Five members of the US House Judiciary Committee wrote to Amazon’s chief executive on Sunday, and accused top executives of the company, including founder Jeff Bezos, of either misleading Congress or possibly lying about Amazon’s business practices. charged up.
The letter also said that the committee is considering “whether it is appropriate to refer this matter to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation.”
Addressed to Amazon CEO Andy Jesse, the letter came after a Reuters investigation last week showed the company had conducted a systematic campaign of copying products and manipulating search results in India to boost sales of its own brands. Amazon has denied involvement. , a longtime Amazon executive, succeeded Bezos in July.
The letter said the “credible reporting” in the Reuters story and recent articles in several other news outlets “directly contradict the sworn testimony and representations of top Amazon executives – including former CEO Jeffrey Bezos.”
“At best, this reporting confirms that Amazon representatives misled the committee. At worst, it shows that they may have lied to Congress in potential violation of federal criminal law,” the letter said.
In response, an Amazon spokesperson issued a statement saying: “Amazon and its executives did not mislead the committee, and we have denied and sought to correct the record on inaccurate media articles.”
It added: “As we’ve said before, we have an internal policy, which goes beyond the policy of any other retailer we’re aware of, which allows individual sellers to develop Amazon private label products. restricts the use of data. We investigate any allegations that this policy has been violated and take appropriate action.”
Since 2019, the House Judiciary Committee has been investigating competition in digital markets, including how Amazon uses proprietary seller data from its platform, and whether the company unfairly favors its products.
In a swearing-in before the Antitrust Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee last year, Bezos said the company prohibits its employees from using data on individual vendors to benefit its private-label product lines. In another hearing in 2019, Amazon Associate General Counsel Nate Sutton testified that the company does not use such data to create its own branded products or to alter its search results to benefit them.
Asked during a 2019 congressional hearing whether Amazon alters the algorithms to direct consumers to its own goods, Sutton replied: “The algorithms are optimized to predict whether the customer regardless of what the seller wants to buy.”
The lawmakers’ letter gives Jassi “one last opportunity” to provide evidence to corroborate the company’s prior testimony and statements. It also notes that “it is criminally illegal to knowingly and knowingly make statements that are materially false, conceal a material fact, or otherwise provide false documents in response to a congressional investigation.”
It gives the CEO until November 1 to provide a sworn response to explain “how Amazon uses non-public personal seller data to develop and market its line of products” and Amazon’s How the search rankings favor those products.
It also requests copies of all documents mentioned in the October 13 Reuters investigation.
“We strongly encourage you to use this opportunity to correct the record and provide an oath, truthful and accurate response to this request to the Committee as we consider whether this matter should warrant a criminal investigation. It is appropriate to refer to the Department of Justice,” the letter said.
The Reuters investigation was based on thousands of pages of Amazon’s internal documents – including emails, strategy letters and business plans. They showed that, at least in India, Amazon had a formal, covert policy of manipulating search results to favor Amazon’s own products, as well as copying goods from other sellers — and at least two senior companies. It was reviewed by the authorities.
In response to the Reuters report, Amazon said, “We believe these claims are factually incorrect and baseless.” The company did not elaborate. The company said the way it displays search results is not in favor of private-brand products.
The letter from lawmakers also cites other recent stories in Markup, the Wall Street Journal and Capital Forum about Amazon’s use of private-brand products and seller data.
The letter’s sharp words intensify the rhetoric between Washington and Big Tech. Companies including Amazon, Facebook Inc., Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google have been under increasing scrutiny in Washington, Europe and other parts of the world, driven by concerns among regulators, lawmakers and consumer groups that firms have too much power. and they are engaging in unfair practices that hurt other businesses.
The lawmakers’ letter was signed by a bipartisan group, and included the chairman of the judiciary committee, Democrat Jerrold Nadler, and four members of the antitrust subcommittee—its chair, Democrat David Sicilien, vice president Pramila Jayapal, and Republicans Ken Buck and Matt. Getz.
On Wednesday, following the publication of the Reuters investigation, US Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, a prominent critic of Amazon, called for the company to be disbanded. In India, a group representing millions of brick-and-mortar retailers urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to take action against Amazon.
© Thomson Reuters 2021