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Who do you trust the most: the military, Congress, or Amazon?

How big can a company get before it becomes too big for the government or fails to follow through on its promises to the consumer?

Photo (c) Violka08 - Getty Images
Is Amazon too big to trust? Is Google? Facebook?

The answers would be no, no, and yes according to a new survey on “institutional confidence.” Those results came out of the American Institutional Confidence Poll, a survey that canvassed Americans’ satisfaction levels on 20 different topics ranging from banking to healthcare.

Overall, it’s the military that inspires the greatest confidence (52 percent), but digital cornerstones Amazon (36 percent) and Google (27 percent) were right behind. Facebook, Congress, and political parties? You guessed it -- dragging up the rear with the lowest confidence levels, all below 10 percent.

If Amazon told you to...

The study caught the attention of Carolyn Adolph and Joshua Nicholls, hosts of “Prime(d),” an all-things-Amazon podcast from Seattle public radio KUOW, stationed right in Amazon’s backyard.

“You know the saying: If Amazon told you to jump off a bridge, would you do it?,” posed Adolph and Nicholls. “We would never trust Amazon to have that kind of control of our lives, right? Except, we do trust the retail giant from Seattle -- a lot. That's in part because the company is so focused on the customer experience.”

“Amazon has built enormous trust in its users one smiley box at a time, and it’s done so during a very distrusting period,” said Adolph. “And, yet, of all the rich and powerful tech companies out there, none has attracted more interest from antitrust scholars ... quite as much as Amazon.”

“They say Amazon is too big to trust. That it’s amassing way too much market power, and starting to blur lines that shouldn’t blur” -- no doubt a reference to Amazon’s interest in adding groceries, drug prescription fulfillment, and video streaming to the markets it wants to corner.

Yet, there seems to be no stopping the online giant, even though Amazon's muscle places it in a rather precarious position, one that “puts it at risk of being broken apart by regulators” speculates Prime(d)’s hosts.

As proof of Amazon’s tightrope walking, Adolph and Nicholls pointed to the Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual gauge of how much trust Americans put in each of the four major societal institutions -- government, business, media, and NGOs (non-governmental organizations).

That barometer took a big swing in the last year -- a big swing in the wrong direction, from bad to worse.

“I can totally believe that. There are so many institutions that tell you they are going to do something, and then they don’t do it,” Nicholls said. “Or the opposite,” Adolph added. “Facebook tells you they care about you and your privacy and, then, it gives your data to Cambridge Analytica. … We’re supposed to be able to count on government to protect us, but that’s getting harder.”

“I expect us to be scrutinized”

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos doesn’t shy away from the question of his megalopolis being put under the government’s microscope.

“Whether it's the current U.S. administration or any other government agency around the world -- Amazon is now a large corporation and I expect us to be scrutinized... It just makes sense,” Bezos told the San Francisco Chronicle.

“And by the way, it's not personal. I think you can go astray on this if you're the founder of a company -- one of these big tech companies, or any other big institution. If you go astray on this, you might start to take it personally. Like ‘Why are you someone inspecting me?’ And I wish that people would just say, ‘Yes, it's fine.’”

Not too big to fail

At a company-wide meeting in 2018, an Amazon employee put Bezos on the spot about Amazon's future, asking Bezos what lessons he’d learned from the recent bankruptcies of once almighty companies like Sears.

"Amazon is not too big to fail," Bezos replied, in a recording of the meeting obtained by CNBC. "In fact, I predict one day Amazon will fail. Amazon will go bankrupt. If you look at large companies, their lifespans tend to be 30-plus years, not a hundred-plus years."

"If we start to focus on ourselves, instead of focusing on our customers, that will be the beginning of the end," Bezos contemplated. "We have to try and delay that day for as long as possible."

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