Why not use Amazon SES?


I send a fair bit of email for my clients. So I have to keep on top of the most cost effective way to provide these services. Whenever I review what's available, I always come across Amazon SES, which stands out because it's about a tenth of the price of the other SMTP relay services[1].

But I don't use Amazon SES because - well, because it's not the world I want to see.

  • Amazon are huge and monopolistic, and with more wealth than some nation states. This never ends well. It results in reduced choice, loss of jobs and redistributes wealth upwards.

  • Amazon don't pay (enough/fair) taxes. Taxes are what helps our NHS to keep us alive and well. Taxes help us protect people from Coronavirus. Taxes can help reign in inequality.

  • Amazon are anti-union and anti-democratic. I think unions are absolutely essential in an economic system based on a wealth hierarchy. Democracy - the active participation of people in how we look after each other and prosper - is also something I believe in. I don't believe in the benevolent dictator. Amazon have lumped union organising and critical politicians in with terrorism.

And let's not forget the data economy. Amazon collect and process too much personal data, leaving us too vulnerable. People don't realise how much they're being fleeced and controlled, and they don't realise how valuable their personal data is. And no, that data's not used to help you live a shinier, happier life. It's used to sell you more crap, get more data from you and sell you more. They've convinced people that they might as well setup a minimum monthly Amazon spend - i.e. we're saying "hey Amazon, I promise to at least give you £x every month" with the result that it further undercuts choice (why look elsewhere when you can get something in a few clicks) and encourages buying crap - I have friends who have literally bought stuff just to make Prime "worth" the monthly fee. And then there's Alexa that listens in to all your private conversations, profiles your voice, traumatises staff.

Beat them at their own game?

Many people would argue like this: I know Amazon's evil but, we're doing really good work here, and using their services helps us save money. It only amounts to £not very much anyway, so we win - why should we pay more? It's not as thought the other companies aren't trying to get big for their shareholders too.

We live in the world we live in, and some of our choices are not there (often as a result of the above), so sometimes I'd agree that such things can be a necessary evil. You can't email anybody without using massive companies somewhere along the line. But evidence suggests you probably won't beat them at their own game. The bookie always wins. And having no choice does not mean you should not still be keeping up a resistance.

So you go with SES because it's cheap. It's so much cheaper that now you can't afford to pay more. So you can't afford to switch. Other companies go out of business, reducing choice. Amazon push other services to you and you get further invested. And when Amazon up their prices or start doing something else dodgy (think of the personal data you're pumping to them) or come up against legislation (e.g. GDPR), you're less able to switch because the competition isn't there and the costs of moving have increased. It gets ridiculous then when companies this big meet a nation's laws - e.g. Facebook suggesting they'd have to turn it off in Europe if the US law that gives access to the US state to Europeans' personal data turns out to conflict with the European GDPR. So these massive companies impact legislation which might otherwise regulate them.

Finally I want to point out that we shouldn't have to use 3rd party services to send email, and that we only need to do so because of the giant tech companies. It's perfectly possible to run your own email server. You can provide all the same (or better) security features as the big companies can (TLS, SPF, DKIM, DMARC). You can use your own IP - usually cheaper than SMTP relays offer this for. However you'll get better deliverability because when Big Mailing Company gets blocklisted by Big Email Account Provider Company, they have staff and paid arrangements to address this. Whereas contacting, for example, Microsoft (who own outlook, hotmail, live.com etc. and whose "smart filter" regularly triggers blocks preventing delivery) as one person is not likely to fix things fast. So the big tech giants are generating business for themselves, selling us solutions to problems they created, and all the time funnelling more and more cash upwards: Jeff Bezos' personal wealth has increased so much since COVID19 hit in February that he could give $108,000 to every Amazon employee and still have the same $billions he had in Feb; but instead his company has 20,000 workers with Coronavirus.

So this is why I don't use Amazon SES.


I'm challenging myself to post more Why posts. Artful Robot is here to help good people do good things using free/libre open source technologies. This is hard because there's a lot that we're up against. I realised that my clients appreciate these ethics. It's not always easy for them because I'm not a silent tech magician who does their bidding without question. I think tech people need to do more to surface the ethics and politics of technology, I see it as an essential part in helping us maintain/reclaim control over the systems that are an ever-increasing dependency in our lives. Silence = Violence.

"What I really appreciated was that you trained us not just in how to do things but in the politics of technology - I had no idea."

Feedback from a client



  1. Arguably the SES service offer is inferior to most other mailing companies' offerings (Sendgrid, Mailgun, Mailjet...) as Amazon don't provide many of the analysis tools or any IP reputation management. However it is, I'm reliably informed, fast and people I know who use it haven't reported problems with IP management, and I'm only interested in an SMTP gateway really. Also while cheaper, pricing is weirdly structured: it's not just per email but per MB of email attachments, too.  So there are nuances.

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