (like owning/operating Whole Foods).

whole foods amazon echo

Kate Taylor/Business Insider


Whole Foods, post-Amazon acquisition, is adorned with ads for the Amazon Echo.

Under Warren's plan, federal regulators would attempt to "break Facebook away from Instagram and WhatsApp, Amazon away from Whole Foods, Google away from Nest, and more," the Warren campaign wrote in a campaign email.

Though Amazon has expressed support for some forms of federal regulation of its business, such as facial recognition software, representatives have rebuffed calls for the company to be outright broken up.

"We don't think about it very deeply," Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy said in the documentary. He then related a Jeff Bezos quote from early on at the company: "I would not go to bed at night fearing your competitors or fearing any external issues," Bezos reportedly said, according to Jassy. "I would go to bed at night fearing whether you're doing right by your customers."

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